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ARTICLES & INFORMATION:
Business Disputes: Problems with a Partial Payment
How payment is due on a contract can lead to lawsuits. A Virginia Supreme Court case highlights issues and law that can apply in disputes, and in trying to settle by a partial payment. In Helton v. Glick Plumbing Inc., a plumbing company, Glick Plumbing, sued a homeowner, Helton, on a plumbing contract.
Helton and Glick Plumbing had agreed without a written contract for services billed on an hourly rate. Later, Helton disagreed with Glick about the bill. Helton said the bill should be lower, because the Glick Plumbing employees “were taking extended breaks and generally working slowly.”
Despite that disagreement, Helton then hired Glick Plumbing again, to install a hot water heater. Helton later sent letters to Glick Plumbing stating that the first job and the heater installation were overbilled, and that Glick Plumbing employees had goofed off and wasted materials.
Helton then sent Glick Plumbing a check for $ 1,300.00, almost $ 1,700.00 less than the invoice, with the statement, “Paid in Full” in the check memo line. Helton sent another letter with the check, re-stating the problems, and that no further payments would be made.
Glick Plumbing cashed Helton’s check, and sent Helton another invoice for the remaining balance. With the invoice, Glick Plumbing enclosed a copy of Helton’s check, and the words, “Paid in Full” crossed out, and “No” written in, along with the remaining balance claimed due on the check.
At trial of Glick Plumbing’s debt collection suit, Helton argued that the $ 1,300.00 check was a complete settlement (an “accord and satisfaction”). Helton lost, and appealed the case to the Virginia Supreme Court.
The Virginia Supreme Court agreed with Helton, finding he had followed the legal requirements for stating his terms to end the disagreement, and that Glick Plumbing accepted the settlement.
The decision follows public policy in favor of settlements. Here, Helton and Glick Plumbing settled, as a legal matter, although Glick Plumbing claimed it had not settled. The case provides lessons for businesses and consumers.
Family Law: Modifying Spousal Support
Efforts to change spousal support represent an important part of Courts' family law cases. Such efforts can have potential complications, as shown by a Virginia Court of Appeals opinion.
In Brown v. Brown, the Court reversed a trial Court dismissal of an ex-husband's petition against his ex-wife. Mr. Brown asked to terminate support because he planned to retire. His ex-wife disagreed, and the trial Court dismissed the petition because the support was based on a contract, and the contract did not state that support could be modified or terminated.
Under the Code of Virginia, if a couple agrees in writing on spousal support, then a Court may not enter an order of support except in accordance with the agreeement. If the couple signs an agreement after an order has been entered, the Court shall modify the order to conform to the agreement.
The problem in the Brown case concerned the previous order. That order resolved a case Ms. Brown brought against her ex-husband for nonpayment of support. Mr. Brown agreed with his ex-wife on how that case should end. However, that agreement did not keep Mr. Brown from later asking that support end. As the Court of Appeals wrote, "Not every agreement that impacts or affects the payment of spousal support . . . is necessarily a contract . . . ." The agreement concerned the manner in which Mr. Brown would pay, but not the amount. So, Mr. Brown coud go forward with his request to terminate support.
Brown illustrates difficulties that can arise in a matter as seemingly simple as changing spousal support. How the support obligation arose can be critical. Ambiguity or incompleteness can lead to lengthy, costly disputes.
Persons involved in a claim for long-term support should seek help from an attorney in structuring an agreed support arrangement, or if efforts to compromise fail, in presenting a claim for support to a Court.