Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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After defending the general contractor in two construction defect actions, general liability insurer St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company (St. Paul) sought reimbursement of defense costs under an equitable subrogation theory against six subcontractors (defendants) that had worked on the underlying construction projects and whose contracts required them to defend the general contractor in suits involving allegations related to their work. After a bench trial, the court denied St. Paul’s claim. Relying on Patent Scaffolding Co. v. William Simpson Constr. Co., 256 Cal.App.2d 506, 514 (1967), the trial court concluded St. Paul had not demonstrated it was fair to shift all of the defense costs to defendants because their failure to defend the general contractor had not caused the homeowners to bring the construction defect actions. St. Paul argued this conclusion misconstrued the law governing equitable subrogation and therefore constitutes an abuse of discretion. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: (1) a cause of action based on equitable subrogation allowed an insurer to step into the shoes of its insured and recover only what the insured would be entitled to recover from the defendants; and (2) the appropriate inquiry should have been whether defendants’ failure to defend the general contractor caused St. Paul to incur the defense costs, not whether that failure caused the underlying lawsuits. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court to grant judgment in St. Paul's favor and for a determination of defense costs each defendant owed. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. CBR Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

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Carmel provided design and construction work for a luxury subdivision, Monterra, in Monterey County for more than 10 years under an oral contract with property owner Mills, the principal of Monterra LLC. Carmel recorded a mechanic’s lien and a site improvement lien against certain lots in Monterra after being informed that Monterra LLC would be unable to continue paying for the work. Carmel sued several of Monterra LLC’s investors with property interests in unsold lots in the development and Monterra LLC, alleging breach of contract and foreclosure of the mechanic’s and site improvement liens. Monterra stipulated to liability before trial; the investor defendants contested liability in a lengthy bench trial. The court of appeal reversed. Carmel applied the payments it received from Monterra LLC to debt that was not subject to liens, in effect increasing the amounts of the Water Lien and Site Improvement Lien. It was improper to allocate a water infrastructure lien only to certain benefited lots; the liens could not accrue contractual interest greater than the reasonable value of the improvements. The trial court applied an incorrect rate to calculate prejudgment interest. The court remanded with instructions to remove contractual interest from both liens, reapportion the water infrastructure lien, and recalculate prejudgment interest. View "Carmel Development Co., Inc. v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Teed promoted himself online as a real estate agent with “over 25 years of experience as a building contractor” with “an extensive background in historic restorations.” Moore believed that Teed was a general contractor. Moore toured homes that Teed had renovated and retained Teed as his agent. Moore bought a large San Francisco fixer-upper house for $4.8 million. The home was built in 1912 and was last updated in the 1950s. Moore borrowed significantly. Teed received a commission from the sale. Teed was not a licensed contractor; his team of contractors gutted large parts of the house and excavated the lot but the foundation was defective. After Moore became aware of the defects, he halted all work and engaged consultants, who concluded, despite Teed's strong resistance, that the foundation had to be torn out and replaced. Teed’s structural engineer agreed and privately apologized to Moore. Moore had paid about $265,000 of the $900,000 promised cost for Teed’s renovations. A jury awarded Moore his out-of-pocket expenses for replacing the foundation and benefit-of-the-bargain damages for the additional cost he incurred in obtaining the promised renovations. Conceding liability, Teed challenged the award. The court of appeal affirmed that benefit-of-the-bargain damages are available to fully compensate a plaintiff for all the detriment proximately caused by a fraudulent fiduciary’s actions and the award of statutory attorney fees and costs based on the jury’s special verdict finding that Teed violated the Contractors’ State License Law. View "Moore v. Teed" on Justia Law

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North Edwards Water District (the District) selected Clark Bros., Inc. (Clark) as its general or direct contractor on a public works project to build an arsenic removal water treatment plant. Clark hired subcontractor Crosno Construction (Crosno) to build and coat two steel reservoir tanks. The subcontract contained a "pay-when-paid" provision that stated Clark would pay Crosno within a reasonable time of receiving payments from the District, but that this reasonable time "in no event shall be less than the time Contractor and Subcontractor require to pursue to conclusion their legal remedies against Owner or other responsible party to obtain payment . . . ." After Crosno completed most of its work, a dispute arose between the District and Clark halting the project. As Clark sued the District, Crosno sought to recover payments owed under the public works payment bond that Clark had obtained for the project. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review involved Crosno's claim against the bond surety, Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (Travelers). At issue was whether the pay-when-paid provision in Crosno's subcontract precluded Crosno from recovering under the payment bond while Clark's lawsuit against the District was pending. Relying on Wm. R. Clarke Corp. v. Safeco Ins. Co., 15 Cal.4th 882 (1997), the trial court found the pay-when-paid provision here unenforceable because it affected or impaired Crosno's payment bond rights in violation of Civil Code section 8122. With the facts largely undisputed, the court granted Crosno's motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in its favor for principal due plus prejudgment interest. Travelers argued the trial court misconstrued Wm. R. Clarke and erred in failing to enforce the pay-when-paid provision against the bond claim. After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court's analysis and affirmed. View "Crosno Construction, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty etc." on Justia Law

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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