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Retail giant not guilty of unlicensed practice

A Best Buy store in Virginia did not engage in contracting work requiring a license when it sold a replacement gas dryer to a customer and arranged for a licensed contractor to install the device, a state court ruled February 4

(Board for Contractors v. Best Buy Stores).

In Virginia, Best Buy has a contract with a licensed contractor, Optima Services Solution, to perform the installation of all the gas appliances sold by the store. However, in 2011, Optima—in violation of its contract with Best Buy—subcontracted with an unlicensed contractor, Washington Home Services, to install a gas dryer purchased by a customer from a Best Buy store in the town of Gainesville. When the customer discovered that the subcontractor was unlicensed, he complained to the state’s Board for Contractors, which began an investigation of Best Buy’s policies.

After the investigation, the board found that the retail giant had engaged in the practice of gas fitting without a license, imposed an $850 fine, and required a member of its management to complete a remedial class.

The company appealed, arguing that it acted not as a contractor, but only as a retailer when it sold the appliance. Eventually the case went up to the Court of Appeals of Virginia in Richmond, which issued the February opinion.

Before the appellate court, the board argued that its decision to sanction Best Buy deserved deference because the ruling was within the particular expertise of the board. The court, however, noted that the board’s decision was based “solely on the statutory language defining ‘contractor’” and that such an issue of statutory construction was not within the board’s expertise.

The board also argued that, even aside from any question of deference to its decision, the court should rule on the merits that Best Buy was a contractor. The court did not agree. “In this matter,” Judge Glenn Huff wrote for the court, “Best Buy was never present at the job site and merely signed a standard contract indicating contractor would be responsible for the installation of the dryer.”

Best Buy employees did not supervise any of the installation and the contract specified that any further contracting needs would be between the property owner and the contractor, without Best Buy’s participation.

And the replacement of the dryer, itself, Huff wrote, was not contracting as defined by the law, as “installation of a replacement gas dryer does not alter the use or purpose of the real estate . . . [which] requires the permanent incorporation of materials into a building in such a way that the incorporated material becomes essential to the use and purpose of the building and cannot be removed without damaging the real property.”

With the board’s arguments dismissed, the court affirmed the reversal of the sanction, ending the case.