Legal Advice Needed

Location: Tampa, Florida. Situation: Builder ‘B’ contracts with Architect ‘A’ to design two houses. Architect ‘A’ designs the floor plans and elevations, then farms out the job of finishing the plans to independent Draftsman ‘D’. When D has finished the plans, he gives a copy of them to A for approval. A turns over the plans to B and gets paid, and never pays D. Then A disappears and his practive is taken over by Architect Z. Z promises to get D his money, but it’s been two months and counting. What can D do? Is he within his rights to demand the plans back from Builder B, as if they were stolen property (like if A stole my car and sold it to B)?

IANAL but I’ll give you my take on it. I don’t see where you have any contractural relationship w/ the builder. You may have a claim against Z, but I think it depends upon how Z acquired the business from A and, perhaps your state’s laws. Z may very well be responsible for any liabilities of the business, but it’s not guaranteed.
If the amount owed is within, or close to, the amount allowed in small claims court, you might go that route and file a claim against both B and Z. You can claim that Z is responsible for the debt as they assumed it by taking over the business and/or that B is responsible since they benefited from the results of your work. They would then have to show the judge why they are not liable. You might win, or not. I think the filing fee should be less than a hundred bucks. If you win, you’ll get that back, if you lose you won’t.

If I understand correctly:
B contracted with A to provide plans.
A provided B the plans, and B paid A the full amount.
B never had a contract with D.
B never asked D to provide him any services.

D is a subcontractor to A.
B owes D nothing.

D’s beef is with the only party with whom he had contractual privity - B.
(Or arguably Z - it is possible that he assumed A’s debts when he acquired A’s business.)

Think about it. Why should B owe D anything? B did not ask D to do anything. Instead, he paid A in full for what they contracted.
What if A also skipped out on his rent, or other suppliers and contractors. Should those folks have causes of action against the “innocent” parties who did business with A?

You can certainly demand anything you want from anyone you wish. Sue 'em too while you are at it. Doesn’t mean they owe you anything or that you will be able to collect on your demands.

Standard disclaimer - I am not your lawyer, etc.

I don’t disagree w/ this. The reason I suggested including the builder in the suit is twofold: first to show that he did indeed pay the architect (it might turn out that he didn’t, which would change the dynamics) and perhaps the builder could also confirm that D had done the drawings. In other words, let the builder prove to the court that he has no liability. You could also require, in your subpoena, that the plans in question be presented to the court.
I think the case hinges on how Z acquired the business and what state law says about assuming liabilities in that transaction.

I believe this is a typo – I think Dinsdale meant to say A here, not B.

I generally agree with his analysis, althougn it’s impossible to reach any final conclusions without more information, and I am not familiar with Florida law.
Usual disclaimer. I’m not your lawyer, or licensed in your state. This isn’t relaible legal advice. See a lawyer licensed in your state for that.

I’ve got some problems with this response.

  1. Generally, if X hires Y to do work as a subcontractor (in connection with a general contract that X has with Z), and Y does the work, X owes Y the agreed-upon compensation. Whether Z pays X is irrelevant – it doesn’t “change the dynamic” of the merits of Y’s claim against X. (assuming X and Y aren’t actually partners of some kind, or the compensation to Y isn’t expressely contingent on Z’s payment to X.)

  2. Suing someone just becuase you think he’d be a useful witness is (a) reprehensible and (b) sanctionable under any set of court rules that I’m familiar with. You need to have a good-faith claim against each defendant.

  3. You seem to be confusing suing someone (a process you initiate with a summons and complaint) and obtaining testimony of a witness (something you might do with a subpoena).

So, sue me.

Here’s my two cents. And this in now way constitutes legal advice….

Before you go into any legal action your best bet is to be nice first. Have you spoken with the new owners of the architectural firm? Consider filing a professional complaint against the original architect with the state licensing agency. If you can put pressure on his license you might be able to get his attention and your payment.

Moving on to more direct actions, find out if you can file a mechanic’s lien on the property. This is usually limited to those who physically worked on the structure but it’s worth a shot. I suggest this because; subcontractors rarely have privity with the property owner as they usually contract with the general contractor. Yet the subcontractors can file a lien on the property requiring the property owner to pay the subs work if the GC skips on the payment. In my experience second tier subs can to this too. In this instance you are a second tier subcontractor, you are subcontractor to a subcontractor.

Gotcha me!