Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries
Dunn v. Jess
Dunn slapped Schuckman in a bar's parking lot, causing him to fall to the ground. Witnesses reported seeing Schuckman upright and apparently unharmed afterward. Hours later, Schuckman was found dead on the bar’s patio. Dunn and Crochet were charged with felony murder, battery, and theft from a corpse. Dunn’s counsel consulted with a forensic pathologist. After viewing the medical examiner’s report, the pathologist believed that Schuckman died immediately from his head injuries—suggesting that Dunn’s slap could not have caused his death. Before trial, defense counsel repeatedly, erroneously, stated that the medical examiner had concluded that Schuckman died immediately from a fatal blow and would testify to that at trial. The medical examiner’s report did not contain such conclusions and counsel never confirmed them. The prosecutor informed Dunn’s counsel that Crochet had retained experts, who were going to produce reports that bolstered Dunn’s no-causation defense. The prosecution considered the reports exculpatory. Dunn’s counsel did not ask for a continuance or attempt to view the reports. At trial, defense counsel did not call his forensic pathologist as a witness. The medical examiner testified that there was no reason to think that Schuckman would have died immediately from the fatal head injury, and it would have been possible for Schuckman to move after sustaining this injury.The Seventh Circuit upheld an order granting federal habeas relief. Dunn’s trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate and offer evidence to support a no-causation defense and Dunn was prejudiced by that deficient performance. View "Dunn v. Jess" on Justia Law
Davis v. Fresno Unified School District
Plaintiff filed suit against Fresno Unified and the Contractor, alleging that they violated California's competitive bidding requirements, the statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest, and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417. Based on the Court of Appeal's review of the four corners of the construction agreements and resolution of Fresno Unified’s board, the court concluded that plaintiff properly alleged three grounds for why Education Code section 17406's exception to competitive bidding did not apply to the purported lease-leaseback contracts. The court also concluded that California's statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest extended to corporate consultants and plaintiff alleged facts showing Contractor participated in creating the terms and specifications of the purported lease-leaseback contracts and then became a party to those contracts. After remand, the further proceedings included defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, which argued the lawsuit had become moot because the construction was finished and the contracts terminated. The trial court agreed.The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that defendants and the trial court erroneously interpreted plaintiff's lawsuit as exclusively an in rem reverse validation action. Rather, plaintiff is pursuing both a validation action and a taxpayer action. In this case, plaintiff asserts violations of California's competitive bidding laws and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417 along with conflicts of interest prohibited by Government Code section 1090 and common law principles. The remedy of disgorgement is available under these counts asserted in plaintiff's taxpayer's action even though the Construction Contracts are fully performed. Therefore, the counts in plaintiff's taxpayer's action seeking disgorgement are not moot. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Fresno Unified School District" on Justia Law
3500 Sepulveda, LLC v. RREEF America REIT II Corp. BBB
This case arises from the parties' dispute concerning a construction project to expand the Manhattan Village Shopping Center in Manhattan Beach, California. The parties' predecessors executed the Construction, Operation and Reciprocal Easement Agreement (the COREA) in 1980. The parties resolved disputes in a Settlement Agreement in 2008 where, under the terms of the settlement agreement, RREEF agreed not to oppose Hacienda's plan to convert office space into restaurants and Hacienda agreed not to oppose RREEF's expansion project subject to certain limitations in the Agreement. At issue is RREEF's project.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the nuisance claim and reversed the district court as to the remaining claims. In regard to the claim for breach of contract, the panel concluded that RREEF has discretion to pursue the project and alter the site plan, and Hacienda's objections to the city are limited to RREEF's material changes. That RREEF has discretion to revise the site plan does not mean that Hacienda gave up its rights under the COREA, especially considering that the Settlement Agreement, by its own terms, does not amend the COREA. In regard to the claim for interference with easement rights, the panel concluded that the Settlement Agreement does not extinguish plaintiffs' easement rights under the COREA, and the district court erred in holding otherwise. In regard to the claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, the panel concluded that plaintiffs have presented sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue as to whether RREEF's construction of the North Deck was contrary to "the contract's purposes and the parties' legitimate expectations." In regard to the claim for interference with business and contractual relations, the panel concluded that plaintiffs have raised triable issues concerning whether defendants' construction interfered with Hacienda's tenant contracts, and whether defendants acted with the knowledge that "interference is certain or substantially certain to occur as a result of [their] action."The panel also reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief. In regard to RREEF's counterclaims, the panel concluded that policy considerations weighed against applying the litigation privilege. Finally, the panel concluded that the attorneys' fee question was moot and vacated the district court's order denying the parties' motions for attorneys' fees. View "3500 Sepulveda, LLC v. RREEF America REIT II Corp. BBB" on Justia Law
Building Erection Services Co. v. Walton Construction Co.
In this protracted litigation over liability and damages resulting from faulty construction on the University of Kansas' Memorial Stadium the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals insofar as it reversed a third award for failing to comply with the mandate rule but vacated the portion of the opinion holding that the third award was not supported by substantial competent evidence.This appeal arose from the district court judge's third attempt at entering a damages and attorney fee award in favor of Walton Construction Company. The court of appeals reversed the award, concluding that the district court failed to abide by the law of the case and the mandate rule and that the award lacked substantial competent evidence. The court of appeals declined to remand for determination of a new award amount. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court for a damages and attorney fee award that complies with the binding mandates from the first two appeals in this case, holding that the court of appeals (1) properly found that the trial judge violated the mandate rule with the third damages award; but (2) erred by declining to remand the case to the district court for a new award. View "Building Erection Services Co. v. Walton Construction Co." on Justia Law
Los Angeles Unified School District v. Torres Construction Corp.
This appeal stemmed from the school district's action against defendants for breach of contract arising out of the renovation of school cafeterias. The school district ultimately prevailed on its claims for breach of contract and was awarded $3,941,829 in damages; Defendant Western was found liable on its bonds; the parties settled Defendant Torres's offset claims for withheld payments on other jobs; and the school district was awarded prejudgment interest and costs, as well as attorney fees against Western.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and held that defendants' motion for summary judgment was properly denied because a job order contract (JOC) is an enforceable contract, not just an agreement to negotiate; Western has forfeited its claims challenging denial of defendants' motion for summary judgment; the school district's motions for summary adjudication were properly granted in whole and in part; to prevail on its motions, the school district was not required to disprove Western's boilerplate affirmative defenses; the trial court properly awarded the school district prejudgment interest; the trial court properly denied Western's motions for directed verdict; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion awarding attorney fees to the school district. View "Los Angeles Unified School District v. Torres Construction Corp." on Justia Law
D’Allessandro v. Lennar Hingham Holdings, LLC
In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court responded to a certified question posed by a judge in a federal district court concerning the application of the six-year statute of repose in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, 2B to claims regarding alleged defects in the design and construction of the common areas of a multi-building, multi-phase condominium.The Supreme Judicial Court answered (1) regardless of how many phases of the development there may be or how many buildings are within each phase, where a condominium development is comprised of multiple buildings each building constitutes a discrete improvement for purposes of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, 2B such that the opening of each individual building to its intended use or the substantial completion of the individual building and the taking of possession for occupancy by the owner triggers the statute of repose under section 2B with respect to the common areas and limited common areas of that building; and (2) where a particular improvement is integral to, and intended to serve, multiple buildings the statute of repose begins to run when that discrete improvement is substantially complete and open to its intended use. View "D'Allessandro v. Lennar Hingham Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law
Gustin v. Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc.
Brenda and James Gustin appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc. ("Vulcan"), and its general manager, Fred Smith. In 1998, Vulcan was hired by a construction company to pretreat a house in Shelby County, Alabama for termites. The house was three stories tall, with three concrete decks overlooking a lake. The decks were supported by 18 wooden columns. Additionally, to the left of the front door was a porte cochere for vehicles to pass through on their way up the driveway. The exterior of the house was entirely covered in faux-stone cladding. The Gustins purchased the house in 2006. In 2009, the Gustins entered into a contract with Vulcan for termite-damage inspection, treatment, and repair. In 2015, they hired a decorating company to renovate on of the rooms in the house. The company removed several sections of beadboard from the porte cochere, revealing extensive termite damage. Removing some of the cladding from the facade, the Gustins discovered active termites and severe damage to all levels and all sides of the house, as well as damage to a deck. The Gustins hired an expert, who estimated it would cost roughtly $950,000 to repair the house. Several days after the damage was discovered, Smith went to the house to inspect, and observed the active termites. Vulcan did not repair the house. The Gustins sued. In granting summary judgment, the trial court found "no evidence Vulcan breached the contract by failing to discover hidden termites. The Gustins presented no evidence that the annual inspection were not performed in accordance with the regulations or industry standards." The Alabama Supreme Court's review of the record indicated the Gustins submitted "substantial evidence" that Vulcan committed acts and omissions underlying each of their seven breach-of-contract claims. That evidence created a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Vulcan breached its duty to "perform all services in a workmanlike manner," as the contract required. While the Court agreed with the trial court and affirmed as to some causes of action, it reversed with respect to others, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Gustin v. Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc." on Justia Law
Byrne v. Sunridge Builders, Inc.
In this construction defect lawsuit, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Respondents and reversed the grant of attorney fees to respondent Land West Builders, Inc., holding that Appellant's action was time-barred but that the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees to Lands West.Approximately seven years and three months after her home was built, Appellant filed a construction defect lawsuit against Sunridge Builders, Inc., Lands West as Sunridge's alter ego or successor, and other subcontractors (collectively, Respondents). The district court granted summary judgment for Respondents, concluding that because Appellant had failed to file her lawsuit during the grace period and the statute of repose had run, her claim was time barred. The district court then granted Lands West's motion for attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Respondents because Appellant's action was time barred; and (2) abused its discretion awarding attorney fees to Lands West. View "Byrne v. Sunridge Builders, Inc." on Justia Law
RGC Gaslamp v. Ehmcke Sheet Metal Co.
Subcontractor Ehmcke Sheet Metal Company (Ehmcke) recorded a mechanic’s lien to recoup payment due for sheet metal fabrication and installation work done on a luxury hotel project in downtown San Diego. Project owner RGC Gaslamp, LLC (RGC) secured a bond to release the lien. Thereafter Ehmcke filed three successive mechanic’s liens, each identical to the first, prompting RGC to sue it for quiet title, slander of title, and declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court granted Ehmke’s special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court found that Ehmcke met its moving burden because the filing of even an invalid lien was protected petitioning activity. Thereafter, the court found that RGC failed to make a prima facie showing that its sole remaining cause of action for slander of title could withstand application of the litigation privilege. RGC appeals both findings, arguing that the duplicative filing of mechanic’s liens after the posting of a bond was not protected activity. The Court of Appeal concluded after review that RGC erroneously imported substantive requirements of the litigation privilege into the first step of the anti-SLAPP inquiry. Ehmcke met that moving burden once its erroneously excluded reply declarations were considered. With the burden shifted on prong two, RGC failed to make a prima facie showing that the litigation privilege did not bar its slander-of-title cause of action. The anti-SLAPP motion was thus properly granted, and Court likewise affirmed the subsequent attorney’s fees and costs award. View "RGC Gaslamp v. Ehmcke Sheet Metal Co." on Justia Law
Guerrero v. Hestrin
In 2014, a single Riverside County, California Superior Court judge signed 602 orders authorizing wiretaps, which was approximately 17 percent of all wiretaps authorized by all the state and federal courts in the nation. In 2015, the same judge and one other authorized 640 wiretaps, approximately 15 percent of all wiretaps in the country. Plaintiff-appellant Miguel Guerrero was targeted by a wiretap that a Riverside County judge authorized in 2015. Guerrero, who had never been arrested or charged with a crime in connection with the wiretap, wanted to know why he was targeted, and he believed the sheer number of wiretaps in those years raised significant doubts about whether the wiretaps complied with constitutional requirements. Relying on California's wiretap statutes and the First Amendment, he asked a trial court to allow him to inspect the wiretap order, application and intercepted communications. The trial court denied this request. After review, the Court of Appeal determined the trial court applied the wrong standard in considering Plaintiff's application under wiretap statutes, which closely paralleled statutes under federal law. The matter was remanded so that the trial court could properly exercise its discretion, and the Court provided guidance on the appropriate standard. Given this holding on the statutory issue, the Court declined to address the contention, advanced by Guerrero and an amicus brief, that the public had a First Amendment right of access to the wiretap materials. View "Guerrero v. Hestrin" on Justia Law