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Fischer & Porter v. Parsippany Construction Co.

A-5017-98T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2000) (Unpublished)

CONTRACTS; LIABILITY—Where an equipment manufacturer relies on plans and specifications provided by a governmental authority and produces its goods to those standards, it is not liable for failure of its goods to produce the desired result.

A municipal utility authority contracted to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant. It hired a consultant to prepare plans and specifications for the project. An equipment manufacturer supplied the consultant-specified parts and equipment to a contractor who built the treatment plant upgrades. The treatment plant failed. The authority sued the equipment manufacturer, but its expert prepared a report that failed to identify any manufacturing defect attributable to the equipment manufacturer. On this and other grounds, the equipment manufacturer moved for summary judgment and the lower court concluded that “in the absence of any allegation of a manufacturing defect, as a matter of law, [the authority] would be unable to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that any party other than the consulting engineer could be proven responsible for the failure of the microstrainers.” The lower court relied on a New Jersey opinion and two Massachusetts opinions which essentially held, “where a third party sues a government contractor who has contracted with a public entity, which contract (1) has reasonably precise specifications approved by the public entity, and (2) the contractor has performed in accordance with those specifications, then the contractor should have a government contractor’s defense;” and the general rule that “a contractor who takes the detailed plans and specifications from the owner has a right to rely upon the professional judgment and experience of those employed by the owner to develop those plans and specifications unless a review of those documents show glaring defects that a contractor of average skill and ordinary prudence would know that such defects would likely cause injury.” Finally, the lower court concluded that where the equipment manufacturer relied upon, and conformed with, the plans and specifications provided by the authority, by and through its consulting engineer, any implied warranty of merchantability or warranty for fitness for a particular purpose imposed by the Uniform Commercial Code was subsumed by the express warranty attributable to the plans and specifications. The Appellate Division affirmed.

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