From the Circuit Court of Jefferson County; Civil Appeal; Judge Philip G. Hess.
Motion for Rehearing Overruled, Transfer Denied September 15, 1983.
Before Stewart, P.j., Crandall, Stephan, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephan
Defendant Robert E. Martin, d/b/a R.E.M. Construction, appeals from a judgment based on a breach of contract claim in which a jury awarded plaintiff G. A. Buder, III, $16,000 in damages. We affirm.
Plaintiff, an owner of farm land in Pacific, Missouri, entered into two written contractual agreements with defendant on December 2, 1974. By the terms of the contracts, plaintiff engaged defendant to build a five to eight acre lake and a 1/3 to 1/2 acre pond on plaintiff's property for $12,000 and $1,250, respectively. The excavation began in December, 1974, and the project was completed in May, 1975.
In the process of building the lake, defendant constructed a dam, which sloped in the center, forming a large "U" shape. Because the center of the dam was not sufficiently higher than the spillway on the side, excess water caused by heavy rains on March 27 and 28, 1977, flowed over the top of the dam, instead of being channeled off to the side. As a result, a large portion of the dam washed out, knocking down plaintiff's fence and destroying part of the adjoining road. When defendant constructed the small pond, all the dirt was removed down to porous bedrock; consequently, the pond did not hold water.
The defendant argues on appeal that the trial court erroneously submitted instruction number 5 (MAI 26.02), which directed the jury to find for plaintiff if it believed:
First, Defendant did not build the lake and pond in a workmanlike manner, and
Second, because of such failure, Defendant's contract obligations were not substantially performed, and
Third, Plaintiff was thereby damaged.
Defendant claims it was error to give this instruction because it assumes the existence of a contract that has uncontested terms. Defendant maintains that the terms of the contracts to "build" a lake and a pond are in dispute and render the contract ambiguous for purposes of this point on appeal. Instead, defendant would have the trial court submit MAI 26.06, used when the contractual terms and breach are in issue. We conclude that the trial court properly submitted MAI 26.02.
In both the contract for building the lake and the pond, defendant was required to complete all work "in a workmanlike manner according to standard practices." The defendant argues that he entered into a contract for labor, not materials, and the "workmanlike manner" clause does not expand the agreement into a "multi-year guaranty of engineering construction and planning." We do not believe that the terms of the contracts render the agreement unclear.
Ambiguity does not arise from a contract merely because the parties disagree as to how the contract should be construed. J. E. Hathman, Inc. v. Sigma Alpha Epsilon Club, 491 S.W.2d 261, 264 (Mo. banc 1973); Von Seggern v. 310 West 49th Street, Inc., 631 S.W.2d 877, 882 (Mo. App. 1982). When there is no ambiguity in the document, it is the responsibility of the court, not the jury, to state its clear meaning. J. E. Hathman, Inc., supra. This the trial court properly did. The clause of the contract requiring the lake and pond to be completed in a workmanlike manner "was an express specification of the contract and one that would have been implied had it not been expressly stated." Hotchner v. Liebowits, 341 S.W.2d 319, 326 (Mo. App. 1961).
Defendant misplaces his reliance on Braun v. Lorenz, 585 S.W.2d 102 (Mo. App. 1979), in arguing that MAI 26.02 was improperly submitted to the jury. The court in Braun held that MAI 26.06, not 26.02, was the appropriate instruction where issue was joined as to what the basic agreement was. One party argued that the contract was for payment in settlement of respondent's claims, and the other argued that the contract was to purchase respondent's stock. The dispute existed as to the very essence of the parties' obligations, absent express contractual terms. MAI 26.02 is intended to be used in situations "where the existence and terms of the contract are ...