Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The case revolves around a construction dispute where several homeowners in the San Marcial neighborhood sued Oscar Renda Contracting, Inc., for negligence and gross negligence. The homeowners alleged that the company's misuse of heavy equipment and faulty construction techniques caused damage to their homes during the construction of a drainage pipeline. They sought actual damages to restore their properties and exemplary damages based on gross negligence.The trial court found Renda Contracting negligent and grossly negligent. However, the jury was not unanimous in deciding the amount of exemplary damages, with ten out of twelve jurors agreeing. Consequently, the trial court omitted exemplary damages from the judgment. The homeowners appealed, and the court of appeals reversed the decision, arguing that unanimity as to exemplary damages could be implied despite a divided verdict.The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the court of appeals' judgment and reinstated the trial court's judgment. The court held that under Section 41.003 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a court may not imply a unanimous jury finding in imposing exemplary damages. The burden to secure a unanimous verdict is on the plaintiff and "may not be shifted." The court concluded that the plaintiff bears the burden to obtain the findings necessary to impose exemplary damages, including that the jury is unanimous as to any amount of exemplary damages awarded. It is the plaintiff who must challenge a divided verdict as infirm or in need of clarification. View "OSCAR RENDA CONTRACTING, INC. v. BRUCE" on Justia Law

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The case involves two plaintiffs, Glen A. Canner and Louis D. Puteri, who separately sued a condominium association, Governors Ridge Association, Inc., alleging that the foundations supporting their respective units were defective. The units, part of a common interest community, were purchased by Canner and Puteri in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The defendant had affirmed its responsibility for any foundation settlement issues. However, despite the units suffering significant, uneven settling and the defendant hiring several companies to investigate potential repairs from 2012 to 2016, no repairs were ultimately made. The plaintiffs commenced their actions in 2016 and 2017, alleging that the defendant had negligently designed and constructed the foundations and had violated its duties under the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA) by failing to conduct necessary repairs.The trial court concluded that the CIOA claims were time-barred by the statutory three-year limitation period generally applicable to tort actions. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s judgments, concluding that the limitation period set forth in § 52-577 applied because the claims sounded in tort rather than contract. The Appellate Court also agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the declaration and bylaws created no duty to repair because the relevant declaration required the defendant to repair only insured common elements, and there was no requirement that the foundations themselves be insured.The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the Appellate Court properly applied the statute of limitations set forth in § 52-577 to the portion of the CIOA claims seeking recovery for negligence during the course of construction of the foundations. However, the Supreme Court found that the Appellate Court improperly upheld the trial court’s disposition, in favor of the defendant, of the claims that the defendant had violated its contractual duties under the bylaws to maintain, repair or replace common elements when it failed to effectuate repairs to the foundations. The Supreme Court concluded that the claims that the defendant breached its contractual duties imposed under the bylaws by failing to repair the foundations were governed by the six-year limitation period applicable to contract claims in § 52-576. The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Canner v. Governors Ridge Assn., Inc." on Justia Law

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A dispute arose between SunStone Realty Partners X LLC (SunStone) and Bodell Construction Company (Bodell) over the postjudgment interest rate applied to a domesticated Hawaii judgment in Utah. Following arbitration in Hawaii over construction defects in a condominium development, SunStone obtained a judgment against Bodell exceeding $9.5 million, which it domesticated in Utah. Bodell requested the Utah court to apply Utah's lower postjudgment interest rate instead of Hawaii's higher one. SunStone opposed this, arguing that the Utah Foreign Judgment Act (UFJA) required the application of Hawaii's rate, or alternatively, that their contract or principles of comity mandated the Hawaii rate.The Supreme Court of the State of Utah affirmed the district court's decision to apply Utah's postjudgment interest rate. The court found that the UFJA, which does not specifically address postjudgment interest, instructs Utah courts to treat a foreign domesticated judgment like a Utah judgment for enforcement purposes. Since postjudgment interest serves, at least in part, as an enforcement mechanism, the UFJA requires the imposition of Utah’s postjudgment interest rate. Further, the construction contract did not require the application of the Hawaii postjudgment interest rate. The court did not consider principles of comity because the UFJA mandates a result. View "Sunstone Realty v. Bodell Construction" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of California held that a trial court has discretion to grant or deny relief from a jury trial waiver under section 631(g) of the Code of Civil Procedure. The court is not required to grant relief just because proceeding with a jury would not cause hardship to other parties or the court. The court should consider various factors, including the timeliness of the request and the reasons supporting the request. The court further held that a litigant who challenges the denial of relief from a jury waiver for the first time on appeal must show actual prejudice to obtain reversal.The case involved TriCoast Builders, Inc. and Nathaniel Fonnegra. Fonnegra hired TriCoast to repair his house after a fire, but he was unhappy with the quality of the work and terminated the contract. TriCoast sued Fonnegra for damages. Fonnegra initially demanded a jury trial, but waived this right on the day of the trial. TriCoast, which had not demanded a jury trial or paid the jury fee, requested a jury trial after Fonnegra’s waiver. The trial court denied their request and a bench trial was held. TriCoast appealed the judgment, arguing that the trial court erred in denying their request for a jury trial. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, concluding that TriCoast had not established the prejudice necessary to justify reversing the trial court's judgment. View "TriCoast Builders, Inc. v. Fonnegra" on Justia Law

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The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Court of Appeals, ruling that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying an order as a final partial judgment under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. The case arose from a dispute between the City of Elk River and Bolton & Menk, Inc. over a large construction contract for a wastewater treatment plant improvement project. The City sued Bolton for alleged breach of contract and professional negligence. Bolton responded by filing a third-party complaint against three other parties involved in the contract. The district court dismissed Bolton's third-party complaint and Bolton sought to have the dismissal order certified as a final judgment for immediate appeal. The district court granted this certification, but the Court of Appeals dismissed Bolton's appeal, determining that the district court had abused its discretion in certifying the order as a final judgment. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the district court had offered valid reasons for its certification, including that the third-party claims presented distinct issues from the principal claims and that the case was in its early stages at the time of certification. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "City of Elk River vs. Bolton & Menk, Inc." on Justia Law

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In Alabama, RAM-Robertsdale Subdivision Partners, LLC contracted Construction Services LLC, d/b/a MCA Construction, Inc. ("MCA") to build infrastructure for a proposed housing subdivision. The relationship between the two parties deteriorated, leading to a lawsuit by RAM-Robertsdale against MCA for various claims including breach of contract, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation, among others. MCA counterclaimed and also filed third-party claims against Retail Specialists, LLC, a member of RAM-Robertsdale, and Rodney Barstein, a corporate officer for Retail Specialists and RAM-Robertsdale, for breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, and defamation. The RAM defendants moved for summary judgment on MCA's counterclaims and third-party claims, arguing that MCA was not properly licensed when it signed the contract, thus making the contract void for public policy. The circuit court granted the RAM defendants' motion for summary judgment and certified its judgment as final.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama found that the circuit court had exceeded its discretion in certifying its judgment as final under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., because the claims pending below and those on appeal were closely intertwined, arising from the same contract and the parties' performance under that contract. The Court noted that if the contract was indeed void for public policy, then neither party would be able to enforce it, impacting the remaining claims pending in the circuit court. As the Court found that deciding the issues at this stage would create an intolerable risk of inconsistent results, it dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Construction Services, LLC v. RAM-Robertsdale Subdivision Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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In Washington State, a second-tier subcontractor, Velazquez Framing LLC, was not paid for the work it did on property owned by Cascadia Homes Inc., a general contracting company. High End Construction LLC, who had been contracted by Cascadia, subcontracted the work to Velazquez without informing Cascadia. After completing the work, Velazquez filed a lien for labor and materials without giving prelien notice, which resulted in a dispute over whether prelien notice was required for labor liens under Chapter 60.04 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled that, based on the plain language of the relevant statutes and legislative history, prelien notice is not required for labor liens. The court noted that while Velazquez could not lien for its materials and equipment without providing prelien notice, it could lien for its labor. The case was remanded to the trial court to determine the value of the labor performed. The court's decision reversed the rulings of the Court of Appeals and the trial court, both of which had concluded that prelien notice was required. View "Velazquez Framing, LLC v. Cascadia Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, an accident occurred at a construction site which resulted in bodily injuries to Gaylon Cruse and Mark Duckworth. During the installation of roof trusses, a power crane operated by Douglas Forrest was prematurely released, causing a truss to fall and collapse onto other trusses, injuring Cruse and Duckworth. Southern Truss, the owner of the truck to which the crane was attached, had two insurance policies - a commercial auto policy from Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company (Artisan) and a commercial general liability policy from The Burlington Insurance Company (Burlington). Both insurance companies denied a duty to defend in the underlying lawsuit initiated by Cruse and Duckworth.Artisan filed a suit in federal court seeking a declaration that it owed no duty to defend under its auto policy due to an operations exclusion clause and that Burlington owed a duty to defend. The district court denied both companies' motions for judgment, finding an ambiguity in Artisan's policy that should be construed in favor of the insured and that Burlington had a duty to defend some claims not covered by Artisan's policy. Both Artisan and Burlington appealed.The appeals court, applying Illinois law and conducting a de novo review, found no ambiguity in Artisan's policy. The court concluded that the operations exclusion applied because the injuries arose from the operation of the crane attached to the truck, whose primary purpose was to provide mobility to the crane. As such, Artisan had no duty to defend. Since Artisan had no duty to defend, the court determined that Burlington did have a duty to defend under its policy. Thus, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court. View "Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company v. Burlington Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware upheld a lower court's decision regarding a dispute between the Salt Meadows Homeowners Association (Salt Meadows) and Zonko Builders, Inc. (Zonko). Salt Meadows accused Zonko of faulty construction leading to water damage in the condominium complex built by Zonko. The Superior Court found Zonko liable but left the question of damages to a jury, which awarded Salt Meadows $11.3 million in general damages and $1.6 million for specific repair costs. However, the Superior Court later reduced the general damage award to $8.3 million, citing unsupported, speculative, and excessive damage claims. The court also granted Zonko's motion for judgment as a matter of law related to the specific repair costs, finding that Salt Meadows expanded its claims without sufficient evidence. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's decision, agreeing that Salt Meadows' damage claims were speculative and unsupported. The court also agreed with the lower court's calculation of pre-judgment interest from the date the damages were discovered, not from the date of Zonko's negligent construction. The court further affirmed the calculation of post-judgment interest from the date of the verdict, as agreed upon by both parties. View "Salt Meadows Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Zonko Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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In March 2015, Jere Hinman hired BrightView Landscape Development, Inc., to design and construct a pool at her residence. BrightView subcontracted with Georgia Gunite and Pool Company, Inc., to install plumbing and spray shotcrete for the pool shell. In November 2015, Hinman contacted BrightView after receiving an unusually high water bill and discovered that the pool was leaking water due to a missing part that was not included in Georgia Gunite’s scope of work. BrightView and Georgia Gunite worked together to address the issue in April 2016. In 2018, Hinman sued BrightView for defective construction of the pool, and BrightView filed a third-party complaint against Georgia Gunite, seeking indemnification based on the subcontractor agreement. Georgia Gunite moved for summary judgment, arguing that BrightView's claim was barred by Tennessee's four-year statute of repose for actions alleging defective improvements to real estate.The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, which granted summary judgment in favor of Georgia Gunite. The court held that, although BrightView's indemnification claim against Georgia Gunite was contractual in nature, it fell within the scope of Tennessee's statute of repose for deficient construction of an improvement to real property because, at its core, it sought to recover damages arising from such deficient construction. The court rejected BrightView's argument that the statute of repose only applies to tort actions. The court also rejected BrightView's argument that the application of the statute of repose in this case would extinguish its claim before it even accrued, noting that this argument is directed at the nature of a statute of repose. The court further held that the repose statute is not mutually exclusive with statutes of limitation. Thus, BrightView's claim against Georgia Gunite was barred because it was not brought within four years after substantial completion of the pool construction. View "Hinman v. ValleyCrest Landscaping Dev." on Justia Law