In prior posts here at Construction Law Musings, I have discussed how fraud and contracts are often like oil and water. While there are exceptions, these exceptions are few and far between here in Virginia. The reason for the lack of a mix between these two types of claims is the so-called “source of duty” rule. The gist of this rule is that where the reason money is owed from one party to another (the source of the “duty to pay”) is based in the contract, Virginia courts will not allow a fraud claim. The rule was created so that all breaches of contract, claims that are at base a failure to fulfill a prior promise and could, therefore, be considered to be based on a prior “lie,” would not be expanded to turn into tort claims. This rule has been extended to claims that most average people (read, non-lawyers) would consider fraud because there was no intent to fulfill the contract at the time it was signed.
Just so you don’t think that lawyers are exempt from this legal analysis, I point you to a recent case where a law firm sued a construction client of theirs for failure to pay legal fees. In EvansStarrett PLC v. Goode & Preferred General Contracting, the Fairfax County Circuit Court considered a motion by the Plaintiff law firm seeking to add a count of fraud to its breach of contract lawsuit. The Court considered the following facts.