Justia Construction Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
City of Elk River vs. Bolton & Menk, Inc.
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
K & S Staffing Solutions v. The Western Surety Co.
In a dispute between K&S Staffing Solutions, Inc. (K&S) and The Western Surety Company (Western) and VSS International, Inc. (VSSI), the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District upheld the Superior Court of San Joaquin County's decision that K&S was not a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law and that payment bonds issued for the projects in question were subject to the mechanics' lien law’s requirements.K&S, a staffing company, sued VSSI and Western to recover unpaid amounts for services provided on state projects, arguing it was a “laborer” under the mechanics' lien law and thus entitled to assert a claim against payment bonds for the projects. The court disagreed, interpreting the term “laborer” in the law as a person "acting as an employee" performing labor or bestowing necessary services on a work of improvement, and concluded K&S, as an employer, did not qualify.Furthermore, K&S argued that the payment bonds issued for these state projects were not subject to the mechanics' lien law’s requirements because they were not "payment bonds" within the meaning of the law. However, the court disagreed, ruling that the bond requirements of the mechanics' lien law apply to state projects that require a bond under Public Contract Code section 7103 and other public entity projects that require a bond under section 9550. Consequently, the court affirmed the lower court's attorney fee award to the defendants under section 9564, which mandates attorney fees be awarded to the prevailing party in any action to enforce the liability on a payment bond. View "K & S Staffing Solutions v. The Western Surety Co." on Justia Law
Construction Services, LLC v. RAM-Robertsdale Subdivision Partners, LLC
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
Hinman v. ValleyCrest Landscaping Dev.
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
K & S Staffing Solutions v. The Western Surety Co.
In this case, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District was asked to determine two key issues. The first issue pertained to whether K&S Staffing Solutions, Inc., a staffing company, could be considered a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law. The second issue was whether the payment bonds issued for two state projects were subject to the mechanics’ lien law’s requirements. The staffing company had been contracted by a subcontractor, Titan DVBE Inc., to fulfill its staffing needs for two road maintenance projects awarded by California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to VSS International, Inc. (VSSI). When Titan failed to pay K&S all the amounts owed for the projects, K&S sued VSSI and the Western Surety Company, which had issued payment bonds for the projects. K&S argued that it was a “laborer” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law and was therefore entitled to recover against the payment bonds. The trial court disagreed, finding that K&S was not a “laborer” as it failed to show it was the employer of the laborers. On appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, interpreting the term “laborer” as defined in the mechanics’ lien law to mean “a person who, acting as an employee, performs labor upon, or bestows skill or other necessary services on, a work of improvement.” The court concluded that K&S was not a “laborer” as it was not acting as an employee in any capacity. The court also affirmed the trial court’s award of attorney fees to the defendants under a provision in the mechanics’ lien law. Although K&S argued that this provision was inapplicable because the payment bonds for the projects were not “payment bonds” within the meaning of the mechanics’ lien law, the court rejected this argument. The court concluded that the general requirements of the mechanics’ lien law for payment bonds applied both to state projects that required a bond under the Public Contract Code and other “public entity” projects that required a bond under the mechanics’ lien law. View "K & S Staffing Solutions v. The Western Surety Co." on Justia Law
Colony Insurance Company v. First Mercury Insurance Company
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit considered an appeal by Colony Insurance Company against First Mercury Insurance Company related to a settlement agreement for an underlying negligence case. Both companies had consecutively insured DL Phillips Construction, Inc. (DL Phillips) under commercial general liability insurance policies. After the settlement, Colony sued First Mercury, arguing that First Mercury needed to reimburse Colony for the full amount of its settlement contribution, as it contended that First Mercury's policies covered all damages at issue. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of First Mercury, prompting Colony's appeal.In the underlying negligence case, DL Phillips was hired to replace the roof of an outpatient clinic in Texas. Shortly after completion, the roof began leaking, causing damage over several months. The clinic's owner sued DL Phillips for various claims, including breach of contract and negligence. A verdict was entered against DL Phillips for over $3.7 million. Both Colony and First Mercury contributed to a settlement agreement, and then Colony sued First Mercury, arguing it was responsible for all the property damage at issue.The appellate court held that under the plain language of First Mercury's policies and relevant case law, First Mercury was only liable for damages that occurred during its policy period, not all damages resulting from the initial roof defect. The court also found that Colony failed to present sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact about whether there was an unfair allocation of damages, which would be necessary for Colony's contribution and subrogation claims. As such, the court affirmed the district court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of First Mercury and denied summary judgment for Colony. View "Colony Insurance Company v. First Mercury Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Shift Services v. Ames Savage Water Solutions
In February 2020, Shift Services, LLC (Shift) was contracted by Ames Savage Water Solutions, LLC (Ames) to repair a liner inside a water tank operated by Ames. The agreement was for a fixed price of $39,500.00, which included all labor, material, and travel time. When Shift began the work, they found a more significant amount of ice in the tank than initially observed. Shift communicated with Ames about the issue and decided to subcontract a hot oil truck company to melt the ice. Upon completion of the project, Ames paid the contracted amount but refused to pay an additional $31,705.00 bill from Shift related to the ice removal. Shift claimed that the contract was modified to include these additional costs, which Ames had allegedly approved. The district court dismissed Shift's breach of contract claim and terminated the construction lien it had placed on the property, finding that there was a lack of mutual assent to modify the contract.The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Shift did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate mutual assent for the modification of the original contract. The court pointed out that Shift had not disclosed to Ames that they intended to add an additional charge for the increased cost associated with the ice removal, nor did they discuss the details of the subcontractor, the equipment to be used, or the estimated number of hours that the removal would take. In conclusion, the court found no error in the district court's finding of a lack of mutual assent to modify the contract, thereby confirming that Ames did not breach the contract. View "Shift Services v. Ames Savage Water Solutions" on Justia Law
NOVA GROUP/TUTOR-SALIBA v. US
In this case, Nova Group/Tutor-Saliba (“NTS”) was awarded a construction contract by the United States Department of the Navy to build a new aircraft carrier maintenance pier at a naval base. The contract required NTS to demolish an old pier, design and build a replacement pier, and construct a new structure known as the Mole Quaywall, which would be designed by the government. During construction, NTS encountered unexpected subsurface soil conditions that complicated and increased the cost of the project. NTS sought additional compensation from the government alleging differing site conditions.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States Court of Federal Claims which had denied NTS's claim for additional compensation. The Court of Federal Claims found that NTS had not established a Type I differing site condition because the contract documents disclosed that NTS would encounter unpredictable subsurface conditions and possible obstructions. It also found that NTS had failed to prove a Type II differing site condition, as it had not demonstrated that any of the potential causes for hard driving were unknown or unusual in the region or materially different from comparable work. The Court of Appeals agreed with these findings and also ruled that the parol evidence rule had not been violated as NTS claimed. The Court of Appeals found that the parol evidence rule does not prevent a party from presenting evidence that a recital of fact in an integrated agreement may be untrue, and the challenged evidence was not introduced to modify any term of the contract. Therefore, the appeal by NTS was denied and the decision of the Court of Federal Claims was affirmed. View "NOVA GROUP/TUTOR-SALIBA v. US " on Justia Law
BBFM Engineers, Inc. v. McDonald
In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, the petitioner, Eric McDonald, an employee of a subcontractor, suffered injuries during the renovation of a high school. He sued Architects Alaska, Inc. and BBFM Engineers, Inc., alleging that they negligently failed to exercise reasonable care in the design, supervision, implementation, and specifications of the demolition of the renovation project. Before trial, the parties’ attorneys discussed the possibility of a settlement, and the defendants moved to enforce a “walk-away” settlement they claimed had been reached through email correspondence. McDonald, unrepresented at this point, did not file a substantive response to the defendants’ motion. The superior court granted the defendants’ motion and dismissed the case.About a year later, McDonald moved for relief from judgment under Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), arguing that he had never given his attorney authority to settle the case. A different superior court judge granted the motion, finding that factual issues precluded summary judgment on whether a settlement agreement existed, that the earlier dismissal was erroneous as a law matter, and that extraordinary circumstances otherwise entitled McDonald to Rule 60(b) relief. The defendants petitioned for review, and the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the ruling on the ground that McDonald’s Rule 60(b) motion was not filed within a reasonable time. View "BBFM Engineers, Inc. v. McDonald" on Justia Law
Stronghold Engineering, Inc. v. City of Monterey
Stronghold and the city entered into a 2015 contract to renovate the Monterey Conference Center. Before filing a lawsuit asserting a claim for money or damages against a public entity, the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code 810) requires that a claim be presented to the entity. Without first presenting a claim to the city, Stronghold filed suit seeking declaratory relief regarding the interpretation of the contract, and asserting that the Act was inapplicable.Stronghold presented three claims to the city in 2017-2019, based on its refusal to approve change orders necessitated by purportedly excusable delays. Stronghold filed a fourth amended complaint, alleging breach of contract. The court granted the city summary judgment, reasoning that the declaratory relief cause of action in the initial complaint was, in essence, a claim for money or damages and that all claims in the operative complaint “lack merit” because Stronghold failed to timely present a claim to the city before filing suit.The court of appeal reversed. The notice requirement does not apply to an action seeking purely declaratory relief. A declaratory relief action seeking interpretation of a contract is not a claim for money or damages, even if the judicial interpretation sought may later be the basis for a separate claim for money or damages which would trigger the claim presentation requirement. View "Stronghold Engineering, Inc. v. City of Monterey" on Justia Law