Justia Construction Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Wayne Farms LLC v. Primus Builders, Inc.
Wayne Farms LLC appealed a circuit court order compelling it to arbitrate its claims asserted against Primus Builders, Inc., and staying the action. Wayne Farms was a poultry producer located in Dothan, Alabama. Wayne Farms sought to expand its poultry-processing facility, and, to that end, entered into a "Design/Build Agreement" with Primus in 2017, that specifically addressed work to be completed by Primus in connection with the expansion of Wayne Farms' freezer warehouse. Primus subcontracted with Republic Refrigeration, Inc.; Republic hired Steam-Co, LLC for "passivation services." Upon draining a condenser for the freezer warehouse, it was discovered that the interior of the condenser was coated with corrosive "white rust." Primus then replaced the damaged condenser at a cost of approximately $500,000 under a change order, pursuant the Design/Build Agreement with Wayne Farms. Wayne Farms paid Primus for both the original damaged condenser and the replacement condenser. Both Primus and Steam-Co have claimed that the other is responsible for the damage to the condenser. Wayne Farms sued Primus and Steam-Co asserting claims of breach of contract and negligence and seeking damages for the damaged condenser and the cost of replacing it. Primus moved the trial court to compel arbitration as to the claims asserted against it by Wayne Farms. Primus also moved the trial court to dismiss, or in the alternative, stay Steam-Co's cross-claims against it. Wayne Farms opposed Primus's motion to compel arbitration, arguing that no contract existed between the parties requiring it to arbitrate claims arising from the passivation process. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the contract between Wayne Farms and Primus specified arbitration would apply to only those disputes arising from obligations or performance under the Design/Build Agreement, Wayne Farms could not be compelled to arbitrate with Primus a dispute arising from the performance of passivation work that was not an obligation agreed to in the Design/Build Agreement. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wayne Farms LLC v. Primus Builders, Inc." on Justia Law
Gustin v. Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc.
Brenda and James Gustin appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc. ("Vulcan"), and its general manager, Fred Smith. In 1998, Vulcan was hired by a construction company to pretreat a house in Shelby County, Alabama for termites. The house was three stories tall, with three concrete decks overlooking a lake. The decks were supported by 18 wooden columns. Additionally, to the left of the front door was a porte cochere for vehicles to pass through on their way up the driveway. The exterior of the house was entirely covered in faux-stone cladding. The Gustins purchased the house in 2006. In 2009, the Gustins entered into a contract with Vulcan for termite-damage inspection, treatment, and repair. In 2015, they hired a decorating company to renovate on of the rooms in the house. The company removed several sections of beadboard from the porte cochere, revealing extensive termite damage. Removing some of the cladding from the facade, the Gustins discovered active termites and severe damage to all levels and all sides of the house, as well as damage to a deck. The Gustins hired an expert, who estimated it would cost roughtly $950,000 to repair the house. Several days after the damage was discovered, Smith went to the house to inspect, and observed the active termites. Vulcan did not repair the house. The Gustins sued. In granting summary judgment, the trial court found "no evidence Vulcan breached the contract by failing to discover hidden termites. The Gustins presented no evidence that the annual inspection were not performed in accordance with the regulations or industry standards." The Alabama Supreme Court's review of the record indicated the Gustins submitted "substantial evidence" that Vulcan committed acts and omissions underlying each of their seven breach-of-contract claims. That evidence created a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Vulcan breached its duty to "perform all services in a workmanlike manner," as the contract required. While the Court agreed with the trial court and affirmed as to some causes of action, it reversed with respect to others, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Gustin v. Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc." on Justia Law
Russell Construction of Alabama, Inc. v. Peat
Russell Construction of Alabama, Inc. ("Russell"), appealed a circuit court order that vacated an arbitration award in favor of Russell and against Christopher Peat. In 2015, Russell and Peat entered into a contract pursuant to which Russell agreed to construct a residence for Peat on "a cost plus a fee basis." The documents executed in connection with the contract provided, in the event of a controversy or dispute, first for mediation and then for arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association. Upon completion of the residence, a dispute arose between Russell and Peat regarding Russell's performance and the balance due Russell under the contract. In January 2018, Russell filed a formal demand for arbitration, seeking $295,408 allegedly due from Peat for the construction of the residence. Peat counterclaimed, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract and disputing his consent to costs incurred by Russell; Peat sought specific performance and an award of $255,000 on his counterclaims. Thereafter, in May 2018, the parties reached, as a result of mediation, a settlement agreement. In essence, the settlement agreement required Russell to make certain repairs to the residence; required Peat to pay Russell $245,408 on or before June 15, 2018, at which time Russell agreed to release its recorded lien; and required Peat to deposit into escrow an additional $50,000 to ensure completion, by the end of August 2018, of a "punch-list" to the satisfaction of a third-party "Construction Consultant." The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court did not err to the extent that it set aside the judgment entered pursuant to the arbitrator's Final Award. The Court affirmed the trial court's July 25, 2019 order to the extent that it vacated any judgment on the arbitrator's Final Award related to Russell's and Peat's breach of the provisions of the settlement agreement that remained in effect after the Modified Partial Final Award and the distribution of the outstanding $50,000 at issue. The Court reversed that same order to the extent it purported to vacate any judgment on the Modified Partial Final Award of $258,959.89 and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Russell Construction of Alabama, Inc. v. Peat" on Justia Law
Oaks v. Parkerson Construction, LLC
Jeanne Oaks and Parkerson Construction, LLC ("Parkerson"), were engaged in a dispute concerning Parkerson's reconstruction of Oaks's fire-damaged residence in Huntsville, Alabama. Parkerson initiated the action, claiming that Oaks owed it more than $50,000 for its work. Oaks filed counterclaims alleging, among other things, that Parkerson misrepresented itself and performed deficient work. Parkerson moved the trial court to order that Oaks's counterclaims be arbitrated based on a provision in an unauthenticated work-authorization agreement that was attached to the motion. The trial court granted Parkerson's motion and ordered that Oaks's counterclaims be arbitrated. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's arbitration order, however, because Parkerson did not meet its burden of establishing the existence of a contract calling for arbitration. View "Oaks v. Parkerson Construction, LLC" on Justia Law
Ex parte David and Lisa McDaniel.
Plaintiffs David and Lisa McDaniel petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Shelby Circuit Court to vacate its order staying the proceedings against defendants Southern Craftsman Custom Homes, Inc. ("SCCH"); Jeffrey Rusert; Larry Curry, Sr.; SouthFirst Bancshares, Inc., d/b/a SouthFirst Bank ("SouthFirst"); Mari Gunnels; and Danny Keeney. At the time of this opinion, Rusert was awaiting the outcome of a federal criminal investigation against him. In 2017, the McDaniels contacted Rusert for the purpose of entering into an agreement with SCCH to build a house. According to the McDaniels, Rusert represented himself as the president of SCCH. At some point, Rusert recommended that the McDaniels speak with Gunnels, who worked for SouthFirst, to secure a loan to pay for the construction of the new house. In November 2017, with Gunnels's assistance, the McDaniels began the process of applying for a construction loan with SouthFirst. The loan closing occurred on January 26, 2018. The McDaniels executed, among other agreements, a written construction-loan agreement, a promissory note, and a construction-loan disbursement agreement. The McDaniels met with Rusert to discuss some concerns they had with the ongoing construction. During that meeting, Rusert provided the McDaniels with a credit application from a local building-supply company and asked them to execute it so that, he said, he could use the McDaniels' credit to purchase building materials and supplies. The McDaniels learned that the company refused to do business with SCCH, Rusert, and Curry because all three had purportedly failed to pay significant amounts owed the company. The McDaniels immediately contacted Gunnels and placed a "stop-payment" order on the most recent draw request from SCCH and Rusert. Thereafter, the McDaniels sued SCCH, Rusert, Curry, SouthFirst, Gunnels, and Keeney. In their complaint, the McDaniels sought damages for negligence, suppression, fraudulent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, conversion, and the infliction of emotional distress. The McDaniels further alleged breach-of-contract claims against SouthFirst, SCCH, Rusert, and Curry, as well as a claim of breach of fiduciary duties against SouthFirst. Finally, the McDaniels sought a judgment against SouthFirst, Gunnels, and Keeney declaring the loan agreement and mortgage void. Rusert and SCCH moved to stay the civil proceedings against them pending the outcome of a federal criminal investigation against Rusert, which the trial court granted. The Alabama Supreme Court determined, however, the McDaniels established a clear legal right to relief from the trial court's order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its order staying the underlying case. View "Ex parte David and Lisa McDaniel." on Justia Law
Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. The David Group, Inc.
Defendant Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company ("Nationwide") appealed a judgment entered in favor of plaintiff The David Group, Inc. ("TDG"), which held TDG was entitled to coverage and indemnification under a commercial general- liability ("CGL") insurance policy issued by Nationwide. Under the terms of that CGL policy, Nationwide agreed to "pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of 'bodily injury' or 'property damage' to which this insurance applies." According to the policy, its coverage applied to "bodily injury" and "property damage" only if "[t]he 'bodily injury' or 'property damage' is caused by an 'occurrence.'" In October 2006, while TDG's CGL policy with Nationwide was in effect, Saurin and Valerie Shah purchased a newly built house from TDG. After they moved in, the Shahs began experiencing problems with their new house. Despite TDG's efforts at correcting the problems, however, in February 2008, the Shahs sued TDG. Although Nationwide initially defended TDG against the Shahs' action, Nationwide withdrew its defense after conducting its own investigation into the Shahs' allegations. It concluded that it had no duty either to defend or to indemnify TDG because, according to Nationwide, the damage the Shahs complained of did not constitute an "occurrence" so as to trigger coverage under the CGL policy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in finding that TDG was entitled to coverage and indemnification under its CGL policy with Nationwide. Thus, the Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. The David Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Castleberry v. Angie’s List, Inc.
Jessie and Rickey Castleberry appealed a circuit court order dismissing their claims against Angie's List, Inc., based on a forum-selection clause in a contract between Angie's List and the Castleberrys. The Castleberrys, who are father and son, became members of Angie's List in 2014. They claim that they used their membership with Angie's List to locate a contractor, Dream Baths of Alabama, LLC ("Dream Baths"), which the Castleberrys hired to renovate a bathroom in Jessie Castleberry's house to make it handicapped accessible. According to the Castleberrys, Dream Baths was not properly licensed and poorly performed the work it contracted to do. The Alabama Supreme Court found the Castleberrys simply pointed out in the argument section of their brief that, in addition to suing Angie's List, they also sued Dream Baths. They asserted that "[t]his action pertains not only to the agreement between the Castleberrys and Angie's List, but to improper work performed upon a home located in Montgomery County, Alabama by defendant Dream Baths." The Castleberrys provided no significant discussion of the specific claims against Dream Baths and Angie's List. To the Supreme Court, it appealred that the Castleberrys' claims against Angie's List and Dream Baths were based on different categories of wrongdoing that were only tangentially related. The trial court, therefore, did not err in enforcing the forum-selection clause simply because the Castleberrys also sued Dream Baths. View "Castleberry v. Angie's List, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Alvin Bhones and Diane Bhones.
Plaintiffs Alvin and Diane Bhones sought a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order setting aside a default judgment entered in their favor against Travis Peete and Beech Brook Companies, LLC. In 2015, the Bhoneses sued Beech Brook and Peete, the sole member of Beech Brook, based on their allegedly defective construction of the Bhoneses' new home. The complaint stated claims of breach of contract, breach of warranty, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, and negligence. The complaint was served on defendants on February 19, 2015, but they did not file an answer. On March 13, 2018, the Bhoneses moved for a default judgment. On March 21, 2018, the trial court entered a default judgment in favor of the Bhoneses. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because defendants did not present evidence to support their allegations that they had a meritorious defense and that the Bhoneses would not be unduly prejudiced if the default judgment was set aside, defendants failed to satisfy their initial burden of alleging and demonstrating the existence of all the Kirtland v. Fort Morgan Authority Sewer Service, Inc., 524 So. 2d 600 (Ala. 1988) factors. Therefore, defendants were not entitled to have the default judgment set aside and that the trial court exceeded its discretion in setting aside the default judgment. View "Ex parte Alvin Bhones and Diane Bhones." on Justia Law
Ex parte Consolidated Pipe & Supply Co., Inc.
Consolidated Pipe filed the underlying action against The Ohio Casualty Insurance Company ("Ohio Casualty"), Bolt Construction & Excavating, LLC ("Bolt Construction"), and Michael Bolt (collectively, defendants). The West Morgan East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority ("the Water Authority") contracted with Bolt Construction to perform a public work known as "the Vaughn Bridge Road Water Line Relocation Project No. 14018.00" ("the project"). In the course of performing its contract with the Water Authority, Bolt Construction entered into a contract with Consolidated Pipe pursuant to which Consolidated Pipe was to supply materials for use in the project. Bolt executed a guaranty in conjunction with the contract with Consolidated Pipe in which he agreed to unconditionally and personally guarantee full and prompt payment of all sums owed to Consolidated Pipe by Bolt Construction in the event Bolt Construction failed to pay the contracted-for amount. In its complaint, Consolidated Pipe alleged Bolt Construction failed to pay Consolidated Pipe for the materials it furnished to Bolt Construction for the project. At issue in this case was venue: the Alabama Supreme Court determined that based on a forum-selection clause, the only proper venue for this action was Morgan County. Therefore, the circuit court erred by granting the motion to transfer. Accordingly, the Court granted Consolidated Pipe's petition for mandamus relief, and directed the Morgan Circuit Court to vacate its order transferring this case to Jackson County. View "Ex parte Consolidated Pipe & Supply Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Brooks v. RPM Cranes, LLC
In 2015, RPM Cranes and its owner Muhammad Wasim Ali sued the defendants CraneWorks, Inc. and its owners, David Upton ("David") and Steve Upton ("Steve"), and Russell Brooks, Rick Yates, and Casey Markos, alleging that Brooks, Yates, and Markos had violated their employment agreements by going to work for CraneWorks and that CraneWorks' hiring of Brooks, Yates, and Markos likewise violated those employment agreements. David and Steve were named as defendants by virtue of their ownership of CraneWorks. RPM and Ali sought monetary damages and injunctive relief. The trial court entered a permanent injunction in favor of RPM and Ali and against the defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court found the injunction at issue in defendants' appeal was not specific in its scope: the order stated that the defendants were "permanently restrained and enjoined from contacting, in any way, whatsoever, any of those clients which are now clients of RPM Cranes." The order failed, however, to specify which clients were included in the injunction. RPM and Ali introduced no evidence as to who RPM's clients were or whether it had developed any clients of its own that Yates and Brooks did not bring onboard as a result of their previous jobs with other entities. In other words, the injunction was broad and vague rather than "specific in [its] terms." The Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brooks v. RPM Cranes, LLC" on Justia Law