Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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On a winter night in 2014, strong winds blew through the town of Georgia, Vermont, causing a partially constructed livestock barn to collapse. Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. (CCE), the contractor building the barn, sought recompense for the resulting losses from its insurer, Ohio Security Insurance Company. However, insurer and insured disagreed as to policy coverage for costs incurred by CCE in removing the remains of the collapsed barn and rebuilding it to its pre-collapse state. Ultimately, CCE sued Ohio Security for breach of contract. In successive summary-judgment rulings, the trial court held that the contractor’s rebuilding expenses were covered under the policy, but the cost of debris removal was not. Ohio Security cross-appealed the first ruling and CCE appealed the second; the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the first ruling and affirmed the second. The Court determined the additional collapse coverage applied only to “Covered Property,” which was business personal property; CCE did not dispute that the barn was not business personal property and thus was not “Covered Property.” Therefore, the court’s first summary-judgment ruling was reversed. The debris removal was not a loss involving business personal property. As a result, it was not a loss to “Covered Property” at that term was defined by the policy at issue. View "Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. v. Ohio Security Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC; Agape Holdings, LLP; Scott Dyk; and Samuel Dyk (collectively “Dyk”) appealed a judgment awarding Skaw ND Precast LLC (“Skaw”) $69,295 in damages for conversion of its property. In March 2013, Skaw entered into a five-year agreement with Tioga Ready Mix (“Tioga”), a company which produced ready-mix concrete product, to rent a two-acre parcel of land to conduct its business. The base rent for the site was $700 per month, subject to reductions if Skaw purchased designated quantities of ready-mix product from Tioga. The agreement provided it would remain in effect until December 31, 2018, and it did not allow either party to unilaterally cancel the agreement. In spring 2015, Skaw learned that Tioga had arranged to sell Tioga’s assets at a public auction, including the two-acre parcel of property where Skaw conducted its business. Skaw’s owners attended the auction sale in May 2015. The auction service notified all attendees that Skaw’s assets on the premises were not part of the sale, that there was a lease in place between Skaw and Tioga, and that the lease went with the land. Dyk was the successful bidder at the auction and entered into a commercial purchase agreement with the sellers which did not include Skaw’s product inventory or equipment and stated the sale was subject to “rights of tenants,” but did not list Skaw as a tenant. Once Dyk got its ready-mix plant running, Skaw began purchasing concrete ready-mix product from Dyk for its business. When presented with the contract between Skaw and Tioga, Dyk renegotiated the terms; Dyk and Skaw agreed to increase monthly rental payments to $750 per month. During a scheduled shut down of both companies' operations, Dyk built an earthen berm around Skaw’s equipment which prevented Skaw from accessing it. Dyk also transported Skaw’s concrete pad and blocked inventory off of Skaw’s two acres to an area adjacent to Dyk’s offices. Other Skaw assets were transported to undisclosed locations. When Skaw discovered the berm, Dyk informed Skaw that Skaw abandoned their temporary rental agreement in December 2015 and that law enforcement would be notified if there were “any attempts to breach the peace or trespass” on the property. Skaw replied that the 2013 lease was still valid and had not been abandoned, and that Skaw planned to return to the property and continue operations. Dyk argued on appeal of the conversion damages award that the district court erred in ruling the 2013 agreement between Skaw and Tioga was a lease rather than a license. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, it affirmed the judgment. View "Skaw ND Precast, LLC v. Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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After Mount Diablo School District hired Taber to modernize eight school campuses, the plaintiffs challenged the District’s use of a lease-leaseback agreement for the construction project. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of most of plaintiff’s claims, except a claim against Taber of conflict of interest. Plaintiff alleged Taber provided preconstruction services regarding the project, so a conflict of interest arose when the District subsequently awarded Taber the contract. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in Taber’s favor, finding no violation of Government Code section 1090(a). Section 1090 only prohibits a contract made by a financially-interested party when that party makes the contract in an “official capacity.” Where the financially-interested party is an independent contractor, section 1090 applies only if the independent contractor can be said to have been entrusted with “transact[ing] on behalf of the Government.” In this case, it cannot reasonably be said that Taber was hired to engage in or advise on public contracting on behalf of the District. The District contracted with Taber for Taber to provide preconstruction services in anticipation of Taber completing the project. Taber provided those services (planning and setting specifications) in its capacity as the intended provider of services, not as a de facto official of the District. View "California Taxpayers Action Network v. Taber Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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Gildardo Vargas was working on a construction project when a concrete-carrying hose hit him in the head, and caused a severe traumatic brain injury. Vargas and his family sued the general contractor, the concrete supplier, and the concrete pumper for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the general contractor. After review of the trial court record, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the general contractor was directly liable for providing a safe workplace, and whether any breach proximately caused Vargas’ injury. View "Vargas v. Inland Washington, LLC" on Justia Law

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A general contractor and subcontractor filed suit against each other, and at issue was the "retention" clause in the parties' contract. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly granted summary judgment for the general contractor and dismissed the subcontractor's cross-claims. The court held that the purpose of the retention clause was, as the subcontractor put it in oral argument, to "ensure proper performance." In this case, the subcontractor did not finish the job swiftly and must suffer the consequences of its contractual failing. Finally, the court held that the trial court properly awarded attorney fees to the general contractor, as the prevailing party. View "Regency Midland Construction, Inc. v. Legendary Structures Inc." on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, a trial court issued a judgment and order which held, among other things, that Wright & Morrissey owed J & K Tile Co. $42,000 plus interest under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the parties, and that Wright & Morrissey unlawfully withheld J & K Tile Co.’s retainage check in violation of the Vermont Prompt Pay Act. Following this decision a few months later, the court further held that each party was the prevailing party in a portion of the litigation and should be awarded attorney’s fees regarding that portion. Wright & Morrissey appealed, and J & K Tile Co. cross-appealed. With regard to the retainage, the Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court did not err. However, with respect to the prevailing party issue, the Supreme Court determined “a fee award should not be apportioned among claims that arise from a common core of facts.” Although not all of the evidence was relevant to all the claims, all the evidence, and all the theories of liability, related to the same common core of facts. J & K Tile Co. itself treated the claims as arising from a common core of facts, as evidenced by their combining the failure-to-mediate and breach-of-contract allegations into a single count. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court should have determined who was the substantially prevailing party as a whole, considering all the claims together. Accordingly, it reversed the order regarding attorney’s fees and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. View "J & K Tile Company" on Justia Law

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In a matter of first impression, the Oklahoma Supreme Court addressed whether a claim of intentional interference with a prospective economic business advantage required a showing of bad faith, and whether the immunity protections provided by 36 O.S. Supp. 2012 section 363 were forfeited under the alleged facts. Plaintiff-appellant Lisa Loven, a general contractor who applied for a public adjuster license with the Oklahoma Department of Insurance (the Department), disclosed that a former client sued her for acting as an unlicensed adjuster. The Department opened an investigation and subsequently denied her application. Loven appealed. During the appeal hearing Church Mutual Insurance and its adjuster Jeffrey Hanes provided information regarding their dealings with Loven as a general contractor when she contracted for storm repair work for two churches they insured. The appellate hearing officer affirmed the denial of her application as a public adjuster because she had illegally acted as an unlicensed public adjuster. Loven sued Church Mutual and Hanes for intentional interference with a prospective economic business advantage. The trial court granted summary judgment to Church Mutual and Hanes because 36 O.S. Supp. 2012 section 363 provided civil tort immunity to insurers who provide any information of fraudulent conduct to the Department. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held: (1) 36 O.S. Supp. 2012 section 363 provided immunity for those who report or provide information regarding suspected insurance fraud as long as they, themselves, do not act fraudulently, in bad faith, in reckless disregard for the truth, or with actual malice in providing the information; and (2) the alleged tort of intentional interference with a prospective economic business advantage required a showing of bad faith. Because no proffered evidence in this case showed bad faith, the immunity provisions of 36 O.S. Supp. 2012 section 363 applied, and summary judgment was proper. View "Loven v. Church Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellee TAMKO Building Products, Inc. was a roof shingle manufacturer incorporated in Missouri. Plaintiffs-appellants were homeowners whose contractors installed Defendant's shingles on homeowner's roof. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging they were entitled to compensation for damage to their home caused by Defendant's faulty shingles and the expense of installing a new roof. Defendants moved to stay proceedings and compel arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement on the shingle's packaging. The trial court granted the Defendant's Motion to Stay Proceedings and Compel Arbitration concluding the Plaintiffs were charged with the knowledge of the contract even if they did not read it, that TAMKO did not waive its right to compel arbitration, and that the contract was not unconscionable. Plaintiffs appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding that the arbitration clause at issue in this case was printed on the shingles' wrapping, which was seen only by the contractors installing them. The wrapping was discarded once the shingles were unpackaged and placed on rooftops. The Supreme Court concluded the Homeowners were not bound by the arbitration agreement: "n implied agent whose sole authority is to select and install shingles does not have the authority to waive the principal's constitutional rights. Further, the intentional printing of an agreement to waive a constitutional right on material that is destined for garbage and not the consumer's eyes is unconscionable. The Homeowners never had an opportunity to make a knowing waiver of access to the courts." View "Williams v. TAMKO Building Products, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, Joseph Petrick, contracted with a homeowner, Donna Sabia, to perform remodeling work. Sabia paid Appellant a deposit of $1,750.00 plus $300.00 to cover the cost of city permits. Appellant began some of the contracted work at which time Sabia paid an additional $1,750.00 to Appellant. That same day, Appellant and Sabia’s son, Carmen Fazio, who also resided in the home, entered into a second contract for Appellant to do some painting in the home. As consideration, Fazio purchased a $600.00 saw for Appellant. Appellant and Fazio entered into a third contract to install siding on the exterior of the home. Fazio paid Appellant $2,300.00 to purchase materials. Appellant did not finish the work; Appellant eventually advised Sabia and Fazio that he could not complete the jobs but would refund $4,950.00 within a week. Appellant never refunded any money or the saw, nor did he ever purchase the siding materials or obtain the permits from the city. Appellant filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In his petition, Appellant listed Sabia and Fazio as creditors. The bankruptcy court issued a discharge order in March 2016. In October 2015, a City of Scranton Police Detective filed a criminal complaint charging Appellant with theft by deception and deceptive business practices. After a bench trial, the court found Appellant guilty of theft by deception and not guilty of deceptive business practices. The court sentenced Appellant to a term of incarceration of three to eighteen months. Appellant was also ordered to pay $6,700.00 in restitution. Appellant filed a motion for reconsideration of his sentence, which the trial court denied. On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment of sentence. On appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Appellant argued that the portion of his sentencing order requiring him to pay restitution was illegal because the debt was discharged in bankruptcy. Appellant argued that the Bankruptcy Code specified that the filing of a petition operated as an automatic stay of any action to recover a debt that preceded the filing. The Supreme Court found the mandatory restitution order served criminal justice goals, and were distinct from civil debt liability with respect to discharge in bankruptcy. “This distinction is unaffected by the temporal relationship between the proceedings in the bankruptcy court and the criminal prosecution. Additionally, it is unaffected by a creditor’s participation in the bankruptcy proceedings.” The Court determined there was no indication in this case the restitution award was improperly sought by the prosecutor or awarded by the sentencing court. Accordingly, it affirmed the Superior Court. View "Pennsylvania v. Petrick" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's order permanently enjoining enforcement of Ohio Rev. Code 9.75, which prohibits a public authority from requiring that contractors on public-improvement projects employ a specific number or percentage of the public authority's residents, holding that section 9.75 is a general law and prevails over local laws. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's order permanently enjoining enforcement of section 9.75, holding that Ohio Const. art. II, 34 did not authorize the General Assembly to infringe on the City of Cleveland's municipal home-rule authority under Ohio Const. art. XVIII, 3 to impose city-residency preferences in Cleveland's public-improvement contracts. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter to the trial court to dissolve the injunction, holding that the statute provides for the comfort and general welfare of all Ohio construction employees and therefore supersedes conflicting local ordinances. View "Cleveland v. State" on Justia Law