An engineering firm plans to appeal the $1.7 million judgment against it and the Smiths Water and Sewer Authority over a sewer project in Smiths Station.
A Lee County jury awarded Hudmon Construction Company the verdict on Jan. 29 against the water and sewer authority and Goodwyn Mills & Cawood Inc. The lawsuit arose from a disputed bill for rock excavation to install a sewer line.
HCC was awarded $380,067.25 in compensatory damages and $1.4 million in punitive damages, according to a copy of the jury verdict from the Lee County Circuit Court.
“ Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood is very disappointed with the verdict and will appeal the case at the appropriate time,” the company said in an emailed statement. “As the case is still pending, any further comment would be inappropriate at this time.”
The Smiths Water and Sewer Authority declined to comment on the verdict.
Hudmon Construction was represented at trial by Rick Davidson of the Auburn law firm of Davidson, Davidson & Umbach and by Blake Oliver of the Adams White law firm in Opelika . “When you have 12 Lee County citizens on a jury, you are dealing with one of the most intelligent, observant and conscientious bodies that can be assembled,” Davidson said in a prepared statement. “I have found that you can’t put anything past them and you better not even try. Lee County is a place where people work hard and where we expect that we will get paid for our hard work. We actually do what we say we are going to do.
“This verdict reflects the findings that Hudmon Construction Company completed the contract for the sewer project and earned the money that was submitted in the final pay request to Smiths Water and Sewer. The verdict of $1.4 million in punitive damages, especially from a Lee County jury, sends a loud and clear message that the jury didn’t appreciate the choices made by the engineers in the way the project was administered and they most definitely don’t want it to happen again. The engineers tried to pull a fast one on Hudmon , and came to court and tried to do the same thing with the jury,” Davidson said.
Oliver added, “I would like to thank the members of the jury for carefully listening to the evidence and arriving at a fair and just verdict for Hudmon Construction Company. I believe and hope that their verdict in this case will send a message that people should not talk out of both sides of their mouths and, if they do, there will be consequences.”
According to an email from Davidson, HCC installed a four-mile sewer line for Smiths Water and Sewer Authority in 2010 and 2011. The sewer line had to be installed for Smiths Station High School to connect to the sewer system.
Davidson said in an email that HCC had to remove 8,000 cubic yards of rock in order to place the pipe at the depth required by the engineers, GMC, a longtime consultant of the water and sewer authority. During the construction project, a dispute arose over the contract language and the payment for removal of the rock excavated by HCC.
According to Davidson, GMC gave the water and sewer authority their opinion that the costs for any rock over 2,000 cubic yards would not have to be reimbursed to HCC. HCC expressed their disagreement and wrote a letter to the board of SWSA requesting payment, as instructed by the project engineer from GMC.
Davidson said in an email that HCC did not get a response for months and kept inquiring about the status of payment, and that at this point in the project, HCC had only removed about 3,000 cubic yards of rock. GMC assured HCC that the payment would be made by the board, and did so to make sure that the project finished on time to open the school, he said. At the time, GMC made repeated promises to HCC that they would recommend to their client, SWSA, to pay the cost of rock removal so that HCC would not stop working as allowed under the contact. However, GMC had already drafted a letter for the SWSA board to send to HCC denying the request for payment, according to Davidson.
Hudmon eventually called a meeting with the regional vice president from Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood and the project engineer. Nobody from SWSA attended, according to Davidson’s email.
At the meeting, HCC President David Hudmon told GMC that the project would be stopped until the issue was resolved. Based on the acknowledgement by GMC that there was a discrepancy in the terms of the contract, further assurances by the regional vice president and the promise that the recommendation from GMC would be to pay for all rock removed on the project, Hudmon agreed to continue the construction.
Hudmon incurred more than $233,000 in rock excavation charges that ultimately were refused by GMC and the board. Hudmon was also denied payment of another $100,000 in its last pay request.
“I am so appreciative of the jury, and their understanding of what my company had to go through,” HCC President David Hudmon said in an email provided by Davidson. “It was difficult during the construction process, especially to be misled and lied to. And now, just knowing that those 12 men and women weighed all the evidence and the credibility of all the witnesses for both sides and affirmed the way we handled the project by sending such a strong message about fraud. It could not make me more proud to live and work here in Lee County .”