From the Desk of Gordon C. Klug:
In Washington, contractors that are not properly registered are unable to pursue an action against their client for compensation. In this case, the plaintiff was working on a project for the defendant who refused to pay plaintiff the full agreed compensation because he was unhappy with the results. The Washington Appellate Court had to determine whether the plaintiff was a contractor, as defined by statute, to decide if she could even bring suit against the defendant.
The Washington Appellate Court ruled that the plaintiff was a “contractor” as that term is defined under statute, and since she was not properly registered as a contractor, plaintiff was unable to sue the defendant for compensation. The Court noted that even though the plaintiff had an unrelated full-time job, the project was a business enterprise of a contractor rather than a favor between friends.
Dobson v. Archibald, 2022 Wash. App. LEXIS 362
In 2018 Trefan Archibald hired Gina Dobson to refinish his hardwood floors for $3,200. Dobson was not a registered contractor but had been referred by acquaintances of Archibald. Archibald paid Dobson a $700 deposit before Dobson began her work. By the time the project was finished, Archibald was unhappy with the appearance of the floors and told Dobson he would not pay her the remaining $2,500.
Dobson recorded a lien against Archibald’s property and filed suit. Archibald filed a motion for summary judgement arguing that Dobson was not a registered contractor thus under RCW 18.27.080, she could not bring suit. Dobson filed a cross-motion for summary judgement.
Archibald later requested leave of Court to amend his answer to include Dobson’s status as an unregistered contractor as an affirmative defense. The trial court granted leave to amend and then later granted Archibald’s motion for summary judgment.
Revised Code of Washington 18.27.080 provides that “[n]o person engaged in the business or acting in the capacity of a contractor may bring or maintain any action in any court of this state for the collection of compensation for the performance of any work or for breach of any contract for which registration is required under this chapter without alleging and proving that he or she was a duly registered contractor…” In other words, if a plaintiff wants to bring suit to recoup compensation for work as a contractor, the plaintiff is required to allege and prove that at the time the work was performed, the plaintiff was a registered contractor. If a contractor is not properly registered, they cannot sue to recover compensation.
The Washington Appellate Court looked at the statute’s plain language and found that the statute does not create an affirmative defense but, rather, a prerequisite to suit. Therefore, registration must be alleged and proved by the plaintiff. Archibald was not required to do anything other than deny Dobson’s allegations.
Next the court addressed plaintiff’s argument that she does not fall into the statutory definition of a contractor because she is primarily employed as a longshoreman and the flooring work she performed was “an isolated act in her spare time as a favor”. The Court turned to the statutory definition of a “contractor” and found that it was undisputed that Dobson was a non-registered contractor, thus, she was not entitled to relief because she failed to allege and prove that she was properly registered as a contractor. Additionally, the Court noted, that Dobson and Archibald did not have a preexisting social friendship that would remove their transaction from a mere business enterprise. Dobson and Archibald knew each other solely through this business enterprise. Dobson’s agreement to refinish Archibald’s wood floor for $3,200 was in pursuit of an independent business, regardless of her unrelated full-time job.
The Big Picture:
This opinion reinforces Washington’s law that contractors who are not properly registered cannot bring suit against their clients for compensation. Thus, it is key that Washington contractors be properly registered. Additionally, the Court highlights the difference between a contractor and a friend who may be doing work for another as a favor. The Court made clear that if Dobson and Archibald were social friends, then Dobson would have a better chance of claiming she was not a contractor and thus could still bring suit for her compensation.