When litigating matters in Pennsylvania, recouping attorney fees for your clients can pose a formidable challenge. As a general rule, such fees are only recoverable when authorized by contract or statute. In the realm of contractor disputes, the Pennsylvania Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (CSPA), 73 P.S. Sections 501-516, allows for reasonable attorney fees if a party qualifies as a “substantially prevailing party.” On June 30, the Superior Court handed down Waller v. Warren Plaza, 2014 Pa Super 134 (Waller), a 2-1 decision that examines issues related to a successful attorney fee claim that is likely to cause a great deal of discussion among practitioners in this area of law.
The facts in Waller are fairly straightforward. In November 2000, Warren Plaza Inc. (appellant/defendant) contracted with Waller Corp. (appellee/plaintiff), a general contractor. The project, a 15-unit building valued at approximately $1.3 million, was funded in large part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Warren was not involved in the process of memorializing changes to the project; those modifications were handled strictly by Waller and its architect or just the architect, depending upon the characterization of the change. Over the course of the project, more than eight change orders were submitted.
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