ZIAD ZAGHATI V CLASSIC HOME BUILDERS INCAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
May 19, 1998
Wayne Circuit Court
LC No. 95-516761 CH
CLASSIC HOME BUILDERS, INC.,
Before: Neff, P.J., and O’Connell and Young, Jr., JJ.
Defendant appeals as of right from the circuit court’s denial of his motions for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict, for entry of new or amended judgment, or for a new trial. We affirm in
part, and remand for further proceedings.
Plaintiff brought suit seeking specific performance and damages after defendant declared plaintiff
to be in breach of their contract and discontinued construction of plaintiff’s new residence. Following a
bench trial with an advisory jury, the trial court adopted the jury’s findings and entered judgment in favor
of plaintiff. The court ordered defendant to convey title to the unfinished home to plaintiff, and to pay
plaintiff $12,000 in anticipation of plaintiff’s costs beyond the unpaid portion of the original contract
price for completing his home. On appeal, defendant argues that the trial court failed to issue adequate
findings of fact, that the verdict was against the great weight of the evidence, and that the court
erroneously excluded from evidence an early draft of building specifications.
Where a court is the ultimate trier of fact, the court has a duty to issue findings of fact and
conclusions of law concerning contested matters. MCR 2.517(A) provides as follows:
(1) In actions tried on the facts without a jury or with an advisory jury, the court
shall find the facts specially, state separately its conclusions of law, and direct entry of
the appropriate judgment.
(2) Brief, definite, and pertinent findings and conclusions on the contested
matters are sufficient, without overelaboration of detail or particularization of facts.
Although the level of detail in a court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law will vary depending on the
nature of the case, the court’s findings should be sufficiently detailed as to indicate the factual basis for
the court’s conclusions. Ray v Mason Co Drain Comm’r, 393 Mich 294, 302; 224 NW2d 883
Here, it is clear that the trial court did not make its own findings of fact, but instead merely
adopted the conclusions of the advisory jury. The trial court’s statement of findings consists of a
summary of the advisory jury’s findings plus calculations to determine the monetary aspect of the
remedy. At the subsequent motion hearing, the court indicated plainly that it had deferred to the
advisory jury, stating, “All I did was plug in the figures based on the advisory jury.” However, although
a court may weigh the findings of an advisory jury, the court must nonetheless “find the facts specially.”
MCR 2.517(A)(1). In this instance, the trial court failed to issue findings that plainly reflected the
court’s independent judgment. Further, the insufficiency of the court’s findings leaves an inadequate
record for appellate review of the verdict and relief granted. For these reasons, we remand this case to
the trial court for factual findings and conclusions of law as required by MCR 2.517(A). See Abner A
Wolf, Inc v Walch, 385 Mich 253, 266-267; 188 NW2d 544 (1971).
We find no merit in defendant’s argument that the trial court erred by not admitting a preliminary
building specification sheet into evidence. Defendant offered the unsigned document to prove
defendant’s representative’s state of mind when negotiating the contract, and to shed light on the
negotiations taking place at the time the document was prepared and presented. The trial court ruled
the document irrelevant. This Court reviews rulings on the relevance of evidence for an abuse of
discretion. Dickerson v Raphael, 222 Mich App 185, 201; 564 NW2d 85 (1997).
Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of a fact, which is of
consequence to outcome of the action, more probable or less probable than it would be without the
evidence. MRE 401. Although all relevant evidence is presumptively admissible, MRE 402, relevant
evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
prejudice, confusion of the issues, misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of
time or needless presentation of cumulative evidence, MRE 403.
Here, a signed building specification sheet had been admitted into evidence before the unsigned
earlier such sheet was offered and excluded. Further, the document in question included handwritten
notes purportedly added after the time that defendant presented it to plaintiff. Additionally, because
defendant’s representative freely testified about his state of mind, and the nature of the negotiations with
plaintiff, at the time that he created the specifications sheet, the court could have excluded the document
as merely cumulative evidence. For these reasons, the trial court did not err in excluding that evidence.
Affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not
/s/ Janet T. Neff
/s/ Peter D. O’Connell
/s/ Robert P. Young, Jr.