Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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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

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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

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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

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In this case heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, an accident occurred at a construction site which resulted in bodily injuries to Gaylon Cruse and Mark Duckworth. During the installation of roof trusses, a power crane operated by Douglas Forrest was prematurely released, causing a truss to fall and collapse onto other trusses, injuring Cruse and Duckworth. Southern Truss, the owner of the truck to which the crane was attached, had two insurance policies - a commercial auto policy from Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company (Artisan) and a commercial general liability policy from The Burlington Insurance Company (Burlington). Both insurance companies denied a duty to defend in the underlying lawsuit initiated by Cruse and Duckworth.Artisan filed a suit in federal court seeking a declaration that it owed no duty to defend under its auto policy due to an operations exclusion clause and that Burlington owed a duty to defend. The district court denied both companies' motions for judgment, finding an ambiguity in Artisan's policy that should be construed in favor of the insured and that Burlington had a duty to defend some claims not covered by Artisan's policy. Both Artisan and Burlington appealed.The appeals court, applying Illinois law and conducting a de novo review, found no ambiguity in Artisan's policy. The court concluded that the operations exclusion applied because the injuries arose from the operation of the crane attached to the truck, whose primary purpose was to provide mobility to the crane. As such, Artisan had no duty to defend. Since Artisan had no duty to defend, the court determined that Burlington did have a duty to defend under its policy. Thus, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court. View "Artisan and Truckers Casualty Company v. Burlington Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware upheld a lower court's decision regarding a dispute between the Salt Meadows Homeowners Association (Salt Meadows) and Zonko Builders, Inc. (Zonko). Salt Meadows accused Zonko of faulty construction leading to water damage in the condominium complex built by Zonko. The Superior Court found Zonko liable but left the question of damages to a jury, which awarded Salt Meadows $11.3 million in general damages and $1.6 million for specific repair costs. However, the Superior Court later reduced the general damage award to $8.3 million, citing unsupported, speculative, and excessive damage claims. The court also granted Zonko's motion for judgment as a matter of law related to the specific repair costs, finding that Salt Meadows expanded its claims without sufficient evidence. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's decision, agreeing that Salt Meadows' damage claims were speculative and unsupported. The court also agreed with the lower court's calculation of pre-judgment interest from the date the damages were discovered, not from the date of Zonko's negligent construction. The court further affirmed the calculation of post-judgment interest from the date of the verdict, as agreed upon by both parties. View "Salt Meadows Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Zonko Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho was required to interpret aspects of Idaho’s mechanic’s lien statutes. Datum Construction, LLC, was the general contractor for a commercial construction project, and subcontracted part of the work to Elmore Welding and Steel, who rented equipment from RE Investment Co., LLC, dba Pro Rentals & Sales. Elmore Welding and Steel failed to pay Pro Rentals for the equipment rental, resulting in Pro Rentals filing a mechanic's lien. Datum then purchased a bond and petitioned the district court to release the lien. Pro Rentals did not oppose this petition and the district court released the lien. Datum argued that Pro Rentals had failed to begin proceedings to enforce its claim of lien within six months. The district court granted Datum’s motion to release the bond. Pro Rentals appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho ruled in favor of Pro Rentals, determining that the district court had erred in applying a six-month statute of limitations from the mechanic’s lien statutes to a bond action. The court held that the bond replaced the lien, and the six-month period to enforce a lien was not applicable once the lien was released. The court determined that the appropriate statute of limitations for an action against the bond was two years under Idaho Code section 5-219. Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s decision to release the bond. View "Datum Construction, LLC v. Re Investment Co." on Justia Law

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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

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The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska was asked to determine whether the question of a deceased worker's status as an employee or independent contractor under the Alaska Worker's Compensation Act should be determined by a jury or a judge. The lawsuit was initiated by the estate of Nicholson Tinker, a worker who was killed in a construction accident while working for Mark Welty, doing business as North Country Services. Welty had no workers' compensation coverage at the time of the accident. Tinker's estate argued that he was an employee and that under the Act, Welty was presumed negligent because he had no compensation coverage. Welty argued that Tinker was an independent contractor, hence the Act did not apply.The superior court decided that the question of employee status was an issue for the jury to decide. The estate appealed this decision, arguing that the Supreme Court's earlier decision in Benson v. City of Nenana determined that a judge, not a jury, should decide the issue of a worker's status under the Act.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska agreed with the estate, holding that the superior court must determine whether Tinker was an employee or independent contractor under the Act as a preliminary issue before trial. The Court reasoned that the applicability of the Act is a legal determination with factual underpinnings that the court should decide as a preliminary matter. The Court also noted that determining the employee status promptly is significant due to its potential impact on basic issues such as the type of action a party can bring or the burden of proof for negligence. Therefore, the Court reversed the superior court’s order that the jury decides the issue of employee status and remanded for further proceedings. View "Leona Seal, Personal Representative of the Estate of Nicholson J. Tinker v. Mark C. Welty D/B/A North Country Services" on Justia Law

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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