Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff and appellant, a contractor, prevailed in an arbitration against its client, the Defendant and Respondent. After finding that Plaintiff was not duly licensed because its responsible managing employee (RME) did not meet the criteria required by law, the trial court granted Defendant's petition to vacate the arbitration award on the ground that the arbitrator exceeded her powers.Plaintiff made two main arguments on appeal. It first contends the trial court misapplied the burden of proof regarding whether Plaintiff was a duly licensed contractor. The Second Appellate District rejected this argument, finding that the trial court correctly determined that Plaintiff had the burden of proof on this issue.Plaintiff also argued the trial court erroneously denied it an evidentiary hearing. In the trial court, however, Plaintiff did not seek an evidentiary hearing. It instead argued that such a hearing was not authorized by law. Therefore, the Second Appellate District held that Plaintiff forfeited the issue on appeal. View "Vascos Excavation Group LLC v. Gold" on Justia Law

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Defendant Department of General Services and real party Joint Committee on Rules of the California State Senate and Assembly (collectively DGS) prepared an environmental impact report (EIR) to determine the environmental effects of a project they proposed which would significantly affect the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento (Historic Capitol). DGS would demolish the State Capitol Building Annex attached to the Historic Capitol and replace it with a larger new annex building, construct an underground visitor center attached to the Historic Capitol’s west side, and construct an underground parking garage east of the new Annex. Plaintiffs Save Our Capitol! and Save the Capitol, Save the Trees filed petitions for writ of mandate contending the EIR did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court denied the petitions. Plaintiffs appealed the judgment, arguing: (1) the EIR lacked a stable project description; (2) the EIR did not adequately analyze and mitigate the project’s impacts on cultural resources, biological resources, aesthetics, traffic, and utilities and service systems; (3) the EIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project was legally deficient; and (4) DGS violated CEQA by not recirculating the EIR a second time before certifying it. The Court of Appeal reversed in part, finding the EIR’s project description, analyses of historical resources and aesthetics, and analysis of alternatives did not comply with CEQA. Judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Save Our Capitol! v. Dept. of General Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Chris LaBarbera hired Richard Knight dba Knight Construction (Knight) to remodel a house pursuant to a contract that provided Knight would defend and indemnify LaBarbera for all claims arising out of the work. Knight obtained a general liability insurance policy from defendant-respondent Security National Insurance Company (Security National) that covered damages Knight was obligated to pay due to bodily injury to a third party. As relevant here, the policy also covered Knight’s “liability for damages . . . [a]ssumed in a contract or agreement that is an ‘insured contract.’ ” Security National acknowledged the indemnity provision in Knight’s contract with LaBarbera was an “insured contract” within the meaning of the policy. The policy also provided, “If we defend an insured [i.e., Knight] against a suit and an indemnitee of the insured [i.e., LaBarbera] is also named as a party to the suit, we will defend that indemnitee” if certain conditions were met. During the remodeling work, a subcontractor suffered catastrophic injuries, and sued both LaBarbera and Knight. LaBarbera’s liability insurer (plaintiff-appellant Lloyd's of London Underwriters) defended him in that lawsuit, and Security National defended Knight. LaBarbera also tendered his defense to Knight and to Security National, but they either ignored or rejected the tender. After settling the underlying lawsuit for $465,000, LaBarbera and Underwriters sued Knight and Security National, seeking to recover the full $465,000 settlement amount and over $100,000 in expenses and attorney fees incurred defending LaBarbera in that lawsuit. Security National moved for summary judgment on the ground that all claims against it were barred because the undisputed facts established it did not have an obligation to defend or indemnify LaBarbera. The trial court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of Security National. LaBarbera and Underwriters appealed, but the Court of Appeal affirmed, adopting different reasoning than the trial court. The Court agreed with Security National that the indemnitee defense clause in Knight’s general liability insurance policy did not bestow third party beneficiary rights on the indemnitee, LaBarbera, who benefitted only incidentally from the clause. Because LaBarbera was not a third party beneficiary under Knight’s policy, he was precluded from bringing a direct action against Security National. View "LaBarbera, et al. v. Security Nat. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Vought sued for the balance due on his contract for the renovation of Stock’s house, additional compensation under a disputed change order, and penalties for the violation of a prompt-payment statute, Civil Code section 8800. Stock did not dispute the unpaid amount Vought had earned for finished work, including approved change orders, but disputed the claim for additional compensation and sought liquidated damages for delay. The court held that Vought was entitled to the undisputed balance due plus approximately half the disputed amount of additional compensation; that Stock was entitled to approximately half the amount he claimed as liquidated damages; and that Stock had not violated section 8800 by withholding final payment. The court held that neither side was entitled to attorney fees under section 8800 or to costs under Code of Civil Procedure section 1032.The court of appeal affirmed in part. Stock was not prohibited from withholding the $79,000 otherwise due based on his good faith claim for liquidated damages. Vought was not relieved of the obligation to pay liquidated damages for the delay that it caused although it was not responsible for the entire delay. Neither party was the prevailing party under section 8800 but Vought was the prevailing party for purposes of recovering costs under section 1032; it secured a “net monetary recovery.” View "Vought Construction Inc. v. Stock" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Lynn Gerlach and Lola Seals appealed the judgment entered in their action against defendant K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Beaumont, LLC under the Right to Repair Act (the Act), concerning alleged construction defects. After review, the Court of Appeal affirmed and published its opinion to clarify: (1) a roof is a manufactured product within the meaning of California Civil Code section 896(g)(3)(A) only if the roof is completely manufactured offsite; and (2) to prove a roof defect claim under subdivision (a)(4) or (g)(11) of section 896, a plaintiff must prove that water intrusion has actually occurred or roofing material has actually fallen from the roof. View "Gerlach v. K. Hovnanian's Four Seasons at Beaumont, LLC" on Justia Law

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The owners purchased the property in a wooded area of Los Gatos to build a home. They sought to remove some trees, including a large eucalyptus tree that straddled the property line, not realizing that the eucalyptus was partially on the neighbor’s property and that they needed her permission to remove it. They assumed they could remove the eucalyptus because they had received permits from the county. The owners’ general contractor, TWA, hired a subcontractor for tree trimming. The subcontractor damaged the eucalyptus tree.The neighbor sued. The owners filed a cross-complaint against TWA for comparative negligence, breach of contract, express contractual indemnity, equitable indemnity, and other claims. TWA filed a cross-complaint against the owners, alleging breach of contract and other claims. At trial, the owners and TWA settled the suit with the neighbor. The suits involving their cross-complaints continued. TWA presented no evidence that the subcontractor who worked on the eucalyptus was licensed for tree trimming work.The court of appeal affirmed that TWA was 100 percent at fault for the neighbor’s damages and had been paid $10,000 for the tree trimming services performed by the subcontractor. The court rejected arguments that the trial court erred in interpreting the licensing statute, Business and Professions Code section 7031.3, and misinterpreted the construction agreement. View "Kim v. TWA Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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Panterra GP, a licensed general contractor, sued the defendants, seeking more than $2,609,666 for work it allegedly performed on a construction project. The contract between the parties mistakenly referred to Panterra Development, an entity that is not a licensed contractor. Panterra GP, the general partner in Panterra Development, actually performed the remodeling work at issue. The Bakersfield permit applications, building permits, and certificate of occupancy correctly referred to Panterra GP as the contractor. The action was dismissed without leave to amend, based on Business and Professions Code section 7031(a); the court stated that a party may not rely on equitable principles to reform a contract in order to overcome the failure of the party identified in the construction contract as the contractor to have a valid contractor’s license as required by the statute.The court of appeal vacated. Section 7031(a) has no applicability to claims asserted by Panterra GP because it was licensed as a contractor at all relevant times. The defendants tried to argue, before trial, that Panterra Development was the true contractor, but that contention was untenable at the pleadings stage. Courts may not turn a demurrer into a contested evidentiary matter by determining the “proper interpretation” of the evidence. View "Panterra GP, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Sellers bought an Oakland property to “flip.” After Vega renovated the property, they sold it to Vera, providing required disclosures, stating they were not aware of any water intrusion, leaks from the sewer system or any pipes, work, or repairs that had been done without permits or not in compliance with building codes, or any material facts or defects that had not otherwise been disclosed. Vera’s own inspectors revealed several problems. The Sellers agreed to several repairs Escrow closed in December 2011, but the sewer line had not been corrected. In January 2012, water flooded the basement. The Sellers admitted that earlier sewer work had been completed without a permit and that Vega was unlicensed. In 2014, the exterior stairs began collapsing. Three years and three days after the close of escrow, Vera filed suit, alleging negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Based on the three-year limitations period for actions based on fraud or mistake, the court dismissed and, based on a clause in the purchase contract, granted SNL attorney’s fees, including fees related to a cross-complaint against Vera’s broker and real estate agent.The court of appeal affirmed. Vera’s breach of contract claim was based on fraud and the undisputed facts demonstrated Vera’s claims based on fraud accrued more than three years before she filed suit. Vera has not shown the court abused its discretion in awarding fees related to the cross-complaint. View "Vera v. REL-BC, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Contractors’ State License Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 7031), allows any person who utilizes the services of unlicensed building contractors to sue for disgorgement of all compensation paid for the performance of any act or contract, even when the work performed is free of defects. CDC brought a section 7031(b) claim for disgorgement against Obayashi in 2017, more than eight years after the completion of construction of the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco. The issue of licensure came to light during litigation concerning construction defects.The trial court dismissed, citing Code of Civil Procedure 340(a), the one-year limitations period for statutory forfeiture or penalty causes of action. The court of appeal affirmed. The one-year statute of limitations applies to disgorgement claims brought under section 7031, and the discovery rule and other equitable doctrines do not. Even if such doctrines applied to statutory disgorgement claims, they would not apply under the circumstances presented under the pleadings. The court also upheld the trial court’s award of $231,834 in contractual attorney fees; the parties’ agreement contemplated the recovery of attorney fees for non-contractual causes of action that are initiated because of an alleged breach of the parties’ contract. View "San Francisco CDC LLC v. Webcor Construction L.P." on Justia Law

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A construction worker was killed when concrete formwork toppled over at a worksite. Plaintiffs, the worker's surviving family members, brought a wrongful death action against the general contractor, Swinerton Builders, and formwork supplier, Atlas Construction Supply, Inc. Atlas cross-complained against Swinerton for equitable indemnity, contribution and declaratory relief. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Swinerton as to the wrongful death complaint. Swinerton, in lieu of seeking entry of judgment on the summary judgment order, settled with plaintiffs, wherein plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their case against Swinerton, and Swinerton waived its costs. Apparently under a shared belief that the good faith settlement determination barred Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton, Atlas and Swinerton stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint against Swinerton. Atlas appealed the summary judgment order, the good faith settlement determination, and dismissal of its cross-complaint. Atlas argued that the trial court erred in ruling Atlas lacked standing to oppose Swinerton's motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, Atlas argued if the trial court had considered its opposition brief, the court could have reasonably denied Swinerton's motion, and Swinerton would have never settled the wrongful death complaint, never made the good faith settlement determination, and Swinerton and Atlas would never have stipulated to the dismissal of Atlas' cross-complaint. After review, the Court of Appeal determined Atlas was not aggrieved by the trial court's exoneration of Swinerton in the wrongful death action. Therefore, Atlas lacked standing to appeal the summary judgment order. With respect to the good faith settlement and dismissal of the cross-complaint, the Court determined Atlas waived its challenge by failing to make substantive legal arguments specific to those orders. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed as to the summary judgment motion, and judgment was affirmed as to all other orders. View "Atlas Construction Supply v. Swinerton Builders" on Justia Law