Justia Construction Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
Harmon v. Fiscus Realty
Frederick and Mandelena Harmon bought a home pursuant to a buy-sell agreement that realtor Dianne Burright, a licensed real estate salesperson who worked for Fiscus Realty, prepared at the Fiscus Realty office. The home was built by Dianne's husband, Jerry. The Harmons subsequently discovered numerous construction problems. The Harmons sued Defendants Jerry and Dianne Burright and Fiscus Reality, raising several causing of action, including a claim under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (the Act). A jury returned a verdict against the Burrights on breach of warranty and negligent misrepresentation claims and held for Defendants on all other claims. After trial, Defendants filed motions for attorney fees as prevailing parties under the Act, which the district court denied. Fiscus Realty appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying an award of attorney fees to Fiscus Realty as the Harmons' claims had a basis in fact and law and were not frivolous, unreasonable or unfounded. View "Harmon v. Fiscus Realty" on Justia Law
Boehm v. Cokedale
Plaintiff Carter Boehm, Trustee, sued Defendants Cokedale, L.L.C. and Allen Carter for property damages when, during construction of a road to reach Defendants' land, rocks of various sizes rolled downhill onto Plaintiff's property. Plaintiff subsequently added claims for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, concluding that Boehm was not the trustee of any trust validly established under Montana law, and therefore Boehm was perpetuating the lawsuit on behalf of a non-existent trust. The district court also awarded Defendants attorneys' fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the district court properly granted summary judgment to Defendants pursuant to Mont. R. Civ. P. 17(a), which requires that every action shall be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees to Defendants. The award of fees was reversed. View "Boehm v. Cokedale" on Justia Law
United Tool Rental, Inc. v. Riverside Contracting, Inc.
Following an automobile crash for which United Tool Rental (UTR) and DeLyle Paulsen admitted negligence, UTR and Paulsen sought contribution from the state DOT and several construction entities (construction parties), alleging their negligent design, construction, and maintenance of the highway contributed to the crash. After a jury trial, the district court determined UTR and Paulsen were entirely at fault for the crash and rejected their contribution claim. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence the DOT erected a "no left turn" sign after the crash and a post-crash memorandum prepared by the highway patrol; (2) the district court did not deprive UTR and Paulsen a fair trial by allowing the construction parties' counsel to inquire what caused Paulsen to drive inattentively; and (3) the jury's verdict was not defective. View "United Tool Rental, Inc. v. Riverside Contracting, Inc." on Justia Law
Steadele v. Colony Ins. Co.
Stephen and Dawn Steadele contracted with Montana Component Housing Corporation (MCHC) to construct a home. MCHC did not complete the home by the deadline and eventually abandoned the project without completing the home. The Steadeles filed suit against MCHC. The district court entered a default judgment against MCHC when it failed to respond to the suit. The Steadeles then requested payment from Colony Insurance Company, MCHC's insurer. Colony denied coverage and refused to pay because MCHC never notified it of the Steadeles' claim. The Steadeles then filed this action, arguing that Colony's refusal to issue payment on the underlying judgment was a violation of Mont. Code Ann. 33-18-201, which prohibits unfair claim settlement practices. The district court granted summary judgment to Colony. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to Colony because MCHC's failure to notify Colony of the Steadeles' claim was a material breach of MCHC's obligations under the policy. View "Steadele v. Colony Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Dick Anderson Constr., Inc. v. Monroe Property Co., L.L.C.
In 2000, Dick Anderson Construction (DAC) entered into a contract with Monroe Construction to do construction work on Paws Up Ranch, which was owned by Monroe Property. When each phase of the construction was completed, Monroe Construction sold that phase to Monroe Property. When DAC was not paid for the last $800,000 of its billings, it filed a construction lien to secure its claim. In 2001, DAC sued Monroe Property to foreclose the lien. On remand to the district court, Monroe Property argued since it was not a party to the construction contract with DAC, it was not a contracting owner against whom the lien could be foreclosed under the construction lien statutes. The district court granted Monroe Property's motion for summary judgment, and DAC appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the facts of the case demonstrated that Monroe Construction was the actual agent of Monroe Property for the purpose of engaging DAC to complete construction work on the ranch. Therefore, under the statutes, Monroe Property, acting through its agent Monroe Construction, was a contracting owner with regard to the construction contract with DAC.