Justia Construction Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Vought Construction Inc. v. Stock
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
Gerlach v. K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Beaumont, LLC
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
Kim v. TWA Construction, Inc.
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
Panterra GP, Inc. v. Superior Court
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
Vera v. REL-BC, LLC
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
San Francisco CDC LLC v. Webcor Construction L.P.
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
Atlas Construction Supply v. Swinerton Builders
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
State Farm General Insurance Co. v. Oetiker, Inc.
The Right To Repair Act codifies a comprehensive reform to construction defect litigation applicable to residential dwellings in California. In McMillin Albany LLC v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 241, the California Supreme Court held that the Act was intended to displace the common law and was the "virtually exclusive remedy not just for economic loss but also for property damage arising from construction defects." In this case, plaintiff raises the same argument in McMillan, contending that the Act applies to bar State Farm's complaint.The Court of Appeal explained that McMillan was distinguishable from this case because the court is dealing with a lawsuit against an individual product manufacturer whose allegedly defective part failed after it was incorporated into the structure, causing damage to the residence. Although non-builders such as product manufacturers are subject to the Act under certain circumstances, the Act treats builders and non-builders differently. Therefore, the court held that, as applied to non-builders such as plaintiff, the Act covers claims based on negligence and breach of contract, but not those based on strict liability and breach of implied warranty. Furthermore, because the statute of repose applies, State Farm's negligence cause of action is time-barred. Thus, the court reversed and remanded with directions to allow the claims based on strict liability and implied warranty to proceed. The court remanded to the trial court with directions to vacate the order granting summary judgment without prejudice to a motion for summary adjudication on the negligence cause of action. View "State Farm General Insurance Co. v. Oetiker, Inc." on Justia Law
Davis v. Fresno Unified School District
Plaintiff filed suit against Fresno Unified and the Contractor, alleging that they violated California's competitive bidding requirements, the statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest, and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417. Based on the Court of Appeal's review of the four corners of the construction agreements and resolution of Fresno Unified’s board, the court concluded that plaintiff properly alleged three grounds for why Education Code section 17406's exception to competitive bidding did not apply to the purported lease-leaseback contracts. The court also concluded that California's statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest extended to corporate consultants and plaintiff alleged facts showing Contractor participated in creating the terms and specifications of the purported lease-leaseback contracts and then became a party to those contracts. After remand, the further proceedings included defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, which argued the lawsuit had become moot because the construction was finished and the contracts terminated. The trial court agreed.The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that defendants and the trial court erroneously interpreted plaintiff's lawsuit as exclusively an in rem reverse validation action. Rather, plaintiff is pursuing both a validation action and a taxpayer action. In this case, plaintiff asserts violations of California's competitive bidding laws and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417 along with conflicts of interest prohibited by Government Code section 1090 and common law principles. The remedy of disgorgement is available under these counts asserted in plaintiff's taxpayer's action even though the Construction Contracts are fully performed. Therefore, the counts in plaintiff's taxpayer's action seeking disgorgement are not moot. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Fresno Unified School District" on Justia Law
Los Angeles Unified School District v. Torres Construction Corp.
This appeal stemmed from the school district's action against defendants for breach of contract arising out of the renovation of school cafeterias. The school district ultimately prevailed on its claims for breach of contract and was awarded $3,941,829 in damages; Defendant Western was found liable on its bonds; the parties settled Defendant Torres's offset claims for withheld payments on other jobs; and the school district was awarded prejudgment interest and costs, as well as attorney fees against Western.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and held that defendants' motion for summary judgment was properly denied because a job order contract (JOC) is an enforceable contract, not just an agreement to negotiate; Western has forfeited its claims challenging denial of defendants' motion for summary judgment; the school district's motions for summary adjudication were properly granted in whole and in part; to prevail on its motions, the school district was not required to disprove Western's boilerplate affirmative defenses; the trial court properly awarded the school district prejudgment interest; the trial court properly denied Western's motions for directed verdict; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion awarding attorney fees to the school district. View "Los Angeles Unified School District v. Torres Construction Corp." on Justia Law