Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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After Phelps was awarded a public works contract by the CDCR, another bidder successfully challenged the award, obtaining a ruling in a San Diego trial court that Phelps's bid was "non-responsive as a matter of law" due to its inclusion of "non-waivable mathematical/typographical errors." Phelps then filed suit against CDCR, seeking to recover the costs it expended on the project. The trial court held that the San Diego trial court's ruling was itself the result of a defect in the competitive bidding process caused solely by CDCR, and entered judgment in favor of Phelps. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that judgment on the pleadings should have been granted. The court held that the language in Public Contract Code section 5110 provides that the parties to a challenged public contract may enter into that contract pending final resolution of the challenge, but if the challenge is resolved by invalidation because the public entity was at fault, the contractor may recover. Applying section 5110 in this case, the court held that the contract was invalidated for a material error in Phelps's bid, not for any defect in the competitive bidding process, much less a defect caused solely by CDCR. Therefore, section 5110 could not provide a basis for recovery. The court held that application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel would produce the same result, and rejected Phelps's late-raised alternative ground. However, the court affirmed the trial court's denial of recovery on CDCR's cross-complaint for disgorgement. View "Hensel Phelps Construction Co. v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation" on Justia Law

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Wanke, Industrial, Commercial, Residential, Inc. (Wanke) was a company that installed waterproofing systems. It sued Scott Keck and another of its former employees in 2008 for trade secret misappropriation after they left Wanke to form a competing business, WP Solutions. The parties entered into a stipulated settlement and later litigated Keck's alleged breach of that settlement agreement. To collect, Wanke filed a creditor's suit against third party AV Builder Corp. (AVB) to recover $109,327 that AVB owed WP Solutions in relation to five construction subcontracts. Following a bench trial, the court entered judgment in Wanke's favor for $83,418.94 after largely rejecting AVB's setoff claims. Invoking assignment principles, AVB contended: (1) Wanke lacked the ability to sue given judgment debtor WP Solutions's corporate suspension; (2) Wanke's suit was untimely under section 708.230 of the Code of Civil Procedure; and (3) the trial court erred in denying its request for warranty setoffs under section 431.70. Rejecting each of these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment View "Wanke, Industrial, Commercial, etc. v. AV Builder Corp." 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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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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Beau Gordon, a professional roofer, fell 35 feet through a "camouflaged hole" in a warehouse roof he was inspecting. For the resulting head injury, a jury awarded Gordon approximately $875,000 against the building's owner, ARC Manufacturing, Inc. (ARC) and Joseph Meyers. The primary issue on appeal was whether the trial court correctly refused to instruct on primary assumption of risk where, as here, defendants did not hire or engage Gordon. The Court of Appeal concluded that primary assumption of risk did not apply, rejected appellants' other contentions, and affirmed the judgment. View "Gordon v. ARC Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Mount Diablo School District hired Taber to modernize eight school campuses, the plaintiffs challenged the District’s use of a lease-leaseback agreement for the construction project. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of most of plaintiff’s claims, except a claim against Taber of conflict of interest. Plaintiff alleged Taber provided preconstruction services regarding the project, so a conflict of interest arose when the District subsequently awarded Taber the contract. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in Taber’s favor, finding no violation of Government Code section 1090(a). Section 1090 only prohibits a contract made by a financially-interested party when that party makes the contract in an “official capacity.” Where the financially-interested party is an independent contractor, section 1090 applies only if the independent contractor can be said to have been entrusted with “transact[ing] on behalf of the Government.” In this case, it cannot reasonably be said that Taber was hired to engage in or advise on public contracting on behalf of the District. The District contracted with Taber for Taber to provide preconstruction services in anticipation of Taber completing the project. Taber provided those services (planning and setting specifications) in its capacity as the intended provider of services, not as a de facto official of the District. View "California Taxpayers Action Network v. Taber Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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A general contractor and subcontractor filed suit against each other, and at issue was the "retention" clause in the parties' contract. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly granted summary judgment for the general contractor and dismissed the subcontractor's cross-claims. The court held that the purpose of the retention clause was, as the subcontractor put it in oral argument, to "ensure proper performance." In this case, the subcontractor did not finish the job swiftly and must suffer the consequences of its contractual failing. Finally, the court held that the trial court properly awarded attorney fees to the general contractor, as the prevailing party. View "Regency Midland Construction, Inc. v. Legendary Structures Inc." on Justia Law

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Henry and Deborah Luzuriaga contracted with a general contractor for the construction of a commercial building. The general contractor contracted with Precision Framing Systems, Inc. (Precision) for the framing, including the necessary trusses. And Precision contracted with Inland Empire Truss, Inc. (Inland) for the fabrication of the trusses. Precision never received full payment. Accordingly, it recorded a mechanic’s lien claim. Meanwhile, there was a problem with some of the trusses. After Precision had already recorded its mechanic’s lien claim, Precision and/or Inland came back to the site and repaired the trusses. Precision filed this action to foreclose its mechanic’s lien. Ms. Luzuriaga filed a cross-complaint. The trial court granted summary judgment against Precision on its complaint. It ruled that the mechanic’s lien claim was filed prematurely. Precision appealed, contending primarily that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether it had ceased to provide work, because: (1) “ceas[ing],” within the meaning of the statute, can be a gradual process; (2) the repair of the trusses was not part of Precision’s “work;” (3) there was evidence that Precision completed all of its work before it recorded its mechanic’s lien claim; and (4) there was evidence that the repairs were done by Inland. Henry Luzuriaga and the Luzuriagas’ bonding company cross-appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal affirmed, agreeing with the trial court that the evidence showed, beyond a triable issue of fact, that Precision had not yet “cease[d] . . . work” when it recorded its mechanic’s lien claim. This mooted the cross-appeal. View "Precision Framing Systems Inc. v. Luzuriaga" on Justia Law

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Fistes appealed from the trial court's judgment sustaining without leave to amend defendants' demurrer to Fistes' third amended complaint, seeking a declaration that the contract the District awarded to GDL for the remediation of school properties was void due to violations of the Public Contract Code and the Government Code. The Court of Appeal held that Fistes alleged facts sufficient to establish standing under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a based on its payment of state taxes that fund the District. The court also held that the district court erred in sustaining the demurrer based on uncertainty without leave to amend. In this case, although Fistes has not adequately alleged a cause of action against the Lopezes, it has made a sufficient showing for leave to amend. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "A.J. Fistes Corp. v. GDL Best Contractors, Inc." on Justia Law

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A general contractor was covered as an additional insured on a commercial general liability (CGL) policy issued to its roofing subcontractor. The insurer refused to defend the general contractor after it was sued by homeowners for construction defects concerning roofing, prompting this lawsuit. After a bench trial, the trial court concluded the insurer owed no duty to defend. It believed the exclusion in the additional insured endorsement for damage to "property in the care, custody or control of the additional insured" precluded any duty to defend the general contractor in construction defect litigation. The general contractor disputed the insurer's interpretation of the policy and contended there was a duty to defend. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed and reversed judgment: “the facts indicate only shared control between the general contractor and its roofing subcontractor. Because the insurer did not prove coverage for the underlying construction defect litigation was impossible, it owed the general contractor a duty to defend the homeowner claim.” View "McMillin Homes Construction v. Natl. Fire & Marine Ins. Co." on Justia Law