Morgan, Lewis & Bockius filed a complaint in D.C. Superior Court last week alleging a contracting company the firm hired to build a wall panel system in the atrium of its D.C. office breached its contract and committed negligence.
According to the complaint filed on March 31 by Morgan Lewis partner Christian Mixter and associate Janine Castorina, the firm hired HITT Contracting Inc. in July 2001 to build Morgan Lewis’ current D.C. office at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. As part of the office construction, the complaint alleges the firm and HITT agreed the contracting company would build a wall system that would extend from the atrium’s second floor up to the 14th floor. The wall was supposed to be constructed from two layers of gypsum wallboard and then finished with a flat surface covered with a high quality "attractive faux finish."
In January of 2002, HITT and Morgan Lewis announced the 335,000 square foot office was completed. But, according to the complaint, just over four years later in mid-April 2006, the firm began to notice that some of the seams on the wall panel system were starting to crack and pull away from the other panels. Morgan Lewis says HITT did not install the wall panels as the firm and the contracting company had agreed. The firm says HITT used medium density fiberboard as panels for the wall as opposed to the gypsum wallboard. Morgan Lewis says the adjustment in the materials caused the wall to deteriorate.
The firm alleges that HITT was not licensed to make the decision to use different materials and did not consult architects, engineers, or design-builders when it made its decision. Furthermore, HITT allegedly did not notify the firm of its decision to change materials.
The complaint says that since that time, the wall has continued to separate and “now must be completely redesigned and reconstructed” at a cost to the firm. Morgan Lewis did not specify a precise dollar amount it is seeking in damages for “repair and/or replacement” of the wall, but says it is more than $5,000.
Morgan Lewis says HITT "refused" to reimburse the firm or to redesign and reconstruct the wall. HITT did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Mixter declined comment through spokeswoman Frances Marine Bravo.
UPDATE (4:34 p.m.) Brian Waagner, a partner in the Tysons Corner, Va. office of Akerman Senterfitt, is representing HITT in the matter. In a statement issued via e-mail, Waagner says, "Hitt is satisfied that all of its work on the Morgan Lewis project was of the highest quality and that it is not responsible for the problems alleged in the complaint."
Waagner adds in the e-mail, "The use of the medium density fiberboard panels was discussed and agreed to during construction." He says the exact cause for the wall cracks has not yet been "identified" and says one factor could be higher "temperature and humidity fluctuations" in the building.
Waagner says: "Hitt has expressed its willingness to work with Morgan Lewis to identify the cause of the alleged problem and to develop a cost-effective solution. Hitt expects those discussions to continue."