Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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A homeowner, Mohammad Rafiei, sued his builder, Lennar Homes, alleging personal injuries due to a construction defect. The purchase contract between Rafiei and Lennar contained an agreement to submit disputes to arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, including issues of formation, validity, or enforceability of the arbitration agreement. Lennar moved to compel arbitration, but Rafiei argued that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable because the cost of arbitration was prohibitively high. The trial court denied Lennar's motion to compel arbitration.The Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth District of Texas affirmed the trial court's decision, holding that Rafiei had sufficiently demonstrated that the cost to arbitrate was excessive, making the arbitral forum inadequate to vindicate his rights. The court of appeals concluded that if Rafiei were required to pay more than $6,000, he would be precluded from pursuing his claims.The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. The court held that the record failed to support a finding that the parties' delegation clause was itself unconscionable due to prohibitive costs to adjudicate the threshold issue in arbitration. The court noted that Rafiei had not provided sufficient evidence to show that he could not afford the cost of arbitrating the arbitrability question. The court also noted that Rafiei had not provided evidence of how the fee schedule would be applied to resolve the unconscionability issue. The court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Lennar Homes Of Texas Inc. v. Rafiei" on Justia Law

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The case was a lawsuit filed by Janet and Joseph Harvey against the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations. The Harveys alleged that they were harmed by faulty renovations at the Mission's headquarters, which is located next door to their home in Manhattan. The Mission sought to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The district court, however, denied the Mission's motion to dismiss, holding that two exceptions to the Mission's immunity applied: the commercial activity exception and the tortious activity exception.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The Appeals Court held that the commercial activity exception applied because the Harveys' claims were based upon the Mission's allegedly faulty contractual renovations, which is an activity that a private party can, and often does, do. The court did not need to address the tortious activity exception as the commercial activity exception was sufficient to affirm the district court's decision. The Mission, therefore, was not immune from the lawsuit under the FSIA. View "Harvey v. Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Louisiana considered whether an architect and contract administrator had duty of care towards an employee of a subcontractor under the terms of a construction contract. The employee, Gustavo Bonilla, had been injured during a demolition job and filed a suit alleging negligence against Verges Rome Architects (VRA) and Morphy Makofsky, Inc. (MMI). VRA had been hired as a consultant for design and contract administration services. The trial court ruled in favor of VRA, but the court of appeal reversed this decision.Upon review, the Supreme Court of Louisiana found that the contract terms were clear and unambiguous, and did not impose a duty on VRA to oversee, supervise, or maintain the construction site or Mr. Bonilla’s safety. VRA was required to make weekly site visits to ensure work was progressing according to specifications. However, the contract specifically stated that these visits should not be construed as supervision of actual construction. Responsibility for site safety and construction methods was allocated to the contractor.The Court concluded that VRA could not be held liable for failing to perform duties it was not contractually obligated to undertake. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal's decision and reinstated the trial court's judgment, which granted summary judgment in favor of VRA. View "BONILLA VS. VERGES ROME ARCHITECTS" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Nebraska Supreme Court interpreted the Nebraska Construction Lien Act (NCLA) and determined that construction liens can attach to the contracting owner's real estate, even if ownership of the property changed before the liens were recorded. The case arose from a dispute between S & H Holdings, L.L.C. (S&H), Realty Income Properties 19, LLC (RIP), and several contractors. S&H, the original owner of the property, entered into an agreement with Integrated Construction Management Services, Inc. to construct a Burger King on the property. The contractors were not fully paid for their services and materials, so they filed liens on the property. Meanwhile, S&H sold the property to RIP.S&H and RIP argued that the liens did not attach to the property because S&H no longer owned it at the time the liens were recorded. The contractors argued that their liens attached because the transfer of ownership did not affect the liens' attachment. The court rejected S&H and RIP's argument, finding that the contractors' liens attached to the property regardless of the change in ownership. The court held that a construction lien is automatically created whenever a contractor furnishes services or materials and originates from the contracting owner's agreement to improve the real estate, even if the lien has not yet attached to the real estate and is not yet enforceable. The court concluded that the contractors' liens had attached to the property and had priority over RIP's fee interest. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed. View "Nore Electric v. S & H Holdings" on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, several construction industry associations challenged a 2018 law (RCW 39.12.015(3)) that changed the method for determining prevailing wage rates on public works projects. Prior to the law, the State used wage and hour surveys to establish the prevailing wage rates. The 2018 law directed the State to adopt the wage rates established in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for those trades and occupations that have CBAs.The plaintiffs argued that the new law violated a provision of the Washington Constitution (article II, section 37) because it conflicted with an older law (RCW 39.12.026(1)) that restricted the use of wage data collected by the State to the county in which the work was performed. The Court of Appeals agreed and declared the new law unconstitutional.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. It held that the older law's restriction on the use of wage data applied only to data collected through wage and hour surveys, not to wage rates adopted from CBAs. Therefore, the older law did not conflict with the new law, and the new law did not violate the state constitution. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Associated General Contractors Of Washington v. State" on Justia Law

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This case, decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, involved an insurance dispute concerning coverage for defects and delays in the construction of an office building. Riverside Avenue Partners, Ltd. contracted with the Auchter Company to construct the building. After experiencing delays and water intrusion, Riverside Avenue Partners sued Auchter and its surety, Arch Insurance Company. Auchter and Arch filed a third-party complaint against TSG Industries, the window subcontractor, and other subcontractors. TSG's insurer, Landmark American Insurance Company, initially recognized Auchter as an additional insured but later refused to defend them, leading Amerisure, Auchter’s primary insurance provider, to defend Auchter under a reservation of rights.Upon review, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction. The court determined that the district court's purported final judgment in the case, which favored Amerisure, did not dispose of all claims against all parties, so it was not final. Specifically, Landmark's crossclaim against TSG, stating it had no duty to defend or indemnify TSG in the underlying action, remained unresolved. Despite Amerisure's post-argument briefing suggestion that the declaratory judgments issued below fully answered questions related to Landmark's obligations to TSG, the court maintained that the claims against TSG were still pending, thus lacking jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The court dismissed the appeal and recommended the unresolved matters to the attention of the district court on remand. View "Amerisure Insurance Company v. Landmark American Insurance Company" 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 United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit had to apply Florida tort law to a dispute concerning the collapse of a crane boom. The plaintiff, NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, Inc., an insurer of the crane's owner, sued the defendants, Liebherr-America, Inc., a distributor and servicer of the type of crane in question, for over $1.7 million in damages resulting from the collapse. The defendants argued that they were shielded from liability by Florida’s economic loss rule. The magistrate judge, after a five-day bench trial, rejected this argument. The court of appeals found Florida law unclear on this issue and certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court.The facts of the case involved a crane purchased by Sims Crane & Equipment Company from a non-party broker, which was manufactured by Liebherr Werk Ehingen GMbH. Two Sims crane operators received training from a Liebherr-America employee, which involved swapping out different configurations of the crane boom. However, the training was inadequate and did not provide sufficient information about the proper placement of specific pins which, if misadjusted, could cause the crane boom to collapse. When the crane boom did collapse during a construction project, causing a fatality and damage to the crane, NBIS filed a negligence suit against Liebherr-America.The key issue in the case was whether Florida’s economic loss rule, which generally limits recovery in tort cases to situations where there is damage to other property or personal injury, and not just economic loss, applied in this case. The defendants argued that the rule should apply because the plaintiff’s negligence claims were akin to failure to warn theories found in products liability law, which fall within the scope of the rule. The plaintiff argued that the rule should not apply because this was not a product liability case asserting a product defect, but rather a case alleging negligent services provided by the defendants. Because the court found Florida law unclear on this issue, it certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. View "NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, v. Liebherr-America, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed a lower court's decision that an insurance agency, Rames Inc., formerly known as Central Insurance Agency, had a duty to procure additional insurance coverage for a construction company, TCF Enterprises Inc., also known as Malmquist Construction. Rames was found to have breached that duty, thereby breaching the standard of care and negligently misrepresenting that it had obtained the coverage. The court also found that the policy's professional services exclusion would not have barred coverage for defense and indemnity. The dispute arose after Malmquist was sued by a developer due to a construction defect and realized it wasn't covered as an additional insured under a subcontractor's insurance policy as it had believed. Rames had been told by the subcontractor to add Malmquist as an additional insured, but it failed to do so. The jury awarded damages to Malmquist in the amount of $1,022,257.85. Rames appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision. View "TCF Enterprises, Inc. v. Rames, Inc." 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