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A dispute involving the construction of a chemical plant in Alvin, Texas, has resulted in a $34.5 million verdict in favor of the builder. Fluor Enterprises, an engineering and construction company based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., was hired to build the plant for Solutia Inc., a St. Louis-based chemical company. The original contract called for Solutia to pay Fluor $232 million. But during the final stages of construction, Solutia submitted drastic construction changes to Fluor. Although Fluor agreed to the changes, it informed Solutia that increased manpower would be required, which would raise costs. Fluor alleged that when the altered project was completed, Solutia refused to pay the $34.5 million Fluor claimed it was owed. Fluor filed suit in a federal court in Texas, claiming breach of contract and quantum meruit damages. Solutia countered that Fluor’s quality of work was responsible for the additional costs. Fluor presented proof that the late changes required by Solutia were discretionary and preferential changes that should not have been made only 10 months before scheduled completion and that they caused disruption to the construction. Gib Walton, an attorney for Fluor, compared the changes Solutia wanted to a child kicking an anthill. “The ants have to work like crazy to adjust and rebuild, but they do it,” he said. “Fluor spent a lot of resources making the late changes dumped on them. All they want is to be paid for their work.” On Sept. 13, after a two-week trial, a Houston jury agreed with Fluor that Solutia had breached its contract by interfering with and disrupting the project and by making unnecessary and unreasonable changes. The jury awarded $4.8 million for breach of contract and $34.5 million on the quantum meruit claim. Fluor elected to go with the quantum meruit damages. In a press release, Solutia said it “intends to pursue all post-verdict remedies.” Plaintiff’s attorneys: D. Gibson Walton and Adam P. Schiffer of Vinson & Elkins in Houston. Defense attorneys: William M. Coats and Michael L. Burnett of Coats, Rose, Yale, Ryman & Lee in Houston.

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