Valley View Agri LLC v. Producers Cooperative Oil Mill
ORDER denying 28 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Honorable Timothy D. DeGiusti on 3/31/2017. (mb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
VALLEY VIEW AGRI, LLC,
Case No. CIV-15-1297-D
Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 28] filed
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Defendant seeks judgment as a matter of law regarding
Plaintiff’s breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims. Plaintiff has responded in
opposition [Doc. No. 46], and Defendant has replied [Doc. No. 48]. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion.
On May 29, 2009, Plaintiff (“Valley View”)1 and Defendant (“PCOM”) entered into
a contract (“Contract”) originally proposed by Valley View, but revised and finalized by
PCOM. See Mot. [Doc. No. 28] at 3-4; Resp. [Doc. No. 46] at 2. The Contract involves
pre-construction design and engineering services2 for an oil mill that was to be located at
Defendant contends that it contracted with “Valley View Agri-Systems, Inc.,” not Plaintiff, that the
Contract was unassignable absent written consent, and accordingly, reserves the right to challenge
Plaintiff’s standing. Mot. [Doc. No. 28] at 1 n.1; see also Contract [Doc. No. 1-1] at 4.
The pre-construction design and engineering services encompassed the following categories: Geotechnical
Investigation and Engineering; Foundations Engineering, Design, and Drafting; Dust Control Engineering,
Design, and Drafting; Electrical Engineering, Design, and Drafting; and Overall Site Layout and System
Design. Id. at 1-2.
2500 S. Council Rd. in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (“Project”). Contract [Doc. No. 1-1] at
1. The “Terms of payment” provision detailed the following states:
Valley View Agri, Inc. agrees to provide all of the design and
engineering services described herein for the actual costs
incurred, not to exceed, under any condition whatsoever, the
sum of Seven Hundred and Thirty-one Thousand and One
Hundred Dollars ($731,100.00).
Valley View Agri, Inc. further agrees no payment shall be due
and owed by PCOM for the design and engineering services
provided by Valley View Agri, Inc. until PCOM has received
all bids submitted for the construction of the Project and
PCOM has made its determination of which bidder it will
retain to perform construction of the Project. If Valley View
Agri, Inc. is the bidder chosen by PCOM for the contract for
construction of the Project, then no payment shall be required
for the engineering and design services performed by Valley
View Agri, Inc. and which are described herein. However,
should the contract for construction of the Project be awarded
to a bidder or contractor other than Valley View Agri, Inc., then
Valley View Agri, Inc. shall submit its invoice for the actual
costs incurred for the design and engineering services provided
to PCOM and described herein, not to exceed, under any
condition whatsoever, the sum of Seven Hundred and Thirtyone Thousand One Hundred Dollars ($731,100.00). PCOM’s
payment of the invoice in full shall be due on or before [f]ortyfive (45) days from date of invoice.
Id. at 2. Valley View completed its design and engineering work as specified in the
Contract, with the following requested modifications: “(1) changed from 20 meal-pellet
tanks to 9 meal-pellet tanks, (2) added aeration to 2 of the 105’ diameter tanks, (3) added
aeration to all nine of the meal-tanks, (4) eliminated the 4 – 60,000 bushel day storage
tanks and replaced them with one small surge tank (approximately 20,000 bushels) for
surge into the plant.” Resp. [Doc. No. 46] at 18; Email [Doc. No. 46-22] at 1. PCOM’s
requested modifications “represented major changes to the design of the Project and
required [Valley View] to perform extensive redesign work.” Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 6.
PCOM abandoned the Project prior to bidding it out. Mot. [Doc. No. 28] at 6; Resp. [Doc.
No. 46] at 18. To date, Valley View has received no payment for its services.
Valley View brought suit on November 23, 2015, alleging breach of contract and
unjust enrichment, and asserting its services – including all requested modifications –
amount to $1,234,068. Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 1; Invoice [Doc. No. 1-2] at 1. PCOM
moved for summary judgment on July 28, 2016, contending that the “Contract simply
provides no right of payment” to Valley View, and that it precludes Valley View’s ability
to sue for unjust enrichment. See Mot. [Doc. No. 28] at 2.
Standard of Decision
A court shall grant summary judgment only when the undisputed material facts
establish that “the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a);
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); McKinzy v. Union Pacific R.R., 349 F.
App’x 303, 305 (10th Cir. 2009) (finding that even if all facts are deemed admitted, “the
district court still has to determine whether . . . the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law”) (citing Murray v. City of Tahlequah, 312 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2002)).
In applying this standard, all facts and reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
Oklahoma law3 requires, and Valley View has pled, three elements for breach of
contract: (1) the formation of a contract; (2) a breach thereof; and (3) actual damages
suffered from the breach. See Digital Design Grp., Inc. v. Info. Builders, Inc., 24 P.3d 834,
844 (Okla. 2001); Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 4, 8. The parties raise no challenge regarding
formation of the Contract, therefore the Court finds this element established. Determining
whether a breach has occurred, however, initially requires the Court to interpret the contract
as a whole, which presents a question of law. See Edwards v. Doe, 331 F. App’x 563, 571
(10th Cir. 2009) (unpublished opinion) (“Under Oklahoma law, the interpretation of a
contract is a question of law.”) (citing May v. Mid-Century Ins. Co., 151 P.3d 132, 140
The Oklahoma statutory rules of construction establish the following: the language
of a contract governs its interpretation, if the language is clear and explicit and does not
involve an absurdity (OKLA. STAT. tit. 15, § 154); a contract is to be taken as a whole,
giving effect to every part if reasonably practicable, each clause helping to interpret the
others (OKLA. STAT. tit. 15, § 157);4 a contract must receive such an interpretation as will
make it operative, definite, reasonable, and capable of being carried into effect (OKLA.
STAT. tit. 15, § 159); words of a contract are to be given their ordinary and popular meaning
(OKLA. STAT. tit. 15, § 160); and a contract may be explained by reference to the
The parties acknowledge that Oklahoma law is applicable to this case. See Contract [Doc. No. 1-1] at 4.
“More importantly, in construing a contract a court must consider it as a whole ‘so as to give effect to all
its provisions without narrowly concentrating upon some clause or language taken out of context.’” Sabine
Corp. v. ONG W., Inc., 725 F. Supp. 1157, 1191 (W.D. Okla. 1989) (quoting Mercury Inv. Co. v. Woolworth
Co., 706 P.2d 523, 529 (Okla. 1985)).
circumstances under which it was made, and the matter to which it relates (OKLA. STAT.
tit. 15, § 163).
Here, the “Terms of payment” provision in the Contract covers two payment
scenarios: (1) Valley View “is the bidder chosen by PCOM for the contract for the
construction of the Project,” or (2) “the contract for construction of the Project [is] awarded
to a bidder or contractor other than Valley View.” Contract [Doc. No. 1-1] at 2. The
express language of the Contract contemplates that, if Valley View is selected to construct
the project, PCOM will not have to pay Valley View for its design and engineering
services. The Contract fails to address payment in the event PCOM abandons the Project
prior to bidding it out.5 PCOM argues that the absence of such a payment provision
supports its contention that “PCOM did not desire to guarantee a payment” in the event
PCOM abandoned the Project. Mot. [Doc. No. 28] at 13.
On the summary judgment record presented, the Court cannot conclude, as a matter
of law, that PCOM is entitled to judgment on Valley View’s breach of contract claim.
PCOM advances a strained interpretation of the parties’ Contract. There is no indication
from the language of the Contract that the parties intended that no payment obligation
would exist in the event PCOM abandoned the project before taking bids for construction.
Indeed, such an interpretation is contrary to the Oklahoma rules for contract construction,
in that 1) it would lead to the absurd result that Valley View would be entitled to no
The parties never discussed, at the time of contracting, what payment obligation would result in the event
PCOM abandoned the Project prior to bidding it out. See Whitworth Dep. [Doc. No. 46-4] 97:13-17; Penn
Aff. [Doc. No. 46-3] ¶ 12.
compensation in the event PCOM abandoned the project, or simply neglected to act on bids
received – scenarios not expressly addressed in the Contract; 2) it would require the Court
to read into the Contract terms not negotiated by the parties; 3) it would require the Court
to focus on a single part of the Contract, at the expense of the remainder of the writing and
the underlying purpose of the agreement; and 4) it fails to allow for an interpretation that
would make the Contract operative, definite, and reasonable.
Further, summary judgment in favor of PCOM on Valley View’s claim that the
Contract was altered by a fully executed oral agreement is not appropriate. It is clear from
the parties’ submissions that disputed issues of fact exist regarding whether such an oral
agreement was made, and if so, whether it was fully executed.
Likewise, the Court finds that summary judgment in favor of PCOM on Valley
View’s unjust enrichment claim is premature, because it has yet to be determined whether
Valley View has an adequate remedy at law for contract damages, or damages claimed in
relation to the modifications performed. See Am. Biomedical Grp., Inc. v. Techtrol, Inc.,
374 P.3d 820, 828 (Okla. 2016) (“a party is not entitled to pursue a claim for unjust
enrichment when it has an adequate remedy at law for breach of contract”) (citing Krug v.
Helmerich & Payne, Inc., 362 P.3d 205, 209 (Okla. 2015)).
For these reasons, the Court finds Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment
based upon the record currently before the Court.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment
[Doc. No. 28] is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 31st day of March, 2017.
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