Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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In March 2015, Jere Hinman hired BrightView Landscape Development, Inc., to design and construct a pool at her residence. BrightView subcontracted with Georgia Gunite and Pool Company, Inc., to install plumbing and spray shotcrete for the pool shell. In November 2015, Hinman contacted BrightView after receiving an unusually high water bill and discovered that the pool was leaking water due to a missing part that was not included in Georgia Gunite’s scope of work. BrightView and Georgia Gunite worked together to address the issue in April 2016. In 2018, Hinman sued BrightView for defective construction of the pool, and BrightView filed a third-party complaint against Georgia Gunite, seeking indemnification based on the subcontractor agreement. Georgia Gunite moved for summary judgment, arguing that BrightView's claim was barred by Tennessee's four-year statute of repose for actions alleging defective improvements to real estate.The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, which granted summary judgment in favor of Georgia Gunite. The court held that, although BrightView's indemnification claim against Georgia Gunite was contractual in nature, it fell within the scope of Tennessee's statute of repose for deficient construction of an improvement to real property because, at its core, it sought to recover damages arising from such deficient construction. The court rejected BrightView's argument that the statute of repose only applies to tort actions. The court also rejected BrightView's argument that the application of the statute of repose in this case would extinguish its claim before it even accrued, noting that this argument is directed at the nature of a statute of repose. The court further held that the repose statute is not mutually exclusive with statutes of limitation. Thus, BrightView's claim against Georgia Gunite was barred because it was not brought within four years after substantial completion of the pool construction. View "Hinman v. ValleyCrest Landscaping Dev." on Justia Law

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In this case, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District was asked to determine two key issues. The first issue pertained to whether K&S Staffing Solutions, Inc., a staffing company, could be considered a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law. The second issue was whether the payment bonds issued for two state projects were subject to the mechanics’ lien law’s requirements. The staffing company had been contracted by a subcontractor, Titan DVBE Inc., to fulfill its staffing needs for two road maintenance projects awarded by California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to VSS International, Inc. (VSSI). When Titan failed to pay K&S all the amounts owed for the projects, K&S sued VSSI and the Western Surety Company, which had issued payment bonds for the projects. K&S argued that it was a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law and was therefore entitled to recover against the payment bonds. The trial court disagreed, finding that K&S was not a “laborer” as it failed to show it was the employer of the laborers. On appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, interpreting the term “laborer” as defined in the mechanics’ lien law to mean “a person who, acting as an employee, performs labor upon, or bestows skill or other necessary services on, a work of improvement.” The court concluded that K&S was not a “laborer” as it was not acting as an employee in any capacity. The court also affirmed the trial court’s award of attorney fees to the defendants under a provision in the mechanics’ lien law. Although K&S argued that this provision was inapplicable because the payment bonds for the projects were not “payment bonds” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law, the court rejected this argument. The court concluded that the general requirements of the mechanics’ lien law for payment bonds applied both to state projects that required a bond under the Public Contract Code and other “public entity” projects that required a bond under the mechanics’ lien law. View "K & S Staffing Solutions v. The Western Surety Co." on Justia Law

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In the case before the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Eight, the plaintiff, a construction company, sued the defendant, a homeowner, for defamation after the homeowner posted critical comments about the company online. The homeowner had hired the construction company to repair her home after it was damaged by a fallen tree. Dissatisfied with the work, the homeowner reported the company to the Contractors State License Board and began posting negative reviews of the company on her blog and Yelp. In response to the defamation lawsuit, the homeowner filed a special motion to strike, arguing that her comments were protected by the litigation privilege. The trial court denied the motion, and the homeowner appealed.The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the homeowner's online posts were not covered by the litigation privilege. The court explained that the litigation privilege applies only to communications made in judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings that have some connection to the litigation. The homeowner's posts were public criticisms of the construction company, some of which did not even mention the Contractors State License Board. Therefore, the court found that the posts were akin to press releases and lacked the necessary connection to the proceedings before the board. The court also rejected the homeowner's arguments that the construction company failed to plead that her statements were unprivileged, that her statements were true, and that her statements were merely her opinions. View "Paglia & Associates Construction v. Hamilton" on Justia Law