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McMillin Management Services, L.P. and Imperial Valley Residential Valley Residential Builders, L.P. (collectively "McMillin") filed suit against numerous insurance companies, including respondents Lexington Insurance Company (Lexington) and Financial Pacific Insurance Company (Financial Pacific). McMillin alleged that it had acted as a developer and general contractor of a residential development project in Brawley and hired various subcontractors to help construct the Project. As relevant here, McMillin alleged that Lexington and Financial Pacific breached their respective duties to defend McMillin in a construction defect action (underlying action) brought by homeowners within the Project. McMillin alleged that Lexington and Financial Pacific each owed a duty to defend McMillin in the underlying action pursuant to various comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance policies issued to the subcontractors that named McMillin as an additional insured. The trial court granted Lexington's motion for summary judgment, reasoning, that there was no possibility for coverage for McMillin as an additional insured under the policies "[b]ecause there were no homeowners in existence until after the subcontractors' work was complete[ ] . . . ." On appeal, McMillin contended that the fact that the homeowners did not own homes in the Project at the time the subcontractors completed their work did not establish that its liability did not arise out of the subcontractors' ongoing operations. The trial court granted Financial Pacific's motion for summary judgment, finding McMillin did not establish homeowners in the underlying action had sought potentially covered damages arising out of the subcontractors' drywall installation. The Court of Appeal reversed as to Lexington, and affirmed as to Financial Pacific. View "McMillin Management Services v. Financial Pacific Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Liu was a Fremont licensed general contractor. Defendant, Liu's assistant, was not a contractor. The final plans for Liu's client's hillside home required excavation. Liu hired a licensed contractor, who cut into the hill, creating a 12-foot-high dirt wall with an overhanging soil ledge, with no sloping or benching, or support. Defendant oversaw construction. By December 2011, the foundation was not complete. The contractor walked off the job, which was behind schedule. Defendant hired a carpenter, rather than a licensed contractor, who understood that he was being hired as an employee of Liu’s company, and others, including Zapata. In January 2012, a city inspector handed defendant a “Stop Work Notice” based on “Excavation without required shoring and/or excavation.” Defendant did not tell the workers. Defendant consulted an engineer but never sought city approval to continue construction. He instructed the workers to work in the excavation area. The excavation wall collapsed on Zapata, killing him. Defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter (Pen. Code, 192(b)), and willfully violating safety orders (Lab. Code 6425(a)). The court of appeal affirmed defendant’s conviction, rejecting claims of insufficient evidence; that the court committed instructional error and improperly limited cross-examination; that he was not given adequate notice of the charges; that the prosecution failed to elect a particular criminal act; and that the statute prohibiting the willful violation of occupational safety orders was unconstitutionally vague. View "People v. Luo" on Justia Law

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A jury awarded Ausbern Construction Company, Inc. (Ausbern) a verdict of $182,500 against Chickasaw County Engineer Edward Springer in his individual capacity for tortious interference with a road-construction contract. On appeal, the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed the monetary judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Springer, holding the element of tortious interference that constitutes malice was not satisfied because Springer’s actions were not without right or justifiable cause. Though the lack of evidence demonstrating malice was dispositive to the decision to reverse and render, a majority of the Court of Appeals alternatively held that Ausbern’s claim against Springer had implicated the Mississippi Tort Claims Act and the trial court had erred by failing to grant Springer’s motion to dismiss due to lack of presuit notice. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the record did not support the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Springer raised the issue of presuit notice in his motion to dismiss. Although Springer raised lack of notice as an affirmative defense in his answer to Ausbern’s first amended complaint, he simply argued that he was entitled to immunity in support of his motion to dismiss. The Court did not disturb the dispositive holding reached by the Court of Appeals resulting in the rendered judgment in favor of Springer; the Supreme Court granted certiorari review to resolve the Court of Appeals’ perceived conflict between Zumwalt v. Jones County Board of Supervisors, 19 So. 3d 672 (Miss. 2009), and Whiting v. University of Southern Mississippi, 62 So. 3d 907 (Miss. 2011). "Whiting" did not overrule, sub silentio, "Zumwalt" as the Court of Appeals presumed in reaching its alternative holding. The Supreme Court overruled Whiting to the extent it held that a claim for tortious interference with a contract was subject to presuit notice requirements of the Tort Claims Act. Ausbern’s claim against Springer in his individual capacity for tortious interference with the contract did not trigger the presuit notice requirements of the Tort Claims Act. View "Springer v. Ausbern Construction Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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After remand, the trial court ruled that H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. (HAS) failed to meet its burden of proving purposeful discrimination. Hemphill Construction Company was the general contractor on a project in Waveland, Mississippi, to rebuild a state park after Hurricane Katrina. Hemphill entered a subcontract with HAS (one of many entered into between these companies - both before and after the event complained of) to perform the electrical work. According to HAS, Hemphill did not pay HAS all it was owed under the subcontract. HAS sued Hemphill for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and conversion. After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of Hemphill on both HAS’s claims and Hemphill’s counterclaim. However, the jury declined to award Hemphill monetary damages. The subcontract entitled the “prevailing party” to reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses. HAS filed a motion for new trial or, in the alternative, a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), arguing the trial court erred: (1) in allowing Hemphill to use two of its peremptory strikes to exclude two African Americans from the jury, arguing neither pretext nor purposeful discrimination; and (2) in not finding the unilateral attorney’s-fees provision of the contract to be unconscionable. The trial court denied HAS’s motion for new trial and alternative motion for JNOV. In its briefs appealing the trial court ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court, HAS challenged the attorney’s-fees award and argued the trial court mishandled the Batson hearing when HAS challenged Hemphill’s use of peremptory strikes on the African-American jurors. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding HAS failed to prove: (1) purposeful discrimination in the jury selection process; (2) that the trial court’s ruling was clearly erroneous; or (3) that the trial court’s ruling was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the jury’s verdict, the trial court’s denial of HAS’s motion for new trial, and the trial court’s post-judgment award of attorney’s fees to Hemphill. View "H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hemphill Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a trial court erred by denying a motion to recuse the entire bench of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Appellant James Kravitz was the sole officer, director, and shareholder of several companies known as the Andorra Group, which included Appellants Cherrydale Construction Company, Andorra Springs Development, Inc., and Kravmar, Inc., which was formally known as Eastern Development Enterprises, Incorporated (“Eastern”). Kravitz also owned a piece of property known as the Reserve at Lafayette Hill (“Reserve”). Andorra Springs was formed to develop residential housing on sections of the Reserve. In 1993, Andorra Springs hired Cherrydale as the general contractor to build the homes on the Reserve. Eastern operated as the management and payroll company for the Andorra Group. Appellee Roy Lomas, Sr., d/b/a Roy Lomas Carpet Contractor was the proprietor of a floor covering company. Cherrydale and Lomas entered into a contract which required Lomas to supply and install floor covering in the homes being built by Cherrydale. Soon thereafter, Cherrydale breached that contract by failing to pay. Lomas demanded that Cherrydale submit Lomas’ claim to binding arbitration as mandated by the parties’ contract. The parties arbitrated the matter, and a panel of arbitrators entered an interim partial award in favor of Lomas, finding that Cherrydale breached the parties’ contract. Following Kravitz’s unsuccessful attempt to have the interim award vacated, the arbitrators issued a final award to Lomas. Judgment was entered against Cherrydale in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Important to this appeal, then-Attorney, now-Judge Thomas Branca represented Lomas throughout the arbitration proceedings. Since the entry of judgment, Kravitz actively prevented Lomas from collecting his arbitration award by, inter alia, transferring all of the assets out of Cherrydale to himself and other entities under his control. In March 2000, Lomas commenced the instant action against Appellants. Then-Attorney Branca filed the complaint seeking to pierce the corporate veil and to hold Kravitz personally liable for the debt Cherrydale owed to Lomas. Approximately one year later, then-Attorney Branca was elected to serve as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Prior to taking the bench, then Judge-Elect Branca withdrew his appearance in the matter and referred the case to another law firm. After several years of litigation, the parties agreed to a bifurcated bench trial. Although Appellants acknowledged that they were unaware of any bias or prejudice against them on the part of Judge Rogers or any other judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Appellants maintained that Judge Branca’s continued involvement and financial interest in the case created an “appearance of impropriety” prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct. Specifically at issue before the Supreme Court was whether the moving parties waived their recusal claim and, if not, whether the claim had merit. The Court held that the recusal issue was untimely presented to the trial court and, thus, waived. View "Lomas v. Kravitz" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of an insurance dispute between a general contractor, its subcontractor, and the subcontractor’s general liability carrier over water damage to a construction site caused by heavy rains. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hired Kadena Pacific, Inc. as the general contractor to oversee construction of a building in Menlo Park. Kadena hired Global Modular, Inc. to build, deliver, and install the 53 modular units that would comprise the building. Because Kadena had hired a different subcontractor to install the roofing, Global agreed to deliver the units covered only by a roof deck substrate. Kadena originally scheduled delivery in the summer months, but delivery was delayed until October and November. Despite Global’s efforts to protect the units by covering them with plastic tarps, the interiors suffered water damage from October through January. In February, Kadena and Global mutually agreed to terminate their contract and Kadena oversaw the remediation of the water-damaged interiors and completion of the project. Global sued Kadena for failure to pay and Kadena countersued, alleging Global had breached the contract in various ways, including by failing to repair the water-damaged interiors. Before trial, the parties entered a partial settlement. Global paid Kadena $321,975 to release all of Kadena’s claims arising from the VA project except for claims covered by Global’s insurance policy with North American Capacity Insurance Company (NAC), and Global received $153,025 to dismiss its failure-to-pay claims. At trial, Kadena presented evidence on the scope and cost of its water remediation and argued Global was contractually responsible for the damage. The jury agreed and awarded Kadena slightly over $1 million. In a separate suit brought by NAC, Kadena and NAC filed competing motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether NAC’s policy required it to indemnify Global for the jury’s damage award. The trial court ruled in favor of Kadena, finding the damage award covered under NAC’s policy as a matter of law. The court also ruled that the award must be offset by the $321,975 Global paid in settlement and that Global was liable to Kadena for $360,000 in attorney fees. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly determined NAC’s policy covered the water damages and Kadena was entitled to fees. However, the Court reversed the offset order because Global’s settlement payment did not compensate Kadena for the costs of its water remediation; the parties agreed to reserve that issue for litigation. View "Global Modular v. Kadena Pacific, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s determination that Owners Insurance Company did not have a duty to defend Lowery Construction & Concrete, LLC in an action filed by homeowners Tony and Stephanie Hague. The Hagues sued Lowery for breach of contract, breach of implied warranty, and negligent construction. Lowery filed a declaratory judgment action against Owners seeking a declaration that Owners had a duty to defend Lowery. The circuit court determined that coverage was excluded because the damage to the Hagues’ home was caused by Lowery’s defective work. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Owners had a duty to defend Lowery because the Hagues’ complaint arguably stated a claim covered under Lowery’s commercial general liability policy. View "Lowery Construction & Concrete, LLC v. Owners Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Homebuyer's construction defect claims against the Contractor that built his home on the ground that Homebuyer was not in privity with Contractor and had no right to sue as an assignee. Property Owner entered into an agreement with Contractor to build a house on the property and then assigned its rights to the home and the construction agreement to Company. Company then sold the home to Homebuyer but did not assign its interest in the construction agreement to Homebuyer. After discovering several purported construction defects, Homebuyer sued Contractor for breach of the construction agreement and breach of warranty. Homeowner was subsequently assigned Company’s interest in claims Company may assert against Contractor. The district court granted summary judgment to Contractor. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Homebuyer had no right to sue under Utah Code 78B-4-513 because he did not acquire a right to sue for breach of contract or warranty as an assignee - either at the time he purchased the home or at the time of the assignment. View "Tomlinson v. Douglas Knight Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant American Safety Indemnity Company (“ASIC”) challenged a judgment awarding over $1.4 million in compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiff-respondent Pulte Home Corporation (Pulte), who was the general contractor and developer of two residential projects in the San Marcos area. ASIC issued several sequential comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance policies to three of Pulte's subcontractors, and during 2003 to 2006, it added endorsements to those policies that named Pulte as an additional insured. The projects were completed by 2006. In 2011 and 2013, two groups of residents of the developments sued Pulte for damages in separate construction defect lawsuits. After American Safety declined to provide Pulte with a defense, Pulte filed this action, asserting that the additional insured endorsements afforded it coverage and therefore required ASIC to provide it with defenses on the construction defect issues. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court was correct in ruling that the language of ASIC’s additional insured endorsements on the underlying insurance policies created ambiguities on the potential for coverage in the construction defect lawsuits, thus requiring it to provide Pulte with a defense to them. Additionally, the Court upheld the court's decision that Pulte was entitled to an award of punitive damages that was proportional, on a one-to-one basis, to the award of compensatory damages in tort. Although the Court affirmed the judgment as to its substantive rulings, the Court of Appeal was required to reverse in part as to the award of $471,313.52 attorney fees: the trial court abused its discretion in implementing an hourly attorney fee arrangement that Pulte did not arrive at until after trial, to replace the previous contingency fee agreement in a manner that Pulte intended would operate to increase its demand. Since the trial court calculated its $500,000 award of punitive damages by appropriately utilizing a one-to-one ratio to the compensatory, the trial court had to recalculate not only the fees award but also to adjust the amount of punitive damages accordingly. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. American Safety Indemnity Co." on Justia Law

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In 2001, plaintiffs Margaret and John Abajian hired architectural firm TruexCullins, Inc., to design additions to their home. Plaintiffs hired Thermal Efficiency Construction, Ltd. (TEC) to serve as the general contractor for the project. TEC contracted with Murphy’s Metals, Inc. to do the roofing work. The roof was installed during the winter of 2001-2002. Plaintiffs had experienced problems with ice damming on their old roof, which was shingled. Defendants recommended that plaintiffs install a metal roof to alleviate the problem. Plaintiffs accepted the suggestion, hoping that the metal roof would result in fewer ice dams. Mr. Abajian testified in his deposition that he “thought that the metal roof was going to eliminate” the ice damming. In 2014, after the roof turned out to be defective, plaintiffs sued the architecture and construction firms that designed and installed the roof for negligence and breach of contract. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants on the ground that the action was barred by the statute of limitations. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment to defendants, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Abajian v. TruexCullins, Inc." on Justia Law