Washington County Superior Court
For Plaintiff: Lewis J. Paras, Esq.
For Defendant: Ariele Yaffee, Esq.
Kristin E. Rodgers, J.
Ronald Kapuscinski (Kapuscinski) and Four All Seasons Construction, LLC (Four All Seasons and collectively, Appellants) appeal from a Final Order of the State of Rhode Island Contractors' Registration and Licensing Board (the CRLB or the Board) directing them to pay fines for violations of G.L. 1956 §§ 5-65-10(a)(11), (12) and (14). Kapuscinski contends that the fines imposed for each of these violations were excessive and clearly erroneous because the alleged violations were the result of unanticipated, extenuating circumstances, and the CRLB overlooked the Appellants' good faith efforts to resolve the issues with the homeowner.
Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15. For the reasons set forth herein, the Board's Final Order is affirmed.
Facts and Travel
On or about September 2, 2010, Lydia Wilson (Wilson) and Kapuscinski, the proprietor of Four All Seasons, entered into a written contract in which Appellants were to perform a variety of work at Wilson's father's home at 8 Wilson Drive in Narragansett, Rhode Island (the Property). This work included checking the electrical and running new wires and fixtures if needed; installing plumbing for all sinks, toilets, washers/dryers, and plumbing for baseboard heat; installing two boilers with hot water tanks; insulating walls; removing a chimney; bringing framing up to code; installing new doors and windows; installing new kitchen cabinets; building three decks; installing vinyl siding on the house; and installing new interior baseboard molding and trim around windows and doors. The contract price for all work under this agreement was $91, 500. Wilson paid $30, 500 as an initial down payment and, as work progressed, paid another $30, 500 on March 1, 2011.
In the late summer of 2011, a dispute developed between Wilson and Kapuscinski over completion of the project. Running low on capital, Kapuscinski refused to complete the job unless Wilson advanced the final payment for the project.
On October 14, 2011, Wilson filed a claim against Appellants with the Board. In her claim, Wilson alleged Appellants breached the contract they had entered into with Wilson for the work at the Property. She further alleged that work had virtually stopped at the Property for the past three months; that Kapuscinski orally promised that the job would be completed by December 2010, then promised completion by Spring of 2011; that work promised has not been performed; and that Kapuscinski is unable to complete the job.
CRLB investigator Michael Lanni (Lanni) visited the Property on November 17, 2011, and determined that Kapuscinski had ceased working on the project before a large portion of the work had been completed. In particular, Lanni noted that only rough plumbing, electrical, and HVAC were in place, that drywall installed by compound needed sanding, and that cabinets had been delivered but not installed. Lanni also concluded that Kapuscinski was unwilling to return to the Property to complete the job for the agreed upon price.
A CRLB hearing officer heard the matter on June 6, 2012. Both Kapuscinski and Wilson were present and represented by counsel. The evidence presented before the hearing officer included the testimony of Wilson and Kapuscinski; the contract; floor plans of the Property; copies of the checks paid by Wilson to Kapuscinski; e-mail communications between Kapuscinski and Wilson; the claim form filed by Wilson; insurance reconstruction estimates and photographs; completion proposals; communications between Wilson's attorney and Kapuscinski to resolve the matter; communications between both parties' attorneys regarding completing the work; communications with the Building Inspector; communications with Lanni; final costs to complete the work; and Lanni's investigative report.
After receiving the relevant testimony and evidence, the hearing officer issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and a Proposed Order on July 17, 2012. He found that the parties had entered into a written contract dated September 2, 2010, whereby Appellants agreed to perform certain work at the Property; namely, to install all new interior baseboard molding and trim around windows and doors. He further found that the written contract included all labor, materials and permits to complete this job, that Wilson agreed to pay Appellants the sum of $104, 330 exclusive of extras, if any, and that she had in fact paid $73, 830. The hearing officer concluded that Appellants performed negligent and/or improper work on the Property, breached the contract with the homeowner, and failed to complete a project for construction or willfully failed to comply with the terms of a contract. The hearing officer thus issued the following Conclusions of Law: Appellants breached the contract in violation of § 5-65-11(1)(iii); Appellants have been negligent in violation of § 5-65-11(1)(i); work performed by Appellants was improper in violation of § 5-65-11(1)(ii); and Appellants substantially violated the Rhode Island building code in violation of § 5-65-10(a)(7).
Based upon his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the hearing officer issued a Proposed Order imposing a total fine in the amount of $17, 500, which included: (1) $2500 fine for violating § 5-65-10(a)(13) by advertising with a license number instead of a registration number; (2) $5000 fine for violating § 5-65-10(a)(11) by breaching the contract; (3) $5000 fine for violating § 5-65-10(a)(12) by performing negligent and/or improper work; and (4) $5000 fine for violation of § 5-65-10(a)(14) by failing to complete a project for construction or willfully failing to comply with the terms of the contract.
In accordance with § 5-65-20, Appellants timely appealed the Proposed Order to the entire Board on August 5, 2012. On November 27, 2012, the Board issued a Final Order which essentially echoed the hearing officer's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. The Board imposed the same fines as were proposed by the hearing officer, with the exception of reducing the $2500 fine for violating § 5-65-10(a)(13) to $500.
Appellants timely appealed the Board's Final Order to this Court on December 26, 2012. In sum, Appellants argue the fines levied in the Final Order are excessive, arbitrary, or capricious, or otherwise clearly erroneous because Appellants demonstrated extenuating circumstances that made it difficult for them to complete the work; namely, the belligerent behavior of Wilson's father, who suffered from dementia and resided at the Property, and Kapuscinski's financial difficulties. ...