Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries
Atlas Construction Supply v. Swinerton Builders
A construction worker was killed when concrete formwork toppled over at a worksite. Plaintiffs, the worker's surviving family members, brought a wrongful death action against the general contractor, Swinerton Builders, and formwork supplier, Atlas Construction Supply, Inc. Atlas cross-complained against Swinerton for equitable indemnity, contribution and declaratory relief. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Swinerton as to the wrongful death complaint. Swinerton, in lieu of seeking entry of judgment on the summary judgment order, settled with plaintiffs, wherein plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their case against Swinerton, and Swinerton waived its costs. Apparently under a shared belief that the good faith settlement determination barred Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton, Atlas and Swinerton stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton. Atlas appealed the summary judgment order, the good faith settlement determination, and dismissal of its cross-complaint. Atlas argued that the trial court erred in ruling Atlas lacked standing to oppose Swinerton's motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, Atlas argued if the trial court had considered its opposition brief, the court could have reasonably denied Swinerton's motion, and Swinerton would have never settled the wrongful death complaint, never made the good faith settlement determination, and Swinerton and Atlas would never have stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint. After review, the Court of Appeal determined Atlas was not aggrieved by the trial court's exoneration of Swinerton in the wrongful death action. Therefore, Atlas lacked standing to appeal the summary judgment order. With respect to the good faith settlement and dismissal of the cross-complaint, the Court determined Atlas waived its challenge by failing to make substantive legal arguments specific to those orders. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed as to the summary judgment motion, and judgment was affirmed as to all other orders. View "Atlas Construction Supply v. Swinerton Builders" on Justia Law
Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry
A Compact between Pennsylvania and New Jersey created the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which is authorized to “acquire, own, use, lease, operate, and dispose of real property and interest in real property, and to make improvements,” and to "exercise all other powers . . . reasonably necessary or incidental to the effectuation of its authorized purposes . . . except the power to levy taxes or assessments.” The Commission undertook to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge, purchased land near the bridge in Pennsylvania, and broke ground on a building to house the Commission’s staff in a single location. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry inspectors observed the construction; the Commission never applied for a building permit as required under the Department’s regulations. The Commission asserted that it was exempt from Pennsylvania’s regulatory authority. The Department threatened the Commission’s elevator subcontractor with regulatory sanctions for its involvement in the project. The Commission sought declaratory and injunctive relief.After rejecting an Eleventh Amendment argument, the Third Circuit upheld an injunction prohibiting the Department from seeking to inspect or approve the elevators and from further impeding, interfering, or delaying the contractors. Pennsylvania unambiguously ceded some of its sovereign authority through the Compact. The fact that both states expressly reserved their taxing power—but not other powers—indicates that they did not intend to retain the authority to enforce building safety regulations. View "Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry" on Justia Law
Wayne Farms LLC v. Primus Builders, Inc.
Wayne Farms LLC appealed a circuit court order compelling it to arbitrate its claims asserted against Primus Builders, Inc., and staying the action. Wayne Farms was a poultry producer located in Dothan, Alabama. Wayne Farms sought to expand its poultry-processing facility, and, to that end, entered into a "Design/Build Agreement" with Primus in 2017, that specifically addressed work to be completed by Primus in connection with the expansion of Wayne Farms' freezer warehouse. Primus subcontracted with Republic Refrigeration, Inc.; Republic hired Steam-Co, LLC for "passivation services." Upon draining a condenser for the freezer warehouse, it was discovered that the interior of the condenser was coated with corrosive "white rust." Primus then replaced the damaged condenser at a cost of approximately $500,000 under a change order, pursuant the Design/Build Agreement with Wayne Farms. Wayne Farms paid Primus for both the original damaged condenser and the replacement condenser. Both Primus and Steam-Co have claimed that the other is responsible for the damage to the condenser. Wayne Farms sued Primus and Steam-Co asserting claims of breach of contract and negligence and seeking damages for the damaged condenser and the cost of replacing it. Primus moved the trial court to compel arbitration as to the claims asserted against it by Wayne Farms. Primus also moved the trial court to dismiss, or in the alternative, stay Steam-Co's cross-claims against it. Wayne Farms opposed Primus's motion to compel arbitration, arguing that no contract existed between the parties requiring it to arbitrate claims arising from the passivation process. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the contract between Wayne Farms and Primus specified arbitration would apply to only those disputes arising from obligations or performance under the Design/Build Agreement, Wayne Farms could not be compelled to arbitrate with Primus a dispute arising from the performance of passivation work that was not an obligation agreed to in the Design/Build Agreement. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wayne Farms LLC v. Primus Builders, Inc." on Justia Law
State Farm General Insurance Co. v. Oetiker, Inc.
The Right To Repair Act codifies a comprehensive reform to construction defect litigation applicable to residential dwellings in California. In McMillin Albany LLC v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 241, the California Supreme Court held that the Act was intended to displace the common law and was the "virtually exclusive remedy not just for economic loss but also for property damage arising from construction defects." In this case, plaintiff raises the same argument in McMillan, contending that the Act applies to bar State Farm's complaint.The Court of Appeal explained that McMillan was distinguishable from this case because the court is dealing with a lawsuit against an individual product manufacturer whose allegedly defective part failed after it was incorporated into the structure, causing damage to the residence. Although non-builders such as product manufacturers are subject to the Act under certain circumstances, the Act treats builders and non-builders differently. Therefore, the court held that, as applied to non-builders such as plaintiff, the Act covers claims based on negligence and breach of contract, but not those based on strict liability and breach of implied warranty. Furthermore, because the statute of repose applies, State Farm's negligence cause of action is time-barred. Thus, the court reversed and remanded with directions to allow the claims based on strict liability and implied warranty to proceed. The court remanded to the trial court with directions to vacate the order granting summary judgment without prejudice to a motion for summary adjudication on the negligence cause of action. View "State Farm General Insurance Co. v. Oetiker, Inc." on Justia Law
Fuelberth v. Heartland Heating & Air Conditioning
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment in favor of Heartland Heating & Air Conditions, Inc. on the claims brought by Troy and Julie Fuelberth alleging that Heartland's work for them was defective, holding that Heartland was not entitled to summary judgment.In their complaint, the Fuelberths alleged that Heartland performed defective work for them in designing, constructing and installing an interior in-floor geothermal system and an exterior cement system for a shop building on the Fuelberths' farm. The district court entered summary judgment for Heartland on statute of limitations grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court by entering summary judgment in favor of Heartland on statute of limitations grounds. View "Fuelberth v. Heartland Heating & Air Conditioning" on Justia Law
Dunn v. Jess
Dunn slapped Schuckman in a bar's parking lot, causing him to fall to the ground. Witnesses reported seeing Schuckman upright and apparently unharmed afterward. Hours later, Schuckman was found dead on the bar’s patio. Dunn and Crochet were charged with felony murder, battery, and theft from a corpse. Dunn’s counsel consulted with a forensic pathologist. After viewing the medical examiner’s report, the pathologist believed that Schuckman died immediately from his head injuries—suggesting that Dunn’s slap could not have caused his death. Before trial, defense counsel repeatedly, erroneously, stated that the medical examiner had concluded that Schuckman died immediately from a fatal blow and would testify to that at trial. The medical examiner’s report did not contain such conclusions and counsel never confirmed them. The prosecutor informed Dunn’s counsel that Crochet had retained experts, who were going to produce reports that bolstered Dunn’s no-causation defense. The prosecution considered the reports exculpatory. Dunn’s counsel did not ask for a continuance or attempt to view the reports. At trial, defense counsel did not call his forensic pathologist as a witness. The medical examiner testified that there was no reason to think that Schuckman would have died immediately from the fatal head injury, and it would have been possible for Schuckman to move after sustaining this injury.The Seventh Circuit upheld an order granting federal habeas relief. Dunn’s trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to investigate and offer evidence to support a no-causation defense and Dunn was prejudiced by that deficient performance. View "Dunn v. Jess" on Justia Law
Davis v. Fresno Unified School District
Plaintiff filed suit against Fresno Unified and the Contractor, alleging that they violated California's competitive bidding requirements, the statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest, and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417. Based on the Court of Appeal's review of the four corners of the construction agreements and resolution of Fresno Unified’s board, the court concluded that plaintiff properly alleged three grounds for why Education Code section 17406's exception to competitive bidding did not apply to the purported lease-leaseback contracts. The court also concluded that California's statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest extended to corporate consultants and plaintiff alleged facts showing Contractor participated in creating the terms and specifications of the purported lease-leaseback contracts and then became a party to those contracts. After remand, the further proceedings included defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, which argued the lawsuit had become moot because the construction was finished and the contracts terminated. The trial court agreed.The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that defendants and the trial court erroneously interpreted plaintiff's lawsuit as exclusively an in rem reverse validation action. Rather, plaintiff is pursuing both a validation action and a taxpayer action. In this case, plaintiff asserts violations of California's competitive bidding laws and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417 along with conflicts of interest prohibited by Government Code section 1090 and common law principles. The remedy of disgorgement is available under these counts asserted in plaintiff's taxpayer's action even though the Construction Contracts are fully performed. Therefore, the counts in plaintiff's taxpayer's action seeking disgorgement are not moot. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Fresno Unified School District" on Justia Law
3500 Sepulveda, LLC v. RREEF America REIT II Corp. BBB
This case arises from the parties' dispute concerning a construction project to expand the Manhattan Village Shopping Center in Manhattan Beach, California. The parties' predecessors executed the Construction, Operation and Reciprocal Easement Agreement (the COREA) in 1980. The parties resolved disputes in a Settlement Agreement in 2008 where, under the terms of the settlement agreement, RREEF agreed not to oppose Hacienda's plan to convert office space into restaurants and Hacienda agreed not to oppose RREEF's expansion project subject to certain limitations in the Agreement. At issue is RREEF's project.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the nuisance claim and reversed the district court as to the remaining claims. In regard to the claim for breach of contract, the panel concluded that RREEF has discretion to pursue the project and alter the site plan, and Hacienda's objections to the city are limited to RREEF's material changes. That RREEF has discretion to revise the site plan does not mean that Hacienda gave up its rights under the COREA, especially considering that the Settlement Agreement, by its own terms, does not amend the COREA. In regard to the claim for interference with easement rights, the panel concluded that the Settlement Agreement does not extinguish plaintiffs' easement rights under the COREA, and the district court erred in holding otherwise. In regard to the claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, the panel concluded that plaintiffs have presented sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue as to whether RREEF's construction of the North Deck was contrary to "the contract's purposes and the parties' legitimate expectations." In regard to the claim for interference with business and contractual relations, the panel concluded that plaintiffs have raised triable issues concerning whether defendants' construction interfered with Hacienda's tenant contracts, and whether defendants acted with the knowledge that "interference is certain or substantially certain to occur as a result of [their] action."The panel also reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief. In regard to RREEF's counterclaims, the panel concluded that policy considerations weighed against applying the litigation privilege. Finally, the panel concluded that the attorneys' fee question was moot and vacated the district court's order denying the parties' motions for attorneys' fees. View "3500 Sepulveda, LLC v. RREEF America REIT II Corp. BBB" on Justia Law
Building Erection Services Co. v. Walton Construction Co.
In this protracted litigation over liability and damages resulting from faulty construction on the University of Kansas' Memorial Stadium the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals insofar as it reversed a third award for failing to comply with the mandate rule but vacated the portion of the opinion holding that the third award was not supported by substantial competent evidence.This appeal arose from the district court judge's third attempt at entering a damages and attorney fee award in favor of Walton Construction Company. The court of appeals reversed the award, concluding that the district court failed to abide by the law of the case and the mandate rule and that the award lacked substantial competent evidence. The court of appeals declined to remand for determination of a new award amount. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court for a damages and attorney fee award that complies with the binding mandates from the first two appeals in this case, holding that the court of appeals (1) properly found that the trial judge violated the mandate rule with the third damages award; but (2) erred by declining to remand the case to the district court for a new award. View "Building Erection Services Co. v. Walton Construction Co." on Justia Law
Los Angeles Unified School District v. Torres Construction Corp.
This appeal stemmed from the school district's action against defendants for breach of contract arising out of the renovation of school cafeterias. The school district ultimately prevailed on its claims for breach of contract and was awarded $3,941,829 in damages; Defendant Western was found liable on its bonds; the parties settled Defendant Torres's offset claims for withheld payments on other jobs; and the school district was awarded prejudgment interest and costs, as well as attorney fees against Western.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and held that defendants' motion for summary judgment was properly denied because a job order contract (JOC) is an enforceable contract, not just an agreement to negotiate; Western has forfeited its claims challenging denial of defendants' motion for summary judgment; the school district's motions for summary adjudication were properly granted in whole and in part; to prevail on its motions, the school district was not required to disprove Western's boilerplate affirmative defenses; the trial court properly awarded the school district prejudgment interest; the trial court properly denied Western's motions for directed verdict; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion awarding attorney fees to the school district. View "Los Angeles Unified School District v. Torres Construction Corp." on Justia Law