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21 March 2023


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A recent High Court ruling has brought a six-year construction court battle to an end, with the decision ruling against the homeowners – Goodman-Jones v Hughey [2023] NZHC 180.


The Goodman-Jones (the plaintiffs) engaged Hughey Builders to build their home overlooking Lyttelton Harbour. However, after some disagreement over the invoices, and a series of delays, the building contract was terminated.

The plaintiffs made a claim against the builder for more than $450,000 for an alleged breach of contract and negligence in carrying out building work on their home, claiming for the removal and replacement of defective cladding and losses on account of the alleged failure to complete work within a reasonable time. The plaintiffs also argued that the cedar cladding had been installed incorrectly, creating potential weathertightness issues.

Reasonable time

The plaintiffs claimed that Hughey Builders failed to complete the contract within a reasonable time, and the plaintiffs sought compensation for the “significant stress, anxiety and inconvenience” suffered as a result.

In their evidence, Hughey Builders noted that they were engaged on a labour-only basis and addressed in detail what happened over the course of the contract, and the work that had been done. Crucially, they had kept great records including of the daily schedules of each builder. Moreover, Hughey Builders pointed to the plaintiffs’ actions which caused hold-ups – last minute changes to the consent plans, delays with other contractors that the plaintiffs had engaged.

Tellingly, this aspect of the claim was subsequently abandoned by the plaintiffs during the trial.

Claim for damages, and removal and replacement of existing cladding

The home was to have vertical cedar board cladding. The plaintiffs claimed that Hughey Builders had failed to install the cladding in accordance with the Building Code.

While Hughey Builders admitted there were areas in which they had not installed enough dwangs, these defects were minor and readily fixable. They also said that the Christchurch City Council was partially responsible as they had not picked up on the issue in their inspection.

The Court found that even though the builders had a duty to check the plans and specifications, they were not negligent as “they were entitled to assume the framework had been manufactured in accordance with the specifications acceptable to the plaintiffs”.[1] This was particularly the case as Mrs Goodman-Jones had organised the order and delivery of the framing. Further, in any event, the Court was satisfied that the framing provided the same structural integrity for the home, and the same weathertightness as would have been achieved with the existing dwangs spaced at 480mm centres.

It was found that there was no need for the entire cladding to be replaced to meet Building Code requirements, and the Council would be able to issue a code compliance certificate for the build with the framing as it were installed.

Plaintiff Involvement

Another factor that the Court took into consideration was the extensive experience of both Mr and Mrs Goodman Jones in the construction industry and their hands-on involvement in the build. They had project managed the build and were responsible for engaging contractors, ordering materials and arranging for delivery of these materials. They had detailed knowledge of the building process and materials. These considerations meant they could not subsequently claim every issue was the responsibility of the builders.


Ultimately, the plaintiffs’ claim failed in its entirety. This decision is notable because it is an example of the building contractor having comprehensive records which demonstrated they did all they needed to in the face of potentially challenging circumstances. The Court’s discussion about the level of involvement of clients in the build, and the subsequent consequences of this for the success of their claim is also useful.

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[1] At [165].


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