Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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Colorado Center Development, LLC, the owner of certain property in Denver, Colorado, hired J.E. Dunn Construction Company to construct an office building (the Project). Colorado Center purchased from Defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company a Builder’s Risk insurance policy (the Policy). The Policy provided protection against “direct physical loss or damage caused by a covered peril to ‘buildings or structures’ while in the course of construction, erection, or fabrication.” J.E. Dunn hired plaintiff Rocky Mountain Prestress, LLC (RMP) as a subcontractor to perform work including “engineer[ing], supply[ing,] and install[ing] all precast concrete components, connections, and erections aids” and “[s]upply[ing] and install[ing] grout and/or patching of all connections required by the engineering for the structural integrity of the precast.” Because of “potential concerns that arose at another project” relating to “sinking pillars/columns,” J.E. Dunn requested RMP to retain a third-party engineering firm to investigate “potential structural issues” with RMP’s work on the Project. The engineering firm concluded that the Project required “repairs to insufficiently grouted joints between precast concrete column and pilaster elements” at 264 locations throughout the structure. The engineering firm began its investigation in August 2016, and the final grouting repair work was completed in February 2017. In the meantime, in November 2016, RMP submitted a claim to Liberty seeking coverage under the Policy. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company on three independent grounds: (1) RMP had not shown that the claimed loss was fortuitous; (2) the claimed loss did not constitute “direct physical loss or damage” as required for coverage under the policy; and (3) even if there might otherwise have been coverage, the claimed loss fell within the policy’s exclusion for defective workmanship. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision based on the defective-workmanship exclusion. View "Rocky Mountain Presstress v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court awarding attorney's fees to Defendants in this dispute over the proposed construction of seven billboards, holding that the trial court's decision to award attorney's fees was an abuse of discretion. River Ridge Development Authority (RRDA) sued Defendants seeking a declaration that seven billboards that were set to be constructed near the planned entrance of RRDA's $25 million expansion to The River Ridge Commerce Center violated the Town of Utica's zoning ordinance. During the litigation, the relevant portion of the road along which the billboards were to be constructed was approved to become a scenic byway. Thereafter, RRDA voluntarily dismissed its complaint with prejudice. Defendants filed motions to recover attorney's fees, claiming that RRDA's behavior during litigation justified such an award. The trial court granted the motions in full. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) on the record, Defendants failed to show that any exception to the American Rule requiring each party to pay its own attorney's fees applied; and (2) therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney's fees. View "River Ridge Development Authority v. Outfront Media, LLC" on Justia Law

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Subcontractor Construction Drilling, Inc. (CDI) appealed a trial court’s judgment on the merits in its breach-of-contract claim against Engineers Construction, Inc. (ECI). CDI contended the trial court erred in: (1) holding that the terms of the parties’ subcontract required CDI to request a change order before it billed ECI for “drilling in obstructions” in excess of CDI’s bid price; (2) denying CDI’s motions to reopen the evidence and for a new trial; and (3) awarding ECI $234,320 in attorneys’ fees under the Prompt Payment Act. ECI cross-appealed, arguing the trial court improperly allowed CDI’s owner to offer opinion testimony absent a finding of reliability under Vermont Rule of Evidence 702 and maintaining that his testimony could not have met this standard in any event. Therefore, should the Vermont Supreme Court reverse the trial court’s denial of CDI’s breach-of-contract claim, ECI asserted the matter had to be remanded for a new trial without such testimony. The Court affirmed the trial court, and therefore did not reach the issue raised in ECI’s cross-appeal. View "Construction Drilling, Inc. v. Engineers Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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Russell Construction of Alabama, Inc. ("Russell"), appealed a circuit court order that vacated an arbitration award in favor of Russell and against Christopher Peat. In 2015, Russell and Peat entered into a contract pursuant to which Russell agreed to construct a residence for Peat on "a cost plus a fee basis." The documents executed in connection with the contract provided, in the event of a controversy or dispute, first for mediation and then for arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association. Upon completion of the residence, a dispute arose between Russell and Peat regarding Russell's performance and the balance due Russell under the contract. In January 2018, Russell filed a formal demand for arbitration, seeking $295,408 allegedly due from Peat for the construction of the residence. Peat counterclaimed, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract and disputing his consent to costs incurred by Russell; Peat sought specific performance and an award of $255,000 on his counterclaims. Thereafter, in May 2018, the parties reached, as a result of mediation, a settlement agreement. In essence, the settlement agreement required Russell to make certain repairs to the residence; required Peat to pay Russell $245,408 on or before June 15, 2018, at which time Russell agreed to release its recorded lien; and required Peat to deposit into escrow an additional $50,000 to ensure completion, by the end of August 2018, of a "punch-list" to the satisfaction of a third-party "Construction Consultant." The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court did not err to the extent that it set aside the judgment entered pursuant to the arbitrator's Final Award. The Court affirmed the trial court's July 25, 2019 order to the extent that it vacated any judgment on the arbitrator's Final Award related to Russell's and Peat's breach of the provisions of the settlement agreement that remained in effect after the Modified Partial Final Award and the distribution of the outstanding $50,000 at issue. The Court reversed that same order to the extent it purported to vacate any judgment on the Modified Partial Final Award of $258,959.89 and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Russell Construction of Alabama, Inc. v. Peat" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court holding that a general contractor was liable for construction materials provided by a supplier to one of the general contractor's subcontractors, holding that the distinct circumstances of this case permitted the supplier to obtain relief for the general contractor's unjust enrichment. General Contractor contracted with Subcontractor to assist with a residential condominium project. Subcontractor agreed to purchase materials from Supplier and to pay Supplier for materials delivered. General Contractor and Subcontractor entered into a joint check agreement specifying a method for how Supplier would be paid for the materials it shipped to the job. Supplier ultimately shipped $252,062 in materials for which it was not paid due to the Subcontractor's financial difficulties. General Contractor ultimately used those materials to complete the project. Supplier sued General Contractor and Subcontractor alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Supplier obtained a default judgment against Subcontractor. After a trial, the court ruled for Supplier in its claim of unjust enrichment against General Contractor. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the joint check agreement did not foreclose relief; (2) General Contractor was not being compelled to pay twice for the materials; and (3) Supplier was permitted to obtain relief for General Contractor's unjust enrichment. View "Davis Construction Corp. v. FTJ, Inc." on Justia Law

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Several insurance companies (the Insurers) appealed the denial of their motions to intervene in a construction defect action between a property owners' association (the Association) and a number of construction contractors and subcontractors (the Insureds). The underlying construction defect action proceeded to trial, resulting in a verdict for the Association. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the Insurers were not entitled to intervene as a matter of right, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying them permissive intervention. However, the Court held the Insurers had a right to a determination of which portions of the Association's damages are covered under the commercial general liability (CGL) policies between the Insurers and the Insureds. The Court also recognized that the Insurers had the right and ability to contest coverage of the jury verdict in a subsequent declaratory judgment action. "In that action, the Insurers and the Insureds will be bound by the existence and extent of any jury verdict in favor of the Association in the construction defect action. However, they will not be bound as to any factual matters for which a conflict of interest existed, such as determining what portion of the total damages are covered by any applicable CGL policies." View "Builders Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Brandon Carter was convicted by jury of malice murder and two firearm offenses in connection with the shooting death of Terrance Baker. On appeal, Carter contended the trial court erred by admitting certain hearsay statements into evidence and by violating his constitutional right to be present during his trial. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed conviction. View "Carter v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In August 2013 the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) entered into a contract with Osborne Construction Company to upgrade the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting building at the Fairbanks International Airport to withstand damage in the event of an earthquake. The DOT appealed a superior court decision reversing the agency's decision in an administrative appeal. The agency denied a contractor’s claim for additional compensation because the claim was filed outside the filing period allowed by the contract. After applying its independent judgment to interpret the contract, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the DOT that the contractor failed to file its claim within the period allowed. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision and reinstated the agency’s. View "Alaska, Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities v. Osborne Construction Co." on Justia Law

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In this construction contract dispute, the Supreme Court held that the San Antonio River Authority possessed the authority to agree to arbitrate claims under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 271 and exercised that authority in the contract and that the judiciary, rather than an arbitrator, retains the duty to decide whether a local government has waived its governmental immunity. The River Authority hired Austin Bridge and Road L.P. for a construction project. The parties agreed to submit any disputes about the contract to arbitration. Austin Bridge invoked the contract's arbitration provisions when disagreements about the scope of work and payment arose. After the arbitrator denied the River Authority's plea of governmental immunity, the River Authority sued Austin Bridge, arguing that it lacked the authority to agree to the contract's arbitration provisions. The trial court concluded that the arbitration provisions in the contract were enforceable. The court of appeals agreed that the River Authority had the authority to agree to arbitrate but concluded that a court, rather than an arbitrator, must decide whether the River Authority was immune from the claims against it. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that chapter 271 waived the River Authority's immunity from suit for Austin Bridge's breach of contract claim. View "San Antonio River Authority v. Austin Bridge & Road, L.P." on Justia Law

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Carmel provided design and construction work for a luxury subdivision, Monterra, in Monterey County for more than 10 years under an oral contract with property owner Mills, the principal of Monterra LLC. Carmel recorded a mechanic’s lien and a site improvement lien against certain lots in Monterra after being informed that Monterra LLC would be unable to continue paying for the work. Carmel sued several of Monterra LLC’s investors with property interests in unsold lots in the development and Monterra LLC, alleging breach of contract and foreclosure of the mechanic’s and site improvement liens. Monterra stipulated to liability before trial; the investor defendants contested liability in a lengthy bench trial. The court of appeal reversed. Carmel applied the payments it received from Monterra LLC to debt that was not subject to liens, in effect increasing the amounts of the Water Lien and Site Improvement Lien. It was improper to allocate a water infrastructure lien only to certain benefited lots; the liens could not accrue contractual interest greater than the reasonable value of the improvements. The trial court applied an incorrect rate to calculate prejudgment interest. The court remanded with instructions to remove contractual interest from both liens, reapportion the water infrastructure lien, and recalculate prejudgment interest. View "Carmel Development Co., Inc. v. Anderson" on Justia Law