You are here

Substantial Performance; Conditions Precedent

15 January, 2016 - 09:33

TA Operating Corp. v. Solar Applications Engineering, Inc.

191 S.W.3d 173 (Tex. Ct. App. 2005)

TA Operating Corporation, a truck stop travel center company, contracted with Solar Applications Engineering, Inc. to construct a prototype multi-use truck stop in San Antonio for a fixed price of $3,543,233.…

[When the project was near] completion, TA sent Solar a “punch list” of items that needed to be finished to complete the building. Solar disputed several items on the list and delivered a response to TA listing the items Solar would correct.…Solar began work on the punch list items and filed a lien affidavit [a property that carries a lien can be forced into sale by the creditor in order to collect what is owed] against the project on October 2, 2000 in the amount of $472,392.77. TA understood the lien affidavit to be a request for final payment.

On October 18, 2000, TA sent notice to Solar that Solar was in default for not completing the punch list items, and for failing to keep the project free of liens. TA stated in the letter that Solar was not entitled to final payment until it completed the remainder of the punch list items and provided documentation that liens filed against the project had been paid.…Solar acknowledged at least two items on the punch list had not been completed, and submitted a final application for payment in the amount of $472,148,77.…TA refused to make final payment, however, contending that Solar had not complied with section 14.07 of the contract, which expressly made submission of a [lien-release] affidavit a condition precedent to final payment:…

The final Application for Payment shall be accompanied by:…complete and legally effective releases or waivers…of all lien rights arising out of or liens filed in connection with the work.

Although Solar did not comply with this condition precedent to final payment, Solar sued TA for breach of contract under the theory of substantial performance.…TA [asserts that] the doctrine of substantial performance does not excuse Solar’s failure to comply with an express condition precedent to final payment.…

The first issue we must resolve is whether the doctrine of substantial performance excuses the breach of an express condition precedent to final payment that is unrelated to completion of the building. TA acknowledges that Solar substantially performed its work on the project, but contends its duty to pay was not triggered until Solar pleaded or proved it provided TA with documentation of complete and legally effective releases or waivers of all liens filed against the project.…TA contends that when the parties have expressly conditioned final payment on submission of [a liens-release] affidavit, the owner’s duty to pay is not triggered until the contractor pleads or proves it complied with the condition precedent.

Solar contends that although it did not submit [a liens-release] affidavit in accordance with the contract, it may still recover under the contract pursuant to the substantial performance doctrine. Solar argues that to hold otherwise would bring back the common law tradition that the only way for a contractor to recover under a contract is full, literal performance of the contract’s terms.…

While the common law did at one time require strict compliance with the terms of a contract, this rule has been modified for building or construction contracts by the doctrine of substantial performance. “Substantial performance” was defined by the Texas [court] in [Citation]:

To constitute substantial compliance the contractor must have in good faith intended to comply with the contract, and shall have substantially done so in the sense that the defects are not pervasive, do not constitute a deviation from the general plan contemplated for the work, and are not so essential that the object of the parties in making the contract and its purpose cannot without difficulty, be accomplished by remedying them. Such performance permits only such omissions or deviation from the contract as are inadvertent and unintentional, are not due to bad faith, do not impair the structure as a whole, and are remediable without doing material damage to other parts of the building in tearing down and reconstructing.

…The doctrine of substantial performance recognizes that the contractor has not completed construction, and therefore is in breach of the contract. Under the doctrine, however, the owner cannot use the contractor’s failure to complete the work as an excuse for non-payment. “By reason of this rule a contractor who has in good faith substantially performed a building contract is permitted to sue under the contract, substantial performance being regarded as full performance, so far as a condition precedent to a right to recover thereunder is concerned.” [Citation]…

Solar argues that by agreeing substantial performance occurred, TA acknowledged that Solar was in “full compliance” with the contract and any express conditions to final payment did not have to be met. [Citation]: “[a] finding that a contract has been substantially completed is the legal equivalent of full compliance, less any offsets for remediable defects.” Solar argues that TA may not expressly provide for substantial performance in its contract and also insist on strict compliance with the conditions precedent to final payment. We disagree. While the substantial performance doctrine permits contractors to sue under the contract, it does not ordinarily excuse the non-occurrence of an express condition precedent:

The general acceptance of the doctrine of substantial performance does not mean that the parties may not expressly contract for literal performance of the contract terms.…Stated otherwise, if the terms of an agreement make full or strict performance an express condition precedent to recovery, then substantial performance will not be sufficient to enable recovery under the contract.

15 Williston on Contracts § 44.53 (4th Ed.2000) (citing Restatement (Second) of Contracts, § 237, cmt. d (1981)).…

TA, seeking protection from double liability and title problems, expressly conditioned final payment on Solar’s submission of a [liens-release] affidavit. Solar did not dispute that it was contractually obligated to submit the affidavit as a condition precedent to final payment, and it was undisputed at trial that $246,627.82 in liens had been filed against the project. Though the doctrine of substantial performance permitted Solar to sue under the contract, Solar did not plead or prove that it complied with the express condition precedent to final payment. Had Solar done so, it would have been proper to award Solar the contract balance minus the cost of remediable defects. While we recognize the harsh results occasioned from Solar’s failure to perform this express condition precedent, we recognize that parties are free to contract as they choose and may protect themselves from liability by requesting literal performance of their conditions for final payment.…

[T]he trial court erred in awarding Solar the contract balance [as] damages, and we render judgment that Solar take nothing on its breach of contract claim.


  1. Why did Solar believe it was entitled to the contract balance here?
  2. Why did the court determine that Solar should not have been awarded the contract damages that it claimed, even though it substantially complied?
  3. How has the common law changed in regard to demanding strict compliance with a contract?