Condominium Owners Stated a Cause of Action Based Upon Third-Party-Beneficiary Status Re: a Contract Between the Village and an Engineer Hired to Inspect the Condominiums/The Contract Cause of Action Precluded the Professional Malpractice Cause of Action
The Second Department determined that a cause of action based upon the theory that condominium owners were third-party beneficiaries of a contract between a village and an engineer hired to inspect the condominiums should not have been dismissed. It was alleged that the engineer approved the buildings (leading to the issuance of certificates of occupancy by the village) despite defects, including the absence of firewalls. Because a contract-based theory had been properly alleged, the related professional malpractice cause of action, sounding in negligence, should have been dismissed:
In determining third-party beneficiary status it is permissible for the court to look at the surrounding circumstances as well as the agreement . . . Moreover, it is well settled that the obligation to perform to the third party beneficiary need not be expressly stated in the contract” … . Here, the plaintiffs submitted an affidavit from the Village Attorney attesting that the Village engaged the defendant to perform the subject inspections for the benefit of the purchasers of the subject condominiums … . Moreover, “the identity of a third-party beneficiary need not be set forth in the contract or, for that matter, even be known as of the time of its execution” … .
The plaintiffs asserted in the complaint that the defendant “negligently performed inspection services relative to the homes in [Encore I] and [Encore II],” in that, inter alia, the defendant “fail[ed] to detect the existence of defects in the homes and appurtenant common areas.” “[M]erely alleging that a party breached a contract because it failed to act with due care will not transform a strict breach of contract claim into a negligence claim” … . This is because “[o]bligations that flow exclusively from a contract must be enforced as contractual duties under a theory of contract law” … . “[A] court enforcing a contractual obligation will ordinarily impose a contractual duty only on the promisor in favor of the promisee and any intended third-party beneficiaries” … . “Thus where a party is merely seeking to enforce its bargain, a tort claim will not lie'” .. . Taking into account the applicable factors, including “the nature of the injury, the manner in which the injury occurred and the resulting harm” … , it is clear that the plaintiffs, as third-party beneficiaries, are seeking enforcement of the defendant’s promise to properly inspect the construction of the subject homes. Thus, the only claim the plaintiffs have alleged against the defendant is one sounding in contract, and they have failed to state a cause of action sounding in tort. Accordingly, the Supreme Court properly directed dismissal of the second cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7). Encore Lake Grove Homeowners Assn Inc v Cashin Assoc PC, 2013 NY Slip Op 07932, Second Dept 11-27-13