An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA03-467


Filed: 6 April 2004


v .                         Vance County
                            No. 02 CVD 555

    Appeal by defendants from judgment entered 18 September 2002 by Judge Charles W. Wilkinson, Jr. in Vance County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 February 2004.

    John R. Stiltner, pro se, plaintiff-appellee.

    Tasha B. Clay, for defendants-appellants.

    TYSON, Judge.

    Shelby N. Davis (“Davis”) and S.N. Davis Co., Inc. (“SND”) (collectively, “defendants”) appeal from a judgment entered following a bench trial that ordered them to pay plaintiff a specified monetary sum plus interest. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

    I. Background
    Davis, a general contractor, contracted with John Stiltner (“plaintiff”), an electrical subcontractor, to install electrical wiring in accordance with plans at the New Life Baptist Church (“the church”) in Roxboro, North Carolina. The contract required defendants to pay plaintiff $9,500.00 for this work. Defendantspaid plaintiff a total of $9,750.00. The $250.00 difference between the contract sum and that actually paid was to install underground wiring for future pole lights. Prior to the installation of the outside pole lights, the church agreed to postpone installing the exterior lighting to connect with wiring plaintiff had already run. The church had exceeded the amount of money allotted for lights. Plaintiff was immediately informed of this change, agreed to stop working, and covered up the wire already laid.
    Several weeks later, Davis drove to the church site and saw plaintiff installing the pole lights. Defendants contend that this work was done without defendants' authorization. Plaintiff informed Davis that he was installing the light fixtures because the pastor had requested him to do so. Plaintiff accepted the light fixtures from the pastor even though the contract between plaintiff and defendants specifically stated that all fixtures were to be provided by defendants. After defendants paid the final $2,000.00 of the contract price to plaintiff, plaintiff credited this amount to the installation of the pole lights rather than the contract balance. The contract specifically stated that no site lights, signs, or well pumps were included in the contract price. No written contractual agreement covered the installation of the pole lights. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $1,646.00 plus interest. Defendants appeal.
II. Issues
    The issues are whether the trial court erred in: (1) failing to make the required findings of fact and conclusions of law to support the judgment and (2) allowing plaintiff's Exhibit #1 into evidence, when that document was not the original and was altered from its original form.
III. Findings of Fact
    Rule 52(a)(1) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure states, “[i]n all actions tried upon the facts without a jury . . . the court shall find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law thereon and direct the entry of the appropriate judgment.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 52(a)(1) (2003). In interpreting this statute, we stated,
        [w]hen the parties waive a jury, the trial judge functions in the dual capacity of judge and jury. As such, the judge is required to find the facts on all issues raised by the pleadings, state separately its conclusions of law drawn from the facts found, and enter its judgment. Rule 52(a)(1) does not require the trial court to recite all of the evidentiary facts; it is required only to find the ultimate facts, i.e., those specific material facts which are determinative of the questions involved in the action and from which an appellate court can determine whether the findings are supported by the evidence and, in turn, support the conclusions of law reached by the trial court.

Mann Contr'rs, Inc. v. Flair with Goldsmith Consultants-II, Inc., 135 N.C. App. 772, 774, 522 S.E.2d 118, 120-121 (1999) (internal citations omitted). We further stated,
        [t]he purpose of the requirement that the court make findings of those specific facts which support its ultimate disposition of the case is to allow a reviewing court to determine from the record whether the judgment- and the legal conclusions which underlie it - represent a correct application of the law. The trial court's findings have the force of a jury verdict if they are supported by competent evidence even though there may be evidence which would support findings to the contrary, but where there is conflicting evidence, the failure of the trial court to make specific findings upon which to base its conclusions is reversible error. The conclusions of law drawn by the trial court from its findings of fact are fully reviewable de novo by the appellate court.

Id. at 775, 522 S.E.2d at 121 (internal citations omitted).
    Here, plaintiff sued defendants claiming that defendants owed him money for installing pole lights at the church. Defendants argued that they never authorized plaintiff to install these pole lights, that plaintiff had been paid the entire amount due under the original contract, and that plaintiff chose to apply this payment towards the unauthorized installation of the pole lights instead of toward the original contract amount. Defendants claimed that plaintiff agreed directly with the pastor of the church to install the pole lights after specifically being told by defendants that the pole lights were not going to be installed because the church did not have enough money to pay for these lights.
    The trial court found that plaintiff had already performed most of the work before the lights were installed and that plaintiff could apply the money paid by defendants in any manner plaintiff chose. The trial court held that defendants authorized plaintiff to install the pole lights and ordered defendants to pay plaintiff for the installation of the pole lights. The trial court stated, “I think The Court is going to find for Mr. Stiltner thatMr. Davis authorized this work and that he is -- owes him the Sixteen Hundred and Forty-Six Dollars at three percent interest -- 3.5 percent interest to today's date; and then from today's date on the judgment, it will be the usual eight percent.”
    The trial court's findings of fact neither address what evidence it relied on to support this finding of fact nor any basis that defendants authorized plaintiff to do this work. The trial court merely stated that it was going to find for plaintiff because defendants authorized the work. No evidence supports the trial court's findings of fact, and its conclusions of law do not support its judgment. Id. at 774, 522 S.E.2d at 120-121. The reasoning process used by the trial court in reaching its conclusion regarding the damages due plaintiff is not shown in the record. The trial court's failure to make specific findings upon which to base its conclusions is reversible error. Id. at 775, 522 S.E.2d at 121. We remand this case for a new trial on the issues of whether defendants authorized plaintiff to do this work and what amount, if any, plaintiff is entitled to recover from defendants for the installation of the pole lights. In light of our holding, we do not reach defendants' second assignment of error.
IV. Conclusion
    The trial court failed to make findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its judgment. The trial court's judgment is reversed, and this case is remanded for a new trial.
    Reversed and Remanded for new trial.
    Judges WYNN and MCGEE concur.    Report per Rule 30(e).

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