Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed a lower court's decision that an insurance agency, Rames Inc., formerly known as Central Insurance Agency, had a duty to procure additional insurance coverage for a construction company, TCF Enterprises Inc., also known as Malmquist Construction. Rames was found to have breached that duty, thereby breaching the standard of care and negligently misrepresenting that it had obtained the coverage. The court also found that the policy's professional services exclusion would not have barred coverage for defense and indemnity. The dispute arose after Malmquist was sued by a developer due to a construction defect and realized it wasn't covered as an additional insured under a subcontractor's insurance policy as it had believed. Rames had been told by the subcontractor to add Malmquist as an additional insured, but it failed to do so. The jury awarded damages to Malmquist in the amount of $1,022,257.85. Rames appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision. View "TCF Enterprises, Inc. v. Rames, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of California held that a trial court has discretion to grant or deny relief from a jury trial waiver under section 631(g) of the Code of Civil Procedure. The court is not required to grant relief just because proceeding with a jury would not cause hardship to other parties or the court. The court should consider various factors, including the timeliness of the request and the reasons supporting the request. The court further held that a litigant who challenges the denial of relief from a jury waiver for the first time on appeal must show actual prejudice to obtain reversal.The case involved TriCoast Builders, Inc. and Nathaniel Fonnegra. Fonnegra hired TriCoast to repair his house after a fire, but he was unhappy with the quality of the work and terminated the contract. TriCoast sued Fonnegra for damages. Fonnegra initially demanded a jury trial, but waived this right on the day of the trial. TriCoast, which had not demanded a jury trial or paid the jury fee, requested a jury trial after Fonnegra’s waiver. The trial court denied their request and a bench trial was held. TriCoast appealed the judgment, arguing that the trial court erred in denying their request for a jury trial. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, concluding that TriCoast had not established the prejudice necessary to justify reversing the trial court's judgment. View "TriCoast Builders, Inc. v. Fonnegra" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Ursinus College utilized financing from the Montgomery County Health and Higher Education Authority (Authority) to undertake a construction project. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local No. 98 (IBEW) asserted that this project was a public work under the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act (PWA), which would require workers on the project to receive prevailing minimum wages. The court was tasked with determining whether this project constituted a public work under the PWA. The court found that the project was not a public work as defined in the PWA, as the funds for the project did not come from a public body. Rather, the Authority served as a conduit for financing, with private funds generated from the Authority's ability to issue bonds being used to pay for the project. The Authority did not hold or disburse these funds, nor did it bear any risk or liability with respect to the repayment of the bonds. Therefore, the court held that the project was not subject to the PWA's prevailing wage requirements. View "Ursinus College v. Prevailing Wage Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Court of Appeals, ruling that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying an order as a final partial judgment under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. The case arose from a dispute between the City of Elk River and Bolton & Menk, Inc. over a large construction contract for a wastewater treatment plant improvement project. The City sued Bolton for alleged breach of contract and professional negligence. Bolton responded by filing a third-party complaint against three other parties involved in the contract. The district court dismissed Bolton's third-party complaint and Bolton sought to have the dismissal order certified as a final judgment for immediate appeal. The district court granted this certification, but the Court of Appeals dismissed Bolton's appeal, determining that the district court had abused its discretion in certifying the order as a final judgment. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the district court had offered valid reasons for its certification, including that the third-party claims presented distinct issues from the principal claims and that the case was in its early stages at the time of certification. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "City of Elk River vs. Bolton & Menk, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a dispute between K&S Staffing Solutions, Inc. (K&S) and The Western Surety Company (Western) and VSS International, Inc. (VSSI), the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District upheld the Superior Court of San Joaquin County's decision that K&S was not a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law and that payment bonds issued for the projects in question were subject to the mechanics' lien law’s requirements.K&S, a staffing company, sued VSSI and Western to recover unpaid amounts for services provided on state projects, arguing it was a “laborer” under the mechanics' lien law and thus entitled to assert a claim against payment bonds for the projects. The court disagreed, interpreting the term “laborer” in the law as a person "acting as an employee" performing labor or bestowing necessary services on a work of improvement, and concluded K&S, as an employer, did not qualify.Furthermore, K&S argued that the payment bonds issued for these state projects were not subject to the mechanics' lien law’s requirements because they were not "payment bonds" within the meaning of the law. However, the court disagreed, ruling that the bond requirements of the mechanics' lien law apply to state projects that require a bond under Public Contract Code section 7103 and other public entity projects that require a bond under section 9550. Consequently, the court affirmed the lower court's attorney fee award to the defendants under section 9564, which mandates attorney fees be awarded to the prevailing party in any action to enforce the liability on a payment bond. View "K & S Staffing Solutions v. The Western Surety Co." on Justia Law

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In Alabama, RAM-Robertsdale Subdivision Partners, LLC contracted Construction Services LLC, d/b/a MCA Construction, Inc. ("MCA") to build infrastructure for a proposed housing subdivision. The relationship between the two parties deteriorated, leading to a lawsuit by RAM-Robertsdale against MCA for various claims including breach of contract, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation, among others. MCA counterclaimed and also filed third-party claims against Retail Specialists, LLC, a member of RAM-Robertsdale, and Rodney Barstein, a corporate officer for Retail Specialists and RAM-Robertsdale, for breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, and defamation. The RAM defendants moved for summary judgment on MCA's counterclaims and third-party claims, arguing that MCA was not properly licensed when it signed the contract, thus making the contract void for public policy. The circuit court granted the RAM defendants' motion for summary judgment and certified its judgment as final.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama found that the circuit court had exceeded its discretion in certifying its judgment as final under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., because the claims pending below and those on appeal were closely intertwined, arising from the same contract and the parties' performance under that contract. The Court noted that if the contract was indeed void for public policy, then neither party would be able to enforce it, impacting the remaining claims pending in the circuit court. As the Court found that deciding the issues at this stage would create an intolerable risk of inconsistent results, it dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Construction Services, LLC v. RAM-Robertsdale Subdivision Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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In Washington State, a second-tier subcontractor, Velazquez Framing LLC, was not paid for the work it did on property owned by Cascadia Homes Inc., a general contracting company. High End Construction LLC, who had been contracted by Cascadia, subcontracted the work to Velazquez without informing Cascadia. After completing the work, Velazquez filed a lien for labor and materials without giving prelien notice, which resulted in a dispute over whether prelien notice was required for labor liens under Chapter 60.04 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled that, based on the plain language of the relevant statutes and legislative history, prelien notice is not required for labor liens. The court noted that while Velazquez could not lien for its materials and equipment without providing prelien notice, it could lien for its labor. The case was remanded to the trial court to determine the value of the labor performed. The court's decision reversed the rulings of the Court of Appeals and the trial court, both of which had concluded that prelien notice was required. View "Velazquez Framing, LLC v. Cascadia Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around injury suffered by a swimmer, Dr. Jennifer Pennington, who collided with the corner of a swimming-pool wall at a health and fitness center owned and operated by Memorial Hospital of South Bend, doing business as Beacon Health and Fitness. The design and construction of the swimming pool was carried out by Spear Corporation and Panzica Building Corporation. The Penningtons filed a suit against Beacon, Spear, and Panzica, alleging negligent design, failure to warn, negligent maintenance and operation, negligent construction, and deprivation of companionship due to the injury. The trial court granted summary judgment to Panzica and Spear on all counts and to Beacon on some counts, but denied summary judgment to Beacon on the count of negligent maintenance and operation and failure to provide adequate warnings and instructions. The Indiana Supreme Court held that Beacon was not entitled to summary judgment on any count, except as to the single issue of the level of the water within Count III. The court affirmed summary judgment for Spear and Panzica, stating that the Penningtons failed to provide admissible evidence regarding Spear or Panzica's breach of their professional duty of care. However, the court found that there were issues of fact regarding Beacon's role in the pool’s design and its maintenance and operation that required a trial. View "Pennington v. Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, an accident occurred at a construction site which resulted in bodily injuries to Gaylon Cruse and Mark Duckworth. During the installation of roof trusses, a power crane operated by Douglas Forrest was prematurely released, causing a truss to fall and collapse onto other trusses, injuring Cruse and Duckworth. Southern Truss, the owner of the truck to which the crane was attached, had two insurance policies - a commercial auto policy from Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company (Artisan) and a commercial general liability policy from The Burlington Insurance Company (Burlington). Both insurance companies denied a duty to defend in the underlying lawsuit initiated by Cruse and Duckworth.Artisan filed a suit in federal court seeking a declaration that it owed no duty to defend under its auto policy due to an operations exclusion clause and that Burlington owed a duty to defend. The district court denied both companies' motions for judgment, finding an ambiguity in Artisan's policy that should be construed in favor of the insured and that Burlington had a duty to defend some claims not covered by Artisan's policy. Both Artisan and Burlington appealed.The appeals court, applying Illinois law and conducting a de novo review, found no ambiguity in Artisan's policy. The court concluded that the operations exclusion applied because the injuries arose from the operation of the crane attached to the truck, whose primary purpose was to provide mobility to the crane. As such, Artisan had no duty to defend. Since Artisan had no duty to defend, the court determined that Burlington did have a duty to defend under its policy. Thus, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court. View "Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company v. Burlington Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware upheld a lower court's decision regarding a dispute between the Salt Meadows Homeowners Association (Salt Meadows) and Zonko Builders, Inc. (Zonko). Salt Meadows accused Zonko of faulty construction leading to water damage in the condominium complex built by Zonko. The Superior Court found Zonko liable but left the question of damages to a jury, which awarded Salt Meadows $11.3 million in general damages and $1.6 million for specific repair costs. However, the Superior Court later reduced the general damage award to $8.3 million, citing unsupported, speculative, and excessive damage claims. The court also granted Zonko's motion for judgment as a matter of law related to the specific repair costs, finding that Salt Meadows expanded its claims without sufficient evidence. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's decision, agreeing that Salt Meadows' damage claims were speculative and unsupported. The court also agreed with the lower court's calculation of pre-judgment interest from the date the damages were discovered, not from the date of Zonko's negligent construction. The court further affirmed the calculation of post-judgment interest from the date of the verdict, as agreed upon by both parties. View "Salt Meadows Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Zonko Builders, Inc." on Justia Law