Catena v. NVR, Inc. [Heartland Homes of Pa]: Jury Whacks Local Homebuilder Under Consumer Protection Law
In 2017, Laura Catena and Gregory Novotny contracted with NVR, Inc., doing business as Heartland Homes of Pa, to build their forever home, their dream home. For those of you living in and around the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Heartland Homes should ring a bell. For those of you a little further north, living in and around Mars or Cranberry, you probably can’t throw a stone without hitting a Heartland Home, you may have even considered building or buying one. So listen up.
Laura and Greg moved into their brand-new home in March 2018 and immediately thereafter, began noticing construction deficiencies. Laura and Greg notified Heartland of the issues through various modes including through the Heartland warranty system, emails, phone calls, and even handwritten notes. Heartland’s response varied. Some issues were evaluated, some were not. Some were “repaired,” some were not. But the overarching theme was that Heartland was not interested in actually fixing the issues, especially the more expensive ones.
After fighting with Heartland for some time, Laura and Greg filed suit alleging breach of contract, breach of warranties, and violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”). After two and a half years of litigation, the case culminated in a jury trial before the Honorable Judge Horan of the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Heartland’s defense was based largely on restrictive provisions contained within its Purchase Agreement including a provision that purported to shorten the applicable statute of limitations period to one (1) year and another that purported to disclaim all warranties other than the express limited warranties that Heartland includes with the purchase of its lots.
The Honorable Judge Horan granted in part and denied in part Heartland’s motion wherein it argued that the statute of limitations provision applied to all of Laura and Greg’s claims. Notably, Judge Horan declined to apply the provision to their UTPCPL claim (and of course their claim related to the express written warranties, which included 1-year, 2-year and 10-year warranties).
Judge Horan further denied Heartland’s motion wherein it argued that the parol evidence rule, a common law contract concept, applied to Laura and Greg’s UTPCPL claim. This ruling allowed Laura and Greg to bring in evidence of representations made to them prior to the purchase of the lot including representations regarding the quality of the finished product. Check out Heartland’s website for a flavor of such representations, promises such as “luxury,” “quality craftsmanship,” “quality workmanship.”
In ruling as she did, Judge Horan seemingly recognized that the UTPCPL is a statutory claim – not constrained by common law contract concepts – that is to be liberally construed in favor of Pennsylvania consumers. This is a huge step forward for consumers and is consistent with recent rulings such as that in Gregg and Earl.
Ultimately, Laura and Greg’s warranty and UTPCPL claims were placed into the hands of the jury. By unanimous verdict, Laura and Greg were awarded approximately $23,000 on their warranty claim and approximately $122,000 on their UTPCPL claim, literally every penny that was sought. The verdict clearly indicated that the jury was not impressed with Heartland’s “luxury home” or its “high quality customer service.” As explained in another blog post, Earl v. NVR, Inc., trading as Heartland Homes of PA: Werwinski is Dead, the UTPCPL allows the Court to award attorney’s fees and treble damages to successful litigants as it deems fit. Stay tuned as Laura and Greg’s request for such fees has not yet been ruled upon by the Court.