Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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In this dispute between a general contractor, Bacon Construction Co., Inc., and a subcontractor, NESC, Inc., regarding an agreement to install flooring in a college dormitory the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in favor NESC and awarding NESC $125,733.67 in damages, holding the trial justice did not clearly err in denying Bacon's motion for a new trial, appropriately denied Bacon's request for a remittitur and properly denied NESC's cross appeal. NESC brought this suit alleging, inter alia, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Bacon filed a counterclaim against NESC alleging breach of contract and negligence. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of NESC. On appeal, Bacon challenged the trial justice's decision denying Bacon's motion for a new trial and its alternative request for a remittitur. NESC cross appealed from the denial of its motion to amend and its motion to reconsider its motion to amend. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment and orders of the superior court, holding that the court did not err. View "NESC, Inc. v. Bacon Construction Co." on Justia Law

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Ismael Torres, Jr. sued Design Group Facility Solutions, Inc. (Design) for personal injuries after he fell through a skylight at a construction site. Design moved for summary judgment. The trial court initially denied the motion. Design moved for reconsideration based on new evidence under Code of Civil Procedure section 1008(a). At the hearing on the motion, the trial court granted reconsideration and, at the same time, granted the motion for summary judgment without giving Torres an opportunity to respond to the new evidence. After review, the Court of Appeal found the trial court abused its discretion: “a party unsuccessfully moving for summary judgment cannot circumvent the requirements of section 437c by subsequently moving for reconsideration under section 1008(a).” View "Torres v. Design Group Facility Soultions, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this dispute over Contractor's attorney fees the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that Homeowners waived their assertion that including attorney fees in a mechanic's lien foreclosure decree violated their homestead rights, holding that Homeowners needed to raise their homestead exemption before the district court entered the foreclosure decree. This appeal stemmed from a judicial determination that Homeowners had to pay most of Contractor's unpaid bill and that Contractor was entitled to foreclosure of its mechanic's lien. Later, a revised decree was entered granting Contractor the right to foreclose a mechanic's lien against the property both for the principal amount due and for the attorney fees. When a second sheriff's sale of the residence was impending, Homeowners, for the first time, asserted that including attorney fees in the mechanic's lien foreclosure decree violated their homestead rights. The judicial court found a waiver by Homeowners. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) attorney fees can be recovered in a mechanic's lien foreclosure action against the homestead; and (2) the district court correctly found that principles of res judicata and waiver barred Homeowners' assertion of a homestead exemption. View "Standard Water Control Systems, Inc. v. Jones" on Justia Law

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BrunoBuilt, Inc. appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claims against Strata, Inc., Chris Comstock, H. Robert Howard, and Michael Woodworth (collectively, “the Strata Defendants”). BrunoBuilt filed a professional negligence action against the Strata Defendants alleging that when the Strata Defendants rendered engineering services for the Terra Nativa Subdivision they failed to identify a pre-existing landslide and negligently failed to recommend construction of infrastructure that would stabilize and prevent further landslides within the Subdivision. A home BrunoBuilt had contracted to build and the lot on which the dwelling was located were allegedly damaged as a result. The district court dismissed BrunoBuilt’s claims after holding that the parties had entered into an enforceable settlement agreement, or alternatively, that summary judgment was warranted in favor of the Strata Defendants based on the economic loss rule. After review of the situation, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court judgment because the parties entered into an enforceable settlement agreement. View "Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Strata, Inc." on Justia Law

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Minn-Kota Ag. Products, Inc. appealed a district court order dismissing Minn-Kota’s appeal of findings of fact, conclusions of law and order issued by the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) for lack of standing and affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order denying Minn-Kota’s petition to intervene. In 2017, Minn-Kota began construction of a large, $20 million grain handling facility near the municipalities of Barney and Mooreton, North Dakota. During construction of the facility, Minn-Kota received proposals to provide electric power to the facility from Otter Tail Power Co., an electric public utility, and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, a rural electric cooperative. Minn-Kota determined Otter Tail would provide cheaper and more reliable electric service and chose Otter Tail as its preferred provider. Dakota Valley protested Otter Tail’s application and requested a hearing. Otter Tail and Dakota Valley were represented at the hearing, and each offered evidence and testimony. Minn- Kota was not a formal party represented at the hearing and, other than the testimony offered by Schuler, Minn-Kota did not contribute to the hearing. In December 2017, the PSC held a work session to contemplate and discuss Otter Tail’s application. The concerns expressed by the PSC at the work session made it clear the PSC was likely going to deny Otter Tail’s application. As a result, Minn-Kota submitted a petition to intervene, which an ALJ determined Minn-Kota submitted after the deadline to intervene had passed, and denied it. Minn-Kota argued it has standing to appeal the PSC’s decision because it participated in the proceedings before the PSC, and the PSC’s decision should be reversed because it was not supported by the facts or law. In the alternative, Minn-Kota argued the case should have been remanded to the PSC and it should have been allowed to intervene and introduce additional evidence into the record. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Minn-Kota had standing, but did not provide a compelling argument on how Otter Tail did not adequately represent its interests at the administrative hearing or throughout the entirety of the proceedings. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and thus affirmed the PSC's order. View "Minn-Kota Ag Products, Inc. v. N.D. Public Service Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Hensel Phelps Construction Co. (Hensel Phelps) was a defendant in construction defect litigation filed by plaintiff and real party in interest Smart Corner Owners Association (Smart Corner). Hensel Phelps moved for summary judgment contending, among other things, that Smart Corner's claims were barred by a 10-year limitations period under Civil Code section 941. Smart Corner was not a party to the contract between Hensel Phelps and the developer of a mixed-use project, to which Smart Corner was a lessee. In its motion for summary judgment, Hensel Phelps asserted that "substantial completion" under the statute had the same meaning as "substantial completion" in its construction contract with the developer. Because the parties to the construction contract agreed that "substantial completion" occurred on a certain date at the time of construction, Hensel Phelps argued that the limitations period began to run on that date. Because Smart Corner asserted its claims more than 10 years later, Hensel Phelps contended they were untimely. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the definition of substantial completion in the contract did not trigger the running of the statute. And, even if it did, Smart Corner had raised a triable issue of fact whether the definition of substantial completion under the contract had been satisfied on the date asserted by Hensel Phelps. Hensel Phelps petitioned the Court of Appeal for mandamus relief, arguing again that the date of substantial completion adopted by the parties to the contract "conclusively establishe[d]" the date of substantial completion under the statute. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err by denying Hensel Phelps's motion for summary judgment. "Hensel Phelps offers no authority for the novel proposition that certain parties may, by contract, conclusively establish the date when a limitations period begins to run on another party's cause of action. ... it is clear that the statute does not simply adopt the date determined by private parties to a contract for their own purposes as the date of substantial completion." The Court therefore denied the petition. View "Hensel Phelps Construction Co. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that Defendants owed damages to their general contractor and two of its subcontractors (collectively, Plaintiffs) for the construction of a residential home, holding that judgment was correctly entered for Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed construction liens and brought contract suits claiming unpaid balances for construction services rendered. The district court determined that the contract was a cost-plus agreement, that defects in workmanship were punch list items and not a breach by the general contractor, and that Defendants committed the first material breach of contract and owed damages to Plaintiffs. Defendants appealed, arguing that the contract was a fixed-price contract breached by the general contractor and that, even under a cost-plus contract, the general contractor breached a fiduciary duty to provide a full account for its bills when it requested draw payments. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err when it found that the construction contract was a cost-plus contract and that Defendants breached that contract when they failed to pay draws required under the contract; and (2) the general contractor met its obligations under the contract. View "Goes v. Vogler" on Justia Law

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In Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun., 365 Or 371, 446 P3d 53 (2019), the Oregon Supreme Court held that the Energy Facility Siting Council had failed to substantially comply with a procedural requirement when it amended rules governing how it processes requests for amendment (RFAs) to site certificates that the council issued. The Court therefore held that the rules were invalid. In response to that decision, the council adopted temporary rules governing the RFA process. Petitioners contended that those temporary rules were also invalid. According to petitioners, the rules were invalid because the council failed to prepare a statement of its findings justifying the use of temporary rules. Petitioners also maintained that the council’s rules exceed the 180-day limit on temporary rules or otherwise improperly operated retroactively. After review, the Supreme Court disagreed with petitioners’ arguments and concluded the temporary rules were valid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law

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Lett worked as an investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. In 2016, Lett was investigating police involvement in a particular civilian shooting. The Chief Administrator, Fairley, directed Lett to include in the report a finding that police officers had planted a gun on the shooting victim. Lett refused because he did not believe that the evidence supported that finding. Lett raised his concerns with Fairley’s deputy, who spoke with Fairley. Soon after, Lett was removed from his investigative team, then removed from investigative work, and ultimately assigned to janitorial duties. Fairley opened an internal investigation that concluded that Lett had violated the office’s confidentiality policy. Fairley ordered that Lett be fired. Lett initiated a grievance through his union. The arbitrator ordered the office to reinstate Lett with back pay and to expunge his record. Fairley immediately placed Lett on administrative leave with pay. Lett was assigned on paper to the Police Department’s FOIA office but was not allowed to return to work. Lett sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First Amendment retaliation for his refusal to write a false report and Monell liability for the city and Fairley in her official capacity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Lett spoke pursuant to his official duties and not as a private citizen when he refused to alter the report; the First Amendment does not apply. View "Lett v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Modern filed suit against Turner, alleging claims arising from a subcontract outlining Modern's role in the construction of an FBI facility. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court properly applied West Virginia's law and rejected all of Modern's claims based on the plain language of the contract. In this case, the district court granted Turner summary judgment on the field verification claim, and subsequently ruled in favor of Turner on the remaining claims. The court held that Modern and Turner were two sophisticated parties that entered into a detailed contract spelling out their rights and responsibilities in the construction of the FBI facility, and the provisions of that contract directly addressed the very issues raised in this appeal. Furthermore, the provisions of the contract compelled the result reached by the district court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "US f/u/b of Modern Mosaic, Ltd v. Turner Construction Co." on Justia Law