Judge to determine fate of $400,000 in civil case

PAT FRIDGEN

Antrim Township Municipal Authority and Michael F. Ronca and Sons Contractors were represented in court last week by their attorneys. At stake was $400,000 Ronca spent beyond its contracted price to lay a sewer line from Kauffman to Greencastle a decade ago. In 2002 it began legal action to recover the money, but the case sat idle until this year. On Oct. 6 both sides met before Judge Richard J. Walsh in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

Ronca, a Bethlehem company, encountered more rock than expected on the 8.5 mile sewer extension. Since the contract was non-classified, it was a package deal, and the company could not bill its additional expense to the authority. Ronca challenged the details of the contract and ATMA defended them in court. Antrim had filed for a partial summary judgment on Ronca's allegations of breach of contract, constructive fraud, unjust enrichment and mutual mistake. Ronca is separately also seeking another $120,000 in a payment dispute.

Ted Adler from Reager and Adler PC, Camp Hill, ATMA's legal counsel, spoke to Walsh. Firm member Linus Fenicle, who attends the ATMA meetings, was also present. Ronca was represented by Travis Kreiser, from Kreiser and Associates, Havertown.

ATMA stance

Walsh commended both lawyers for their thorough briefs, submitted in advance. He asked them to contain their arguments to 10 minutes each, but both ran over, and were allowed to stand for follow-up comments.

Adler asked who bore the risk for the amount of rock present along the sewer line path, and emphasized the contract said it was the bidder. Technical data from a bedrock survey, conducted by Enviroscan, was an addendum to the bid document but not the contract. Additionally, the contract stated the survey information carried no warranty, so any bidder should rely on it "at their own risk." Ronca was not required to bid on the job and could have run its own tests, said Adler.

Concerning any fraud, Adler pointed out five details that had to be proven to show that an owner knowingly provided inaccurate information to bidders, and none of the criteria fit this case. He also denied unjust enrichment for ATMA since there was a written contract. And to the final charge, "We do not agree there was a mistake. The signed agreement was the agreement."

Ronca stance

Kreiser said ATMA's request for proposal for subsurface testing was done in anticipation of rock and the report would quantify the amount to bidders. Enviroscan's report showed where the pipe would go and where bedrock was below or in the route, indicating excavation sites. "Our position is (the survey) is clearly a contract document. What informational purposes does it serve if not to be used in the bidding process?"

He also emphasized Ronca bought rock at the line shown on the report, not what was below it. He disagreed with the claim of no warranty, stating it was too late, since rock was already positively identified. People should have the right to rely on a report rather than try to disprove the information. The language of the contract also indicated the survey was part of the contract, he continued.

Waiting game

Neither side knew when Walsh would make a ruling.

"If he grants a summary judgment on all four theories, that knocks us out of the box," said Kreiser. "The odds that we'll appeal are relatively good."

He was hired by Ronca last fall.