Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Blackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc.'s complaint alleging that Defendants had violated the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., holding that the district court erred by granting summary judgment on Count I of the complaint.Plaintiff, a non-profit environmental organization, sued two companies and two individuals involved in the development of a residential construction site in Massachusetts. In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiff alleged that three defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to obtain from the EPA a construction general permit. Count II alleged that all four defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to prevent sediment-laden stormwater discharges from flowing from that construction site into waters leading to the Blackstone River. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit reversed in part, holding that nothing supported Defendants' argument that a citizen suit under the Federal CWA cannot be brought against an entity that is alleged to be an operator of a construction site that is unlawfully discharging pollutants into federal waters long as another entity controlled by the same individuals has such permit coverage. View "BBlackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc. v. Gallo Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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The employee of a subcontractor on a state public works project sued the prime contractor’s surety bond for unpaid labor under Alaska’s Little Miller Act. The trial court ruled the employee failed to give notice to the contractor within the statutorily required 90 days of his last date of labor on the project. The trial court entered a directed verdict against the employee. The employee appealed to the superior court, which denied the appeal, and then petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court for hearing. This case presented two issues of first impression: (1) how to define “labor;” and (2) whether “notice” was effective on the date of mailing or the date of receipt. Under the Little Miller Act, the Supreme Court defined “labor” as work that was “necessary to and forwards” the project secured by the payment bond, and held the effective date of “notice” to be the date notice is sent via registered mail. The superior court judgment denying the employee's appeal was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Dat Luong DBA LVDH Construction v. Western Surety Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals concluding that prejudgment interest on defense costs where a party breaches its duty to defend does not fall within the exception to the "modified discretionary approach" and is within the discretion of the fact-finder.The modified discretionary approach used by Maryland courts in awarding prejudgment interest generally places the award of prejudgment interest within the discretion of the trier of fact but also recognizes exceptions where a plaintiff is entitled to prejudgment interest as a matter of right. At issue was whether prejudgment interest should be awarded as a matter of right. The Court of Appeals held (1) prejudgment interest on defense costs is left to the discretion of the fact-finder; and (2) where the jury in this case was not presented with a claim of prejudgment interest, was not instructed on the issue, and did not separately state an award of prejudgment interest in the verdict, the circuit court was not authorized to award prejudgment interest. View "Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Selective Way Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that the cluster development plans submitted by two developers were not subject to planning commission review under Va. Code 15.2-2232, holding that the circuit court erred.Two real estate developers proposed to build conventional subdivisions and then reconfigured their previously approved subdivisions into cluster developments. The county planning department advised the developers that they would need to undergo another comprehensive plan compliance review in accordance with section 15.2-2232 because their new plans significantly deviated from the previously approved plans. The developers sought writs of mandamus requiring the county to approve the plans and writs of prohibition preventing the county from ordering a comprehensive plan review. The circuit court ruled in favor of the developers and entered an order directing the county to approver the cluster development concept plans. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the approvals of prior subdivision plans did not foreclose the requirement of a section 15.2-2232 review by the planning commission of different plans later submitted. View "Stafford County v. D.R. Horton, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Contractors’ State License Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 7031), allows any person who utilizes the services of unlicensed building contractors to sue for disgorgement of all compensation paid for the performance of any act or contract, even when the work performed is free of defects. CDC brought a section 7031(b) claim for disgorgement against Obayashi in 2017, more than eight years after the completion of construction of the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco. The issue of licensure came to light during litigation concerning construction defects.The trial court dismissed, citing Code of Civil Procedure 340(a), the one-year limitations period for statutory forfeiture or penalty causes of action. The court of appeal affirmed. The one-year statute of limitations applies to disgorgement claims brought under section 7031, and the discovery rule and other equitable doctrines do not. Even if such doctrines applied to statutory disgorgement claims, they would not apply under the circumstances presented under the pleadings. The court also upheld the trial court’s award of $231,834 in contractual attorney fees; the parties’ agreement contemplated the recovery of attorney fees for non-contractual causes of action that are initiated because of an alleged breach of the parties’ contract. View "San Francisco CDC LLC v. Webcor Construction L.P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to suppress physical evidence and statements based on a police officer's alleged promise of leniency, holding that there was no improper promise of leniency.The officer at issue initiated a Terry stop on a public stop after observing Defendant make a possible drug buy. The officer told Defendant if he cooperated he would not be arrested that day but may be arrested later. Three months after Defendant handed over crack cocaine and marijuana the officer charged him with possession. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to suppress, concluding that the evidence obtained after the officer promised leniency was fruit of the poisonous tree. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the officer did not improperly promise leniency. View "State v. Hillery" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Earl contracted for the purchase of a house in Allegheny County from NVR, the seller and builder of the house. NVR's agents made representations about the house’s construction, condition, and amenities, including that the house would be constructed in a good and workmanlike manner; that NVR would remedy any deficiencies; and that the house would be constructed in accordance with relevant building codes and standards. Construction was completed around March 2013. Upon moving in, Earl encountered several material defects. NVR’s attempts to repair the defects were inadequate and exacerbated some of the issues, despite NVR’s assurances that the problems were remedied. Several promised conditions and amenities that Earl had relied upon had not been provided.Earl, claiming that NVR’s failure to provide the promised conditions and amenities of the agreement were knowing and willful, sued for violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) and breach of implied warranty of habitability. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of her UTPCPL claim. Rulings by Pennsylvania appellate courts subsequent to an earlier Third Circuit holding have cast substantial doubt upon the continuing validity of prior interpretations of the UTPCPL. The economic loss and “gist of the action” doctrines no longer bar UTPCPL claims. View "Earl v. NVR Inc" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the decision of the circuit court concluding that J. Clancy, Inc.'s mechanic's liens placed against certain property were valid and unenforceable and rejecting J. Clancy's breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims, holding that the trial court erred in holding that a divisible implied-in-fact contract controlled the parties' express agreement.J. Clancy, a construction company, sued Ghazanfar Khan and his company, Khan Comfort, LLC. J. Clancy sought enforcement of mechanic's liens it placed against the property and, in the alternative, brought claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The circuit court concluded (1) the mechanic's liens were unenforceable because they were insufficiently itemized; (2) a divisible, implied-in-fact contract, rather than an express contract, governed the parties' relationship; and (3) J. Clancy breached the contract due to non-performance. The court then ordered J. Clancy to reimburse Khan Comfort for overpayments Khan Comfort made. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded the case, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in concluding that a divisible implied-in-fact contract controlled the parties' express agreement because a valid, express contract controlled the parties' obligations; and (2) erred in invalidating the mechanic's liens for inadequate itemization. View "J. Clancy, Inc. v. Khan Comfort, LLC" on Justia Law

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A construction worker was killed when concrete formwork toppled over at a worksite. Plaintiffs, the worker's surviving family members, brought a wrongful death action against the general contractor, Swinerton Builders, and formwork supplier, Atlas Construction Supply, Inc. Atlas cross-complained against Swinerton for equitable indemnity, contribution and declaratory relief. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Swinerton as to the wrongful death complaint. Swinerton, in lieu of seeking entry of judgment on the summary judgment order, settled with plaintiffs, wherein plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their case against Swinerton, and Swinerton waived its costs. Apparently under a shared belief that the good faith settlement determination barred Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton, Atlas and Swinerton stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton. Atlas appealed the summary judgment order, the good faith settlement determination, and dismissal of its cross-complaint. Atlas argued that the trial court erred in ruling Atlas lacked standing to oppose Swinerton's motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, Atlas argued if the trial court had considered its opposition brief, the court could have reasonably denied Swinerton's motion, and Swinerton would have never settled the wrongful death complaint, never made the good faith settlement determination, and Swinerton and Atlas would never have stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint. After review, the Court of Appeal determined Atlas was not aggrieved by the trial court's exoneration of Swinerton in the wrongful death action. Therefore, Atlas lacked standing to appeal the summary judgment order. With respect to the good faith settlement and dismissal of the cross-complaint, the Court determined Atlas waived its challenge by failing to make substantive legal arguments specific to those orders. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed as to the summary judgment motion, and judgment was affirmed as to all other orders. View "Atlas Construction Supply v. Swinerton Builders" on Justia Law

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A Compact between Pennsylvania and New Jersey created the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which is authorized to “acquire, own, use, lease, operate, and dispose of real property and interest in real property, and to make improvements,” and to "exercise all other powers . . . reasonably necessary or incidental to the effectuation of its authorized purposes . . . except the power to levy taxes or assessments.” The Commission undertook to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge, purchased land near the bridge in Pennsylvania, and broke ground on a building to house the Commission’s staff in a single location. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry inspectors observed the construction; the Commission never applied for a building permit as required under the Department’s regulations. The Commission asserted that it was exempt from Pennsylvania’s regulatory authority. The Department threatened the Commission’s elevator subcontractor with regulatory sanctions for its involvement in the project. The Commission sought declaratory and injunctive relief.After rejecting an Eleventh Amendment argument, the Third Circuit upheld an injunction prohibiting the Department from seeking to inspect or approve the elevators and from further impeding, interfering, or delaying the contractors. Pennsylvania unambiguously ceded some of its sovereign authority through the Compact. The fact that both states expressly reserved their taxing power—but not other powers—indicates that they did not intend to retain the authority to enforce building safety regulations. View "Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry" on Justia Law