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Architect’s Contract To Observe Construction Did Not Create Duty To Ensure That Plumbing Work Complied With Design Plans

In Chicago Ambulatory Surgery Associates, Inc. v. Restore Construction, Inc., 2021 WL 4168597 (Ill. App. Sept. 14, 2021), an Illinois court held an architect that contracted to provide design drawings and make regular site visits did not also undertake a duty to inspect plumbing work for compliance with those drawings.

The owner hired Restore Construction, Inc., a general contractor, to design and build a medical office in Chicago, Illinois. Restore retained the services of various contractors and consultants to design and construct the project, including Onyx Architectural Services, Inc., who was retained to provide the design and make regular site visits. The plumbing subcontractor allegedly deviated from the plans and the improper work caused water and sewage to flood the building on numerous occasions.

The owner sued Restore for the damages related to the plumbing defects. Restore filed a third-party action against Onyx, alleging Onyx was liable for failing to ensure the plumbing pipes were installed pursuant to drawings.

Restore argued the contract stated Onyx’s services would continue throughout the “construction observation phase” and that the architect “typically inspects all work.” Restore contended that Onyx failed to make reasonable inspections of the plumbing and generally failed to ensure the construction complied with the drawings.

Onyx moved for summary judgment, arguing it had no duty to perform these services. Onyx argued the term “construction observations” referred to site visits and attendance at weekly progress meetings, but did not include any requirement for inspection. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment.

The Appellate Court affirmed the summary judgment, finding the contract did not require Onyx to inspect the plumbers’ work to ensure the installation complied with the plans. The Court reasoned the contract did not require Onyx to control the means and methods of construction, but instead, Restore was actually responsible for the oversight and control of the means and methods of construction, and pursuant to the contract, Onyx was not required to “inspect” the work of contractors to ensure compliance with the plans. Onyx was only required to visit the site once a week and to attend weekly meetings to discuss project progress and adherence to the drawings. The Court noted Onyx did not have the authority to take remedial measures to ensure the work conformed to the plans and, thus, Onyx had no authority over the contractors, their workers, or the compliance of the work.

This holding reinforces the position that Courts are not willing to interfere with contractual provisions and duties between a contractor and architect when a written agreement is clear and unambiguous on its face. In the present case, the Court recognized the parties contracted and specifically agreed on the architectural firm’s duties and Restore was attempting to enlarge the scope of Onyx’s work after the fact.