Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
In a case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Ursinus College utilized financing from the Montgomery County Health and Higher Education Authority (Authority) to undertake a construction project. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local No. 98 (IBEW) asserted that this project was a public work under the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act (PWA), which would require workers on the project to receive prevailing minimum wages. The court was tasked with determining whether this project constituted a public work under the PWA. The court found that the project was not a public work as defined in the PWA, as the funds for the project did not come from a public body. Rather, the Authority served as a conduit for financing, with private funds generated from the Authority's ability to issue bonds being used to pay for the project. The Authority did not hold or disburse these funds, nor did it bear any risk or liability with respect to the repayment of the bonds. Therefore, the court held that the project was not subject to the PWA's prevailing wage requirements. View "Ursinus College v. Prevailing Wage Appeals Board" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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