Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of attempted deliberate homicide, holding that a challenged jury instruction did not undermine the fundamental fairness of the proceeding. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of attempted deliberate homicide. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court's "specific purpose" jury instruction warranted review under either the doctrine of plain error or ineffective assistance of counsel and that the prosecutor's comment warranted plain error review by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court's instruction did not result in a manifest miscarriage of justice, and the claimed error by trial counsel in failing to object to the instruction did not prejudice Defendant; and (2) the prosecutor's conduct did not warrant plain error review. View "State v. St. Marks" on Justia Law

by
The Miller Act, 40 U.S.C. 3131, protects subcontractors against nonpayment for work performed on federal government construction projects by requiring the prime contractor to provide a payment bond on which the subcontractor can then make a claim for payment. A&C, a subcontractor on an air base project in Qatar, claims that it was not paid approximately $8.5 million for work it performed on the project, so it filed suit against the prime contractor’s two sureties, Zurich and The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania. As strict preconditions to payment, the Miller Act requires that subcontractors provide a notice of nonpayment within 90 days after the last day of work performed and then file suit within one year of the last date of work. The district court found that A&C missed both deadlines and granted the sureties summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rejecting A&C’s argument that its last day of work was much later than asserted by the sureties and that it gave “too much notice,” the court strictly construed the requirement be “within 90 days.” View "A&C Construction & Installation Co., WLL v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
ACC, the subcontractor on a Corps flood protection project, filed suit against the prime contractor, Hirani, for breach of contract and the providers of Hirani's payment bond, Colonial, under the Miller Act for unpaid labor and materials. The district court entered judgment in favor of ACC and awarded damages against both defendants. The DC Circuit remanded the case to the district court to make findings of fact as to when the Prime Contract was terminated and whether ACC performed labor or supplied material on April 29 and/or April 30. In the event that Colonial and Hirani cannot meet their burden to show that ACC's Miller Act claim was untimely, then this court can resolve the parties' other Miller Act contentions. If Hirani and Colonial show that termination occurred before April 29 or that ACC performed no labor or supplied no material on April 29 or 30, the court can then address the Miller Act statute of limitations issue. The court affirmed the restitution damages award against Hirani on ACC's contract claim where ACC has not provided the court with any basis to deviate from the principle of D.C. law that restitution, not quantum meruit, is the proper remedy where there is an express contract between the parties. The court deferred addressing other issues raised by the parties. View "United States v. Hirani Engineering & Land Surveying, PC" on Justia Law

by
After defending the general contractor in two construction defect actions, general liability insurer St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company (St. Paul) sought reimbursement of defense costs under an equitable subrogation theory against six subcontractors (defendants) that had worked on the underlying construction projects and whose contracts required them to defend the general contractor in suits involving allegations related to their work. After a bench trial, the court denied St. Paul’s claim. Relying on Patent Scaffolding Co. v. William Simpson Constr. Co., 256 Cal.App.2d 506, 514 (1967), the trial court concluded St. Paul had not demonstrated it was fair to shift all of the defense costs to defendants because their failure to defend the general contractor had not caused the homeowners to bring the construction defect actions. St. Paul argued this conclusion misconstrued the law governing equitable subrogation and therefore constitutes an abuse of discretion. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: (1) a cause of action based on equitable subrogation allowed an insurer to step into the shoes of its insured and recover only what the insured would be entitled to recover from the defendants; and (2) the appropriate inquiry should have been whether defendants’ failure to defend the general contractor caused St. Paul to incur the defense costs, not whether that failure caused the underlying lawsuits. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court to grant judgment in St. Paul's favor and for a determination of defense costs each defendant owed. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. CBR Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Riverbend Condo Association appealed a superior court order dismissing its complaint against defendant Groundhog Landscaping and Property Maintenance, Inc., on res judicata grounds. In 2017, plaintiff brought a breach of contract action against defendant. Neither party appeared at the scheduled trial management conference set by the superior court. The superior court thus canceled trial and dismissed the case. Plaintiff filed a "motion to reopen," asking the court to reopen the matter and reschedule the trial management conference. The superior court denied the motion, stating that plaintiff's pleading constituted an untimely motion to reconsider. Plaintiff thereafter brought a second action, alleging among other things, breach of contact. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the action was barred by res judicata. The trial court ultimately granted defendant's motion. On appeal, plaintiff contended its complaint was not barred by the trial court’s dismissal of its first action against defendant, as that dismissal was not a final judgment on the merits. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Riverbend Condo Association v. Groundhog Landscaping & Property Maintenance, Inc." on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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