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Illinois Supreme Court Rules Subcontractors Are Not Subject to Consumer Protection Law

The Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act does not apply to subcontractors, the state Supreme Court ruled April 3. The court’s decision in MD Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Abrams, (Il. Sup. Ct. 2008; Doc. No. 104000) resurrected an electrical subcontractor’s breach of implied contract lawsuit against a Napierville family.

The dispute started in 2004, when Abrams family contracted with Apex Builders, Inc. for improvements to their home. MD Electrical Contractors, Inc., did just under $15,000 worth of electrical work on the project as a subcontractor. It was not paid for that work, and in 2005, it sued the family for payment. In its complaint, MD stipulated that it had no contract with them. The Home Repair and Remodeling Act (HRRA) requires repair and remodeling contractors that work with individual homeowners to provide a written contract and a consumers’ rights brochure to customers. Because MD had not provided a contract or a brochure to the defendants, as required by the HRRA, defendants argued that there could be no implied contract, under the plaintiffs’ theory of quantum meruit. They successfully moved to dismiss at the trial court level, but were reversed by the appellate court, which ruled that the HRRA does not apply to subcontractors. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed.

In its review, the court noted that the common understanding in home repair work is that subcontractors work directly for contractors, who in turn work for homeowners. That understanding is critical for interpreting the HRRA, said the court. Relying on the plain language of the law and the accompanying brochure, definitions of terms, other laws and legislative intent, it found that the HRRA does not apply to subcontractors:

The statute’s plain language limits its application to only those who contract directly with the homeowner. To allow any other interpretation not only would be contrary to our principles of statutory interpretation, but would also do severe damage to industry practice and other statutes. The Home Repair and Remodeling Act is unambiguous and only applies to those who form direct contracts with the homeowner.

The court declined to take up the issue of quantum meruit, noting that defendant forfeited that argument by failing to property present it in their petition for appeal. It remanded the case to trial court. Justices Freeman and Burke, dissenting, argued that the majority made unwarranted assumptions about the nature of subcontractor-client relationships and that the HRRA could be an affirmative defense.