October 1, 2009

Idaho high court sides with Hanks in home lawsuit

Associated Press
 

BOISE — The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson can take the contractor of their high-end Sun Valley home back to arbitration over claims of shoddy workmanship.

The unanimous high court ruling handed down Wednesday came in a long-running battle between the couple and Storey Construction, the company they hired to build their sprawling villa in 2000.

Hanks and Wilson said they discovered defects in the construction that weren’t immediately obvious and asked for arbitration of their claims. But Storey Construction said that since they had already gone to arbitration once, any additional claims were barred, and a lower court agreed.

The Supreme Court reversed that ruling, agreeing with the acting and film-producing couple that their contract with the company didn’t prohibit additional arbitration over newly discovered defects.

Miles Stanislaw, the attorney for Storey Construction, said his client was considering its legal options, including “ways to bring additional statutory and contractual issues to the court’s attention.”

“The important thing about the decision is that it made absolutely no finding that there was any work done incompetently by Story Construction,” Stanislaw said Thursday. “What this is is a seven-year saga that is the product of a vendetta. If Tom Hanks and Mr. Storey sat in the same room together, this would be over in a week, but unfortunately Mr. Hanks has never shown up at any of the proceedings in the past seven years.”

Wilson has attended the court proceedings. After arguments before the high court in August, she told the Associated Press that she never expected the case to go so far but the couple felt it was important to press their claims on behalf of homeowners in similar situations.

Arthur Harrigan Jr., the attorney representing Wilson and Hanks, whose character in the 1986 movie “The Money Pit” dealt with a dilapidated house, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The couple’s dispute with Storey Construction began with an argument over payment. Storey Construction said Hanks and Wilson had failed to pay the full construction bill and sought arbitration, as required under the construction contract.

Hanks and Wilson responded with a counterclaim saying the company did substandard and defective work. Storey won the arbitration in 2004, and the counterclaim was tossed, with Hanks and Wilson paying the company $1.85 million for the contract balance, interest and legal fees.

Three years later, the couple filed a demand for a second arbitration, saying they had discovered latent construction defects totaling $2.5 million in damages. Storey Construction responded by suing in district court, contending the couple was abusing the process and that the previous arbitration barred them from bringing another claim of shoddy work.

The Idaho Supreme Court found that the terms of the contract between the parties required only that they address all claims known at the time of arbitration, and that an arbitrator can decide this time around whether any of Hanks’ and Wilson’s new claims were dealt with in the previous arbitration.

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