Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Construction Law
City of Elk River vs. Bolton & Menk, Inc.
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
BrunoBuilt, Inc. v. Erstad Architects, PA
The issue this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review centered on a residence in the Boise foothills that was damaged by a landslide, which ultimately prevented the builder from obtaining a certificate of occupancy. BrunoBuilt, Inc., the general contractor of the project, sued multiple parties, including Erstad Architects, PA, the architectural firm for the project, Andrew Erstad, the principal architect, and Cheryl Pearse, the project manager from Erstad Architects, PA (collectively, Defendants), for professional negligence in connection with work completed for construction of the residence. Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment on the basis that the two-year statute of limitations in Idaho Code section 5-219(4) barred BrunoBuilt’s claim. Two years after the district court issued its memorandum decision and order granting summary judgment, BrunoBuilt moved the district court for reconsideration, citing new evidence and arguments. The district court denied the motion for reconsideration, concluding it was “untimely, lacking in diligence, and improper.” BrunoBuilt then appealed, challenging the decision of the district court on summary judgment and additionally asserting that the court erred in an earlier order deconsolidating the cases with other defendants. Prior to oral argument, Defendants moved the Supreme Court to sanction counsel for BrunoBuilt pursuant to Idaho Appellate Rule 11.2 for non-disclosure of material procedural facts in its opening brief. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment against BrunoBuilt, and agreed that the conduct of BrunoBuilt’s attorney on appeal ran afoul of Rule 11.2, and imposed sanctions. View "BrunoBuilt, Inc. v. Erstad Architects, PA" on Justia Law
Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Briggs Engineering, Inc.
BrunoBuilt, Inc., was constructing a custom home on a vacant lot in 2016 when a landslide occurred beneath the Terra Nativa subdivision in the Boise foothills. Following damage to the lot, BrunoBuilt filed a professional negligence suit against numerous engineers and engineering firms involved in the construction of the subdivision, arguing that they failed to identify preexisting landslide conditions and other geological circumstances that made residential development unsafe at this site. In the fall of 2018, BrunoBuilt discovered additional damage to the finished custom home itself. It then brought suit against additional defendants, including Briggs Engineering, Inc., and Erstad Architects. Briggs Engineering moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The court concluded that BrunoBuilt’s action was time barred by the two-year statute of limitations under Idaho Code section 5-219(4). BrunoBuilt appealed this decision, arguing that the malpractice claim did not begin to accrue until there was damage to the custom home, rather than just the land. To this the Idaho Supreme Court disagreed with BrunoBuilt’s analysis and affirmed the district court that BrunoBuilt’s claim was time barred. View "Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Briggs Engineering, Inc." on Justia Law
Cal-Am Properties, Inc. v. Edais Engineering, Inc.
Cal-Am, a developer and operator of RV and mobile-home parks leased the Yuma Sundance RV Resort from its owner, intending to construct a new banquet and concert hall on the property. The property owner provided the funding for the construction. Cal-Am managed the project. Cal-Am hired a contractor, Nickle, to design and construct the hall, who then hired Edais Engineering to survey the property and place construction stakes to mark the Hall’s permitted location. No contract existed between Edais and Cal-Am. Edais acknowledges that its placement of the stakes was defective. Cal-Am was forced to adjust its site plan, eliminating eight RV parking spaces. Cal-Am sued Edais for claims including negligence. The trial court granted Edais summary judgment on the negligence claim finding that Cal-Am could not recover its purely economic damages. The court of appeals affirmed.The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, repudiating its 1984 Donnelly Construction holding that a design professional’s duty to use ordinary skill, care, and diligence in rendering professional services extends both to persons in privity with the professional and to persons foreseeably affected by a breach of that duty. Under Arizona’s current framework, which repudiated foreseeability as a basis for duty, design professionals lacking privity of contract with project owners do not owe a duty to those owners to reimburse purely economic damages. View "Cal-Am Properties, Inc. v. Edais Engineering, Inc." on Justia Law
Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Strata, Inc.
BrunoBuilt, Inc. appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claims against Strata, Inc., Chris Comstock, H. Robert Howard, and Michael Woodworth (collectively, “the Strata Defendants”). BrunoBuilt filed a professional negligence action against the Strata Defendants alleging that when the Strata Defendants rendered engineering services for the Terra Nativa Subdivision they failed to identify a pre-existing landslide and negligently failed to recommend construction of infrastructure that would stabilize and prevent further landslides within the Subdivision. A home BrunoBuilt had contracted to build and the lot on which the dwelling was located were allegedly damaged as a result. The district court dismissed BrunoBuilt’s claims after holding that the parties had entered into an enforceable settlement agreement, or alternatively, that summary judgment was warranted in favor of the Strata Defendants based on the economic loss rule. After review of the situation, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court judgment because the parties entered into an enforceable settlement agreement. View "Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Strata, Inc." on Justia Law
Smith v. Gebhardt
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court dismissing Petitioners’ civil action as a sanction for alleged discovery violations, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion by imposing the sanction of dismissal.Petitioners bought this civil action against Respondent alleging unfair and deceptive acts, breach of express and implied warranties, breach of contract, and other causes of action. Respondent eventually filed a second motion to dismiss the civil action as a sanction for alleged discovery violations. The circuit court identified ten instances of alleged wrongful conduct by Petitioners and granted Respondent’s motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, even assuming that there was a discovery violation, the circuit court’s imposition of the extreme sanction of dismissal was an abuse of discretion. View "Smith v. Gebhardt" on Justia Law
Superior Steel, Inc. v. Ascent at Roebling’s Bridge, LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court in this action arising from a construction dispute.Two subcontractors - the steel fabricator and the steel erector and installer - on a condominium project brought suit against the project owner, developer, and general contractor after the subcontractors proceeded with extra work outside the scope of the original bid documents but were never paid for either that work or the retainage amount owed under the steel fabricator’s contract with the general contractor. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff for the cost of the extra work and unpaid retainage. The general contractor prevailed on its indemnification cross-claim against the other two defendants and on the negligence cross-claim asserted against it by the other two defendants. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court held that the court of appeals (1) erred by reversing the trial court’s judgment against the owner for unjust enrichment; (2) properly reversed the trial court’s judgment against the general contractor for breach of contract; and (3) properly found that the trial court should have instructed the jury on the owner and developer’s breach of contract claim but erred in finding the negligence instruction deficient. View "Superior Steel, Inc. v. Ascent at Roebling’s Bridge, LLC" on Justia Law
Lomas v. Kravitz
In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a trial court erred by denying a motion to recuse the entire bench of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Appellant James Kravitz was the sole officer, director, and shareholder of several companies known as the Andorra Group, which included Appellants Cherrydale Construction Company, Andorra Springs Development, Inc., and Kravmar, Inc., which was formally known as Eastern Development Enterprises, Incorporated (“Eastern”). Kravitz also owned a piece of property known as the Reserve at Lafayette Hill (“Reserve”). Andorra Springs was formed to develop residential housing on sections of the Reserve. In 1993, Andorra Springs hired Cherrydale as the general contractor to build the homes on the Reserve. Eastern operated as the management and payroll company for the Andorra Group. Appellee Roy Lomas, Sr., d/b/a Roy Lomas Carpet Contractor was the proprietor of a floor covering company. Cherrydale and Lomas entered into a contract which required Lomas to supply and install floor covering in the homes being built by Cherrydale. Soon thereafter, Cherrydale breached that contract by failing to pay. Lomas demanded that Cherrydale submit Lomas’ claim to binding arbitration as mandated by the parties’ contract. The parties arbitrated the matter, and a panel of arbitrators entered an interim partial award in favor of Lomas, finding that Cherrydale breached the parties’ contract. Following Kravitz’s unsuccessful attempt to have the interim award vacated, the arbitrators issued a final award to Lomas. Judgment was entered against Cherrydale in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Important to this appeal, then-Attorney, now-Judge Thomas Branca represented Lomas throughout the arbitration proceedings. Since the entry of judgment, Kravitz actively prevented Lomas from collecting his arbitration award by, inter alia, transferring all of the assets out of Cherrydale to himself and other entities under his control. In March 2000, Lomas commenced the instant action against Appellants. Then-Attorney Branca filed the complaint seeking to pierce the corporate veil and to hold Kravitz personally liable for the debt Cherrydale owed to Lomas. Approximately one year later, then-Attorney Branca was elected to serve as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. Prior to taking the bench, then Judge-Elect Branca withdrew his appearance in the matter and referred the case to another law firm. After several years of litigation, the parties agreed to a bifurcated bench trial. Although Appellants acknowledged that they were unaware of any bias or prejudice against them on the part of Judge Rogers or any other judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Appellants maintained that Judge Branca’s continued involvement and financial interest in the case created an “appearance of impropriety” prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct. Specifically at issue before the Supreme Court was whether the moving parties waived their recusal claim and, if not, whether the claim had merit. The Court held that the recusal issue was untimely presented to the trial court and, thus, waived. View "Lomas v. Kravitz" on Justia Law
Twist Architecture v. Board of Architect Examiners
Out-of-state architects engaged in the illegal practice of architecture by holding themselves out as being licensed in Oregon. The Oregon Board of Architect Examiners (board) petitioned for certiorari review of the Court of Appeals decision to reverse in part the board’s determination that respondents (the Washington firm Twist Architecture & Design, Inc., and its principals, Callison and Hansen), engaged in the unlawful practice of architecture and unlawfully represented themselves as architects. The board argued respondents, who were not licensed to practice architecture in Oregon, engaged in the “practice of architecture” when they prepared master plans depicting the size, shape, and placement of buildings on specific properties in conformance with applicable laws and regulations for a client that was contemplating the construction of commercial projects. The board further argued that respondents’ use of the term “architecture” in the logo on those master plans and the phrase “Licensed in the State of Oregon (pending)” on their website violated the law prohibiting unlicensed individuals from representing themselves as architects or indicating that they were practicing architecture. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with the board, reversed the Court of Appeals, and affirmed the board's order. View "Twist Architecture v. Board of Architect Examiners" on Justia Law
Ryan Contracting Co. v. O’Neill & Murphy, LLP
Meagher & Geer, PLLP (MG) represented Ryan Contracting Company (Ryan) in an action to foreclose on several mechanic’s liens. Later, represented by O’Neill & Murphy, LLP (O’Neill), Ryan brought suit against MG for legal malpractice arising out of MG’s allegedly defective filing and foreclosure of Ryan’s mechanic’s liens. The district court granted MG’s motion to dismiss on the ground that O’Neill failed to timely file expert witness affidavits. Ryan then brought suit against O’Neill for legal malpractice arising out of O’Neill’s representation of Ryan in the MG lawsuit. The district court granted summary judgment for O’Neill, concluding that the mechanic’s liens were not perfected, not because of MG’s conduct, but because of Ryan’s error in not filing the pre-lien notice to the property owner required by Minn. Stat. 514.011. The court of appeals reversed in part, concluding that Ryan was exempt from the pre-lien notice requirement under section 514.011, and there were genuine issues of fact regarding the other issues. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding that the court of appeals did not err in concluding that Ryan was not required to give pre-lien notice to enforce its mechanic’s liens. View "Ryan Contracting Co. v. O’Neill & Murphy, LLP" on Justia Law