Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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McMillin Management Services, L.P. and Imperial Valley Residential Valley Residential Builders, L.P. (collectively "McMillin") filed suit against numerous insurance companies, including respondents Lexington Insurance Company (Lexington) and Financial Pacific Insurance Company (Financial Pacific). McMillin alleged that it had acted as a developer and general contractor of a residential development project in Brawley and hired various subcontractors to help construct the Project. As relevant here, McMillin alleged that Lexington and Financial Pacific breached their respective duties to defend McMillin in a construction defect action (underlying action) brought by homeowners within the Project. McMillin alleged that Lexington and Financial Pacific each owed a duty to defend McMillin in the underlying action pursuant to various comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance policies issued to the subcontractors that named McMillin as an additional insured. The trial court granted Lexington's motion for summary judgment, reasoning, that there was no possibility for coverage for McMillin as an additional insured under the policies "[b]ecause there were no homeowners in existence until after the subcontractors' work was complete[ ] . . . ." On appeal, McMillin contended that the fact that the homeowners did not own homes in the Project at the time the subcontractors completed their work did not establish that its liability did not arise out of the subcontractors' ongoing operations. The trial court granted Financial Pacific's motion for summary judgment, finding McMillin did not establish homeowners in the underlying action had sought potentially covered damages arising out of the subcontractors' drywall installation. The Court of Appeal reversed as to Lexington, and affirmed as to Financial Pacific. View "McMillin Management Services v. Financial Pacific Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Liu was a Fremont licensed general contractor. Defendant, Liu's assistant, was not a contractor. The final plans for Liu's client's hillside home required excavation. Liu hired a licensed contractor, who cut into the hill, creating a 12-foot-high dirt wall with an overhanging soil ledge, with no sloping or benching, or support. Defendant oversaw construction. By December 2011, the foundation was not complete. The contractor walked off the job, which was behind schedule. Defendant hired a carpenter, rather than a licensed contractor, who understood that he was being hired as an employee of Liu’s company, and others, including Zapata. In January 2012, a city inspector handed defendant a “Stop Work Notice” based on “Excavation without required shoring and/or excavation.” Defendant did not tell the workers. Defendant consulted an engineer but never sought city approval to continue construction. He instructed the workers to work in the excavation area. The excavation wall collapsed on Zapata, killing him. Defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter (Pen. Code, 192(b)), and willfully violating safety orders (Lab. Code 6425(a)). The court of appeal affirmed defendant’s conviction, rejecting claims of insufficient evidence; that the court committed instructional error and improperly limited cross-examination; that he was not given adequate notice of the charges; that the prosecution failed to elect a particular criminal act; and that the statute prohibiting the willful violation of occupational safety orders was unconstitutionally vague. View "People v. Luo" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of an insurance dispute between a general contractor, its subcontractor, and the subcontractor’s general liability carrier over water damage to a construction site caused by heavy rains. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hired Kadena Pacific, Inc. as the general contractor to oversee construction of a building in Menlo Park. Kadena hired Global Modular, Inc. to build, deliver, and install the 53 modular units that would comprise the building. Because Kadena had hired a different subcontractor to install the roofing, Global agreed to deliver the units covered only by a roof deck substrate. Kadena originally scheduled delivery in the summer months, but delivery was delayed until October and November. Despite Global’s efforts to protect the units by covering them with plastic tarps, the interiors suffered water damage from October through January. In February, Kadena and Global mutually agreed to terminate their contract and Kadena oversaw the remediation of the water-damaged interiors and completion of the project. Global sued Kadena for failure to pay and Kadena countersued, alleging Global had breached the contract in various ways, including by failing to repair the water-damaged interiors. Before trial, the parties entered a partial settlement. Global paid Kadena $321,975 to release all of Kadena’s claims arising from the VA project except for claims covered by Global’s insurance policy with North American Capacity Insurance Company (NAC), and Global received $153,025 to dismiss its failure-to-pay claims. At trial, Kadena presented evidence on the scope and cost of its water remediation and argued Global was contractually responsible for the damage. The jury agreed and awarded Kadena slightly over $1 million. In a separate suit brought by NAC, Kadena and NAC filed competing motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether NAC’s policy required it to indemnify Global for the jury’s damage award. The trial court ruled in favor of Kadena, finding the damage award covered under NAC’s policy as a matter of law. The court also ruled that the award must be offset by the $321,975 Global paid in settlement and that Global was liable to Kadena for $360,000 in attorney fees. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly determined NAC’s policy covered the water damages and Kadena was entitled to fees. However, the Court reversed the offset order because Global’s settlement payment did not compensate Kadena for the costs of its water remediation; the parties agreed to reserve that issue for litigation. View "Global Modular v. Kadena Pacific, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant American Safety Indemnity Company (“ASIC”) challenged a judgment awarding over $1.4 million in compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiff-respondent Pulte Home Corporation (Pulte), who was the general contractor and developer of two residential projects in the San Marcos area. ASIC issued several sequential comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance policies to three of Pulte's subcontractors, and during 2003 to 2006, it added endorsements to those policies that named Pulte as an additional insured. The projects were completed by 2006. In 2011 and 2013, two groups of residents of the developments sued Pulte for damages in separate construction defect lawsuits. After American Safety declined to provide Pulte with a defense, Pulte filed this action, asserting that the additional insured endorsements afforded it coverage and therefore required ASIC to provide it with defenses on the construction defect issues. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court was correct in ruling that the language of ASIC’s additional insured endorsements on the underlying insurance policies created ambiguities on the potential for coverage in the construction defect lawsuits, thus requiring it to provide Pulte with a defense to them. Additionally, the Court upheld the court's decision that Pulte was entitled to an award of punitive damages that was proportional, on a one-to-one basis, to the award of compensatory damages in tort. Although the Court affirmed the judgment as to its substantive rulings, the Court of Appeal was required to reverse in part as to the award of $471,313.52 attorney fees: the trial court abused its discretion in implementing an hourly attorney fee arrangement that Pulte did not arrive at until after trial, to replace the previous contingency fee agreement in a manner that Pulte intended would operate to increase its demand. Since the trial court calculated its $500,000 award of punitive damages by appropriately utilizing a one-to-one ratio to the compensatory, the trial court had to recalculate not only the fees award but also to adjust the amount of punitive damages accordingly. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. American Safety Indemnity Co." on Justia Law

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In 2004, Hesperia began acquiring vacant property in its downtown for development of a Civic Plaza, with a city hall, public library, other government buildings and “complimentary retail, restaurant, and entertainment establishments.” Cinema West articulated a plan to develop a cinema immediately west of the Civic Plaza Park: the city would convey 54,000 square feet of real property to Cinema for $102,529, the property‘s fair market value; Cinema would construct a 38,000-square foot, 12-screen digital theatre; the city would construct the necessary parking lot, develop a water retention system for the theater and the parking lot, and install off-site improvements including curb, gutter and sidewalks. Cinema would execute a 10-year operating agreement with the city. The city later made a $250,000 forgivable loan to Cinema to aid with a $700,000 anticipated shortfall. As development of the theater and parking lot was nearing completion, the Electrical Workers Union requested a public works coverage determination under California‘s prevailing wage law (Lab. Code, 1720–18611 ) The State Department of Industrial Relations concluded that the project was subject to the prevailing wage requirement. The court of appeal affirmed, noting that Cinema received the benefit of a new, publicly-funded parking lot adjacent to the theater, which, though owned by the city, is Cinema‘s to use for as long as it operates the theater. View "Cinema West v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Phoenix Pipeline filed a second amended complaint (SAC) alleging breach of contract claims related to SpaceX's failure to pay for its services from 2010 to October 2013. The trial court subsequently granted SpaceX's demurrer, which argued that the license issued to Phoenix Plumbing was not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of Business Code section 7031. The Court of Appeal held that Phoenix Pipeline's SAC failed to state a claim for construction related services because it did not allege that Phoenix Pipeline was a licensed contractor. The court explained that Phoenix Pipeline may not rely upon a license issued to another and that section 7031 was not limited to contracts with unsophisticated persons or homeowners. The court held, however, that Phoenix Pipeline adequately alleged that it provided some services for which no contractor license was necessary. Finally, the trial court acted within its discretion in declining to permit an amendment alleging that Phoenix Pipeline was an employee. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Phoenix Mechanical Pipeline, Inc. v. Space Exploration Technologies Corp." on Justia Law

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Education Code section 17406 authorizes school districts to use lease-leaseback agreements for construction or improvement of school facilities: the school district leases its own real property to a contractor for a nominal amount, and the contractor agrees to construct or improve school facilities on the property and lease the property and improvements back to the district. At the end of the lease-leaseback agreement, title to the project vests in the school district. California Taxpayers Network brought a reverse validation action (Code Civ. Proc. 863), challenging a lease-leaseback agreement between Mount Diablo School District and Taber Construction, alleging that the Education Code requires “genuine lease-leaseback agreements,” which “provide for financing of the school facility project over time,” but defendants’ lease-leaseback contracts were “sham leases”; that the contracts were illegal because a public bidding process is required for school construction projects; and that Taber provided professional preconstruction services to the District regarding the project before entering the lease-leaseback contracts. The court of appeals affirmed dismissal of claims "that attempt to engraft requirements on the transaction" that are not part of the Education Code. The court reversed in part, holding that the plaintiff did state a conflict of interest claim against Taber sufficient to withstand a demurrer. View "California Taxpayers Action Network v. Taber Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Act makes the builder who sells homes liable for violations without proof of negligence, while general contractors and subcontractors not involved in home sales are liable only if the plaintiff proves they negligently caused the violation in whole or part. The jury found the grading subcontractor, defendant Gerbo Excavating, was not negligent in any respect. The trial court, not the jury, found the builder/seller, Knotty Bear Development, Inc. and Knotty Bear Construction, Inc. (collectively Knotty Bear), liable after Knotty Bear failed to appear for trial. Plaintiffs sought redress from Gerbo under common law negligence theories for the tree damage, because they argued tree damage was not covered by the Act. The Court of Appeal found that plaintiffs failed to show tree damage was not covered by the Act: the jury found Gerbo was not negligent in any respect, even when the jury found building standards were violated. Finding no other basis for reversal, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment and post-trial orders. View "Gillotti v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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Escobar was an employee of O’Donnell, a sub-subcontractor of Bayside, which was a subcontractor of Oltmans, the general contractor on a Menlo Park construction project. Escobar sued Oltmans and the property owner, alleging that Oltmans negligently cut and left unsecured a skylight opening in the building under construction, through which Escobar fell while installing scaffolding that O’Donnell was erecting for Bayside. Oltmans filed a cross-complaint against the subcontractors, alleging a right to contractual indemnity and breach of Bayside’s contractual obligation to provide certificates of insurance certifying that Oltmans was covered as an additional insured under liability policies the subcontractors were obligated to obtain. The subcontract provided indemnity to Oltmans for injury claims arising out of the scope of the subcontractor’s work “except to the extent the claims arise out of, pertain to, or relate to the active negligence or willful misconduct” of Oltmans. Reversing the trial court, the court of appeal ruled in favor of Oltmans. Under such a provision the general contractor is precluded from recovering indemnity for liability incurred as a result of its own active negligence but may be indemnified for the portion of liability attributable to the fault of others. The court noted the same question arises as to the meaning of Civil Code section 2782.05, which renders unenforceable an indemnity provision “to the extent the claims arise out of, pertain to, or relate to the active negligence or willful misconduct of that general contractor.” View "Oltmans Construction Co. v. Bayside Interiors, Inc." on Justia Law