Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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This case revolves around a dispute between California Specialty Insulation, Inc. (CSI) and Allied World Surplus Lines Insurance Company (Allied World) over a commercial general liability insurance policy. The policy was issued by Allied World to CSI. The dispute arose when Allied World refused to defend and indemnify CSI against a negligence claim following a construction site accident. The parties disagreed on whether one of the policy’s exclusions for bodily injury liability applied in this situation. The policy excluded coverage for bodily injury to the employees of any “contractor,” but the term “contractor” was not defined in the policy. Allied World argued that the term was unambiguous and the exclusion precluded coverage for the negligence claim, while CSI argued that the term was ambiguous and the exclusion did not apply to the negligence claim.The trial court ruled in favor of CSI, granting its motion for summary judgment and denying Allied World’s. The court found that the term “contractor” in the disputed exclusion was ambiguous and interpreted the term in favor of CSI.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Seven affirmed the trial court's decision. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the term “contractor” in the disputed exclusion was ambiguous. The court interpreted the term based on CSI’s objectively reasonable expectations and concluded that the exclusion did not apply to the negligence claim in question. Therefore, Allied World was obligated to defend and indemnify CSI against the negligence claim. View "California Specialty Insulation, Inc. v. Allied World Surplus Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a construction dispute where several homeowners in the San Marcial neighborhood sued Oscar Renda Contracting, Inc., for negligence and gross negligence. The homeowners alleged that the company's misuse of heavy equipment and faulty construction techniques caused damage to their homes during the construction of a drainage pipeline. They sought actual damages to restore their properties and exemplary damages based on gross negligence.The trial court found Renda Contracting negligent and grossly negligent. However, the jury was not unanimous in deciding the amount of exemplary damages, with ten out of twelve jurors agreeing. Consequently, the trial court omitted exemplary damages from the judgment. The homeowners appealed, and the court of appeals reversed the decision, arguing that unanimity as to exemplary damages could be implied despite a divided verdict.The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the court of appeals' judgment and reinstated the trial court's judgment. The court held that under Section 41.003 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a court may not imply a unanimous jury finding in imposing exemplary damages. The burden to secure a unanimous verdict is on the plaintiff and "may not be shifted." The court concluded that the plaintiff bears the burden to obtain the findings necessary to impose exemplary damages, including that the jury is unanimous as to any amount of exemplary damages awarded. It is the plaintiff who must challenge a divided verdict as infirm or in need of clarification. View "OSCAR RENDA CONTRACTING, INC. v. BRUCE" on Justia Law

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In September 2019, Eleticia Garcia hired Ponagansett 2 LLC, doing business as Peter Bibby Heating & Air, to perform mechanical work on her property. The parties signed two contracts, one for the installation of gas lines, water heaters, and boilers, and another for the installation of baseboards. However, Garcia failed to make the agreed-upon payments, leading Ponagansett to file a mechanics' lien against her property. When Garcia did not respond to the complaint, the Superior Court entered a default judgment in favor of Ponagansett.The Superior Court denied Garcia's subsequent motions to vacate the entry of default, to file a counterclaim out of time, to quash the mechanics' lien, and to file an oral proof of claim. Ponagansett then filed a motion for entry of default judgment against Garcia and a petition for attorneys' fees. The Superior Court granted Ponagansett's request to enforce the mechanics' lien, awarded Ponagansett $20,000 plus interest, and granted attorneys' fees of $12,310.27.On appeal to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, Garcia argued that the mechanics' lien was unenforceable because Ponagansett failed to provide notice of a possible mechanics' lien as required by law. She also contended that the decisions of the hearing justice to award Ponagansett the full payment of $20,000 and exclude the admission of a mechanical permit were reversible errors. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, holding that Garcia had waived her enforceability argument by failing to timely respond to Ponagansett's complaint. The court also found no error in the hearing justice's award of damages and exclusion of the mechanical permit. View "Ponagansett 2 LLC v. Eleticia Garcia" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the City of Chicago contracted with Walsh Construction Company to manage the construction of a canopy and curtain wall system at O’Hare International Airport. Walsh subcontracted with LB Steel, LLC to fabricate and install steel columns to support the wall and canopy. Several years into the project, the City discovered cracks in the welds of the steel columns and sued Walsh for breaching its contract. Walsh, in turn, sued LB Steel under its subcontract. Walsh also asked LB Steel’s insurers to defend it in the City’s lawsuit, but they never did. Walsh eventually secured a judgment against LB Steel, which led it to declare bankruptcy. Walsh then sued LB Steel’s insurers to recover the costs of defending against the City’s suit and indemnification for any resulting losses.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff insurers on both issues. The court reasoned that, because the physical damage at issue was limited to LB Steel’s own products, it did not constitute “property damage” as that term appears in the policies, thereby precluding coverage. As for the duty to defend, the court determined that the Insurers had none, because the City’s underlying claims did not implicate potential coverage under LB Steel’s policies.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the defects in the welds and columns do not constitute “property damage” under LB Steel’s commercial general liability (CGL) policies. The court also found that the insurers had no duty to defend Walsh in the City’s underlying suit. The court further affirmed the district court's denial of Walsh’s request for sanctions under § 155. View "St. Paul Guardian Insurance Company v. Walsh Construction Company" on Justia Law

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The case involves two plaintiffs, Glen A. Canner and Louis D. Puteri, who separately sued a condominium association, Governors Ridge Association, Inc., alleging that the foundations supporting their respective units were defective. The units, part of a common interest community, were purchased by Canner and Puteri in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The defendant had affirmed its responsibility for any foundation settlement issues. However, despite the units suffering significant, uneven settling and the defendant hiring several companies to investigate potential repairs from 2012 to 2016, no repairs were ultimately made. The plaintiffs commenced their actions in 2016 and 2017, alleging that the defendant had negligently designed and constructed the foundations and had violated its duties under the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA) by failing to conduct necessary repairs.The trial court concluded that the CIOA claims were time-barred by the statutory three-year limitation period generally applicable to tort actions. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s judgments, concluding that the limitation period set forth in § 52-577 applied because the claims sounded in tort rather than contract. The Appellate Court also agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the declaration and bylaws created no duty to repair because the relevant declaration required the defendant to repair only insured common elements, and there was no requirement that the foundations themselves be insured.The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the Appellate Court properly applied the statute of limitations set forth in § 52-577 to the portion of the CIOA claims seeking recovery for negligence during the course of construction of the foundations. However, the Supreme Court found that the Appellate Court improperly upheld the trial court’s disposition, in favor of the defendant, of the claims that the defendant had violated its contractual duties under the bylaws to maintain, repair or replace common elements when it failed to effectuate repairs to the foundations. The Supreme Court concluded that the claims that the defendant breached its contractual duties imposed under the bylaws by failing to repair the foundations were governed by the six-year limitation period applicable to contract claims in § 52-576. The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Canner v. Governors Ridge Assn., Inc." on Justia Law

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A homeowner, Mohammad Rafiei, sued his builder, Lennar Homes, alleging personal injuries due to a construction defect. The purchase contract between Rafiei and Lennar contained an agreement to submit disputes to arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, including issues of formation, validity, or enforceability of the arbitration agreement. Lennar moved to compel arbitration, but Rafiei argued that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable because the cost of arbitration was prohibitively high. The trial court denied Lennar's motion to compel arbitration.The Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth District of Texas affirmed the trial court's decision, holding that Rafiei had sufficiently demonstrated that the cost to arbitrate was excessive, making the arbitral forum inadequate to vindicate his rights. The court of appeals concluded that if Rafiei were required to pay more than $6,000, he would be precluded from pursuing his claims.The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. The court held that the record failed to support a finding that the parties' delegation clause was itself unconscionable due to prohibitive costs to adjudicate the threshold issue in arbitration. The court noted that Rafiei had not provided sufficient evidence to show that he could not afford the cost of arbitrating the arbitrability question. The court also noted that Rafiei had not provided evidence of how the fee schedule would be applied to resolve the unconscionability issue. The court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Lennar Homes Of Texas Inc. v. Rafiei" on Justia Law

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The case was a lawsuit filed by Janet and Joseph Harvey against the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations. The Harveys alleged that they were harmed by faulty renovations at the Mission's headquarters, which is located next door to their home in Manhattan. The Mission sought to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The district court, however, denied the Mission's motion to dismiss, holding that two exceptions to the Mission's immunity applied: the commercial activity exception and the tortious activity exception.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The Appeals Court held that the commercial activity exception applied because the Harveys' claims were based upon the Mission's allegedly faulty contractual renovations, which is an activity that a private party can, and often does, do. The court did not need to address the tortious activity exception as the commercial activity exception was sufficient to affirm the district court's decision. The Mission, therefore, was not immune from the lawsuit under the FSIA. View "Harvey v. Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Louisiana considered whether an architect and contract administrator had duty of care towards an employee of a subcontractor under the terms of a construction contract. The employee, Gustavo Bonilla, had been injured during a demolition job and filed a suit alleging negligence against Verges Rome Architects (VRA) and Morphy Makofsky, Inc. (MMI). VRA had been hired as a consultant for design and contract administration services. The trial court ruled in favor of VRA, but the court of appeal reversed this decision.Upon review, the Supreme Court of Louisiana found that the contract terms were clear and unambiguous, and did not impose a duty on VRA to oversee, supervise, or maintain the construction site or Mr. Bonilla’s safety. VRA was required to make weekly site visits to ensure work was progressing according to specifications. However, the contract specifically stated that these visits should not be construed as supervision of actual construction. Responsibility for site safety and construction methods was allocated to the contractor.The Court concluded that VRA could not be held liable for failing to perform duties it was not contractually obligated to undertake. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal's decision and reinstated the trial court's judgment, which granted summary judgment in favor of VRA. View "BONILLA VS. VERGES ROME ARCHITECTS" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Nebraska Supreme Court interpreted the Nebraska Construction Lien Act (NCLA) and determined that construction liens can attach to the contracting owner's real estate, even if ownership of the property changed before the liens were recorded. The case arose from a dispute between S & H Holdings, L.L.C. (S&H), Realty Income Properties 19, LLC (RIP), and several contractors. S&H, the original owner of the property, entered into an agreement with Integrated Construction Management Services, Inc. to construct a Burger King on the property. The contractors were not fully paid for their services and materials, so they filed liens on the property. Meanwhile, S&H sold the property to RIP.S&H and RIP argued that the liens did not attach to the property because S&H no longer owned it at the time the liens were recorded. The contractors argued that their liens attached because the transfer of ownership did not affect the liens' attachment. The court rejected S&H and RIP's argument, finding that the contractors' liens attached to the property regardless of the change in ownership. The court held that a construction lien is automatically created whenever a contractor furnishes services or materials and originates from the contracting owner's agreement to improve the real estate, even if the lien has not yet attached to the real estate and is not yet enforceable. The court concluded that the contractors' liens had attached to the property and had priority over RIP's fee interest. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed. View "Nore Electric v. S & H Holdings" on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, several construction industry associations challenged a 2018 law (RCW 39.12.015(3)) that changed the method for determining prevailing wage rates on public works projects. Prior to the law, the State used wage and hour surveys to establish the prevailing wage rates. The 2018 law directed the State to adopt the wage rates established in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for those trades and occupations that have CBAs.The plaintiffs argued that the new law violated a provision of the Washington Constitution (article II, section 37) because it conflicted with an older law (RCW 39.12.026(1)) that restricted the use of wage data collected by the State to the county in which the work was performed. The Court of Appeals agreed and declared the new law unconstitutional.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. It held that the older law's restriction on the use of wage data applied only to data collected through wage and hour surveys, not to wage rates adopted from CBAs. Therefore, the older law did not conflict with the new law, and the new law did not violate the state constitution. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Associated General Contractors Of Washington v. State" on Justia Law