Timothy Kassouni of Kassouni Law discusses a recent victory for The McKinley Children’s Center.
The McKinley Children’s Center in Los Angeles is an established non-profit organization that provides a wide range of child welfare services in the Southern California region. The Children’s Center’s services include a special education school, residential care, mental health services, and foster care services. In 2009 the Children’s Center contracted with West Hills, Inc. for the installation of a supposedly state of the art, 2.5 million dollar 419 kilowatt solar system. The system failed in short order due to the failure of a number of key components of the system, and a lawsuit ensued.
The manufacturer of the components, Greenvolts, went bankrupt. Rather than take responsibility for fixing the system, West Hills contended in its trial court summary judgment motion that its contract warranty provisions only applied to Greenvolts as the manufacturer and purported “provider” of the components. The trial court agreed, and granted summary judgment in favor of West Hills.
Yet the warranty provisions in the contract expressly state: 1) West Hills is providing components; 2) the components include the components that failed (the panels, inverters, and solar collectors); and 3) the components are warranted by West Hills for ten years. It is undisputed that Greenvolts was not a signatory to the contract, and thus had no express warranty with the Foundation. Indeed, not one party to the litigation was able to produce an actual Greenvolts warranty.
The trial court disagreed, finding it “unambiguous” that West Hills was only the installer, and that the components were “provided” by Greenvolts, and not West Hills. The trial court then granted summary in favor of West Hills, leaving the Children’s Center high and dry.
In an important victory for the Children’s Center, and for consumers of expensive solar systems throughout the state of California, the Court of Appeal reversed. The Court of Appeal held:
“the contract can be interpreted to mean that the parties understood that respondent provided the failed components and therefore they were covered by the warranty. The warranty stated that respondent “warrants that all components of the [solar] power system that [respondent] provides to [appellants] . . . will be free from defects in the components and workmanship and a reduction in power output by more than fifteen (15) percent for a period of ten (10) years from the date of installation; the meter will be free from defects in the components and workmanship for a period of one (1) year from the date of installation.” The warranty was “limited to the following components of the power system: photovoltaic (PV) panels, inverters, solar collectors, tracking mechanisms, heat exchangers, pumps, heat-driven cooling systems associated with the system, and the meter.” The warranty also stated, “If any of the components covered by [respondent’s] warranty . . . fails at any time during the warranty period, [respondent] will, upon prompt written notice . . . make all repairs . . . necessary[.]”
Timothy Kassouni explains that the Court of Appeal remanded the case back to the trial court as the warranty is ambiguous, and there are triable issues as to what the warranty covers.
Timothy V. Kassouni of Kassouni Law was pleased with the result: “This is a win for the Children’s Center, which invested millions of dollars in what it thought was a state of the art system. We are confident that a jury will agree that the contract does indeed hold West Hills accountable for the failed components. Consumers of expensive solar systems in California should be able to rely on licensed contractors to stand by the components they provide.”