Justia Construction Law Opinion Summaries

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On a night in March 2016, defendant Susan Hyland was driving an automobile, and struck and killed sixteen-year-old Q.T., then fled the scene. She was indicted on three counts. The Prosecutor’s Office recommended against defendant’s admission into Drug Court because defendant left the scene of a fatal accident and failed to help Q.T., she was not the type of non-violent offender intended for Drug Court and would be a “danger to the community.” Defendant pled guilty to all three charges in the indictment. The trial judge analyzed the factors required to impose a drug court sentence, found defendant was likely to respond affirmatively to Drug Court probation, and sentenced her to concurrent five-year special probation Drug Court terms. The State appealed. The Appellate Division found no neither an illegal sentence nor statutory authorization, and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the State may appeal a Drug Court sentence only when the sentencing judge makes a plainly mistaken, non-discretionary, non-factual finding under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(a). Because application of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(a)(9) required fact-finding and an exercise of the sentencing judge’s discretion, a sentence based on application of that factor was not appealable as an illegal sentence. View "New Jersey v. Hyland" on Justia Law

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A general contractor was covered as an additional insured on a commercial general liability (CGL) policy issued to its roofing subcontractor. The insurer refused to defend the general contractor after it was sued by homeowners for construction defects concerning roofing, prompting this lawsuit. After a bench trial, the trial court concluded the insurer owed no duty to defend. It believed the exclusion in the additional insured endorsement for damage to "property in the care, custody or control of the additional insured" precluded any duty to defend the general contractor in construction defect litigation. The general contractor disputed the insurer's interpretation of the policy and contended there was a duty to defend. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed and reversed judgment: “the facts indicate only shared control between the general contractor and its roofing subcontractor. Because the insurer did not prove coverage for the underlying construction defect litigation was impossible, it owed the general contractor a duty to defend the homeowner claim.” View "McMillin Homes Construction v. Natl. Fire & Marine Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Insurer and Plaintiff's claims alleging that Insurer was contractually obligated to provide insurance coverage to Plaintiff, which was listed as an additional issued on the relevant insurance policy, holding that Insurer had no duty to defend Plaintiff. Plaintiff, the general contractor for a construction project, subcontracted with Insured for structural work on the project. Insured purchased a commercial general liability insurance policy from Insurer, which named Plaintiff as an additional insured. The policy provided for defense and indemnification costs to Insured for its work on the project. Insured's employee (Employee), who sustained injuries while working on the construction project site, filed a complaint against Plaintiff, alleging that Plaintiff's negligent acts were the proximate cause of his injuries. Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that Insurer was contractually obligated to indemnify and defend Plaintiff as an additional insured relative to the Employee action. The superior court justice granted summary judgment for Insurer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Employee's complaint was devoid of any allegations that brought the underlying case within the coverage of the policy, and therefore, Insurer had no duty to defend Plaintiff. View "Bacon Construction Co. v. Arbella Protection Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the request for extraordinary relief sought by Vanderra Resources, LLC asserting that the circuit court's denial of Vanderra's motion for summary judgment on Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC's claims against it was clearly erroneous and an abuse of the court's power, holding that because the denial of summary judgment was an interlocutory ruling, there was no error. Vanderra was a reclamation contractor hired by Chesapeake to implement a stabilization plan at one of Chesapeake's shale drill pads. While Verderra implemented the plan, earth movement and landslides occurred. Chesapeake filed suit against Vanderra to recover its costs incurred in repairing the collapsed drill pad. Vanderra filed a motion for summary judgment, which the circuit court denied on the grounds that genuine issues of material fact existed. Vanderra then brought this action for a writ of prohibition, or alternatively mandamus, arguing that the circuit court lacked any factual or evidentiary findings. The Supreme Court denied Vanderra's request, holding that the circuit court did not exceed its legitimate powers when it denied summary judgment. View "State ex rel. Vanderra Resources, LLC v. Honorable David W. Hummel" on Justia Law

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The federal United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified questions of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding the scope of the “acceptance doctrine” in negligent construction tort cases. At issue was whether and how the acceptance doctrine applied as a defense against a claim brought by a subsequent purchaser of allegedly negligently constructed buildings. Thomaston Crossing, LLC (the “original owner”) entered into a construction contract with appellee Piedmont Construction Group, Inc. to build an apartment complex in Macon. Piedmont then retained two subcontractors – appellees Alan Frank Roofing Company and Triad Mechanical Company, Inc. – to construct the roof and the HVAC system, respectively. In 2014, the complex was completed, turned over to, and accepted by the original owner. In 2016, the original owner sold the apartment complex to appellant Thomaston Acquisition, LLC (“Thomaston”) pursuant to an “as is” agreement. Shortly after the sale, Thomaston allegedly discovered evidence that the roof and HVAC system had been negligently constructed. Thomaston filed suit against Piedmont, asserting a claim for negligent construction of the roof and HVAC system and a claim for breach of contract/implied warranty. Piedmont then filed a third-party complaint against Alan Frank Roofing and Triad Mechanical because both companies had allegedly agreed to indemnify Piedmont for loses arising out of their work. Each of the appellees later moved for summary judgment based in part on the defense that Thomaston’s negligent construction claim is barred by the acceptance doctrine. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the acceptance doctrine applied to Thomaston’s claim, and that “readily observable upon reasonable inspection” referred to the original owner’s inspection. “Without any real claim of privity, Thomaston nevertheless contends that it should be treated like the original owner because it is the current owner-occupier of the property. But doing so would undermine the acceptance doctrine’s foundational purpose of shielding contractors from liability for injuries occurring after the owner has accepted the completed work, thereby assuming responsibility for future injuries. There is no ‘current owner-occupier’ or ‘subsequent purchaser’ exception to the acceptance doctrine, and the facts of this case do not compel us to recognize one here.” View "Thomaston Acquisition, LLC v. Piedmont Construction Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this breach of contract and breach of warranty case the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Shelly Besel's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Shelly from the litigation with prejudice, holding that Shelly was properly dismissed from the litigation. Appellants hired Leonard Besel to remodel their home. Prior to completing the project Leonard terminated the contract. Appellants brought this action naming Shelly as a defendant and alleging that Shelly was a partner of her husband's contracting business. Shelly moved to dismiss herself from the lawsuit, disavowing any partnership interest in her husband's business. The district court granted Shelly's motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no material issue of fact existed based on the evidence as to Shelly's status vis a vis the business, and therefore, the record supported the district court's ruling dismissing Shelly from the litigation. View "Norris v. Besel" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the postconviction court summarily denying Appellant's claims for ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel without holding an evidentiary hearing, holding that Appellant's claims were barred by the relevant statute of limitations. Appellant was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder under an aiding-and-abetting theory of liability. The district court imposed a sentence of life without the possibility of release. Appellant later filed his postconviction petition requesting an evidentiary hearing on his claims for ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel and mentioning a motion for testing conducted under Minn. Stat. 590.01, subd. 1a. The postconviction court concluded that Appellant's claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations, Minn. Stat. 590.01, subd. 4. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant's claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations; and (2) Appellant's reference to testing did not satisfy the requirements of subdivision 1a. View "Jackson v. State" on Justia Law