Appeals Court Upholds Decision by Referee in Trial Court for Antagan v Shea Homes
May 10, 2012 — CDJ Staff
In the case Antangan v. Shea Homes Ltd. Partnership (Cal. App., 2012), Plaintiffs appealed “an order vacating a judgment and entering a modified judgment in their construction defect action against defendants Shea Homes, Inc. and Shea Homes Limited Partnership,” while the Defendant, Shea Homes Limited Partnership (Shea Homes) appealed “an order of the judicial referee denying its motion to strike and tax costs.”
On the Antagon issue, the appeals court concluded that “the trial court did not err by vacating and modifying its judgment so that the cost of referee’s fees would be equally divided by the parties and consistent with a prior stipulation they filed in court.”
On the Shea Homes issue, the appeals court concluded: “1) the judicial referee did not err by ruling that plaintiffs’ offers to compromise (§ 998) were validly served on Shea Homes’ counsel, 2) the offers substantially complied with statutory requirements, 3) the offers were not required to be apportioned, and 4) the referee’s award of $5,000 as costs for a person assisting plaintiffs’ counsel was not an abuse of discretion.” The appeals court affirmed the judgment.
Here is a brief history of the trial case: “Plaintiffs Chito Antangan, Jimmy Alcova and other homeowners brought an action against defendants Shea Homes, Inc. and Shea Homes Limited Partnership for damages alleging that the properties they purchased from these ‘developer defendants’ were defective. Plaintiffs claimed numerous construction defects required them ‘to incur expenses’ for ‘restoration and repairs’ and the value of their homes had been diminished.”
In response, Shea Homes filed a motion for an order to appoint a judicial referee. The motion was granted and it was ruled that “a referee would ‘try all issues’ and ‘report a statement of decision to this court.’”
On May 10, 2010 the judicial referee (Thompson) “awarded plaintiffs damages and various costs, and ruled that ‘Shea Homes shall bear all of the Referee’s fees.’” The latter ruling would become a matter for contention later on.
In July of 2010, the plaintiffs “sought, among other things, $54,409.90 for expert fees, and $14,812.50 for the services of Melissa Fox for ‘exhibit preparation & trial presentation.’ Shea Homes filed a motion to strike and/or tax costs claiming: 1) Fox was a paralegal, 2) plaintiffs were not entitled to attorney’s fees, and 3) the fees for Fox’s services were an indirect and improper method to obtain attorney’s fees. The referee disagreed and awarded $5,000 for Fox’s services. The referee also ruled that plaintiffs had properly served valid offers to compromise (§ 998) on Shea Homes’ counsel in 2009. He said those offers to defendants in the case at that time did not have to be apportioned.”
“Antangan contends the trial court erred when it vacated and modified its original judgment, which ordered Shea Homes to pay all the referee’s fees. We disagree.”
Antagon contended that the trial court erred when it vacated and modified its original judgment regarding Shea Homes paying the referee’s fees. The appeals court disagreed: “A trial court has inherent authority to vacate or correct a judgment that is void on its face, incorrect, or entered by mistake. (§ 473; Rochin v. Pat Johnson Manufacturing Co. (1998),67 Cal.App.4th 1228; Olivera
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Homeowners May Not Need to Pay Lien on Defective Log Cabin
July 1, 2011 — CDJ Staff
The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Perception Construction Management v. Bell. The Bells hired PCM to build a log home, agreeing to play monthly invoices in full within ten days. The Bells paid the first four invoices in full, part of the fifth, and ceased payment after that. Beofre seventh invoice, the Bells terminated the contract and hired a new contractor. PCM filed a claim of lien and ceased work.
The Bells responded that PCM was in breach of contract and had failed to fulfill the contract in a workmanlike manner. They claimed construction defects and in the lien suit, sought to include testimony from an architect and a plumber reviewing PCM’s work. The court only allowed the architect to testify as to whether the amount of the lien was reasonable. No testimony was permitted from the plumber.
The Idaho Supreme Court concluded that the claims of construction defects were important to case and remanded it to the lower court for a new trial taking into evidence that Bell’s contention that PCM’s work was defective.
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Toxic Drywall Not Covered Under Homeowner’s Policy
March 28, 2012 — CDJ Staff
The Duphuys of Baton Rouge Louisiana found themselves needing to argue both sides of an issue, according to the judge in Duphuy v. USAA Casualty Insurance Company. The Duphuys alleged that the drywall in their home “emits odorous gases that cause damage to air-condition and refrigerator coils, copper tubing, electrical wiring, computer wiring, and other household items.” Additionally, they reported damage to “their home’s insulation, trimwork, floors, cabinets, carpets, and other items” which they maintained were “covered under the ‘ensuing loss’ portion of their policy.”
Their insurer declined coverage, stating that the damages were not a “direct, physical loss,” and even if they were “four different exclusions independently exclude coverage, even if such loss occurred.” The policy excludes defective building materials, latent defects, pollutants, and corrosion damage. The court noted that “ambiguities in policy exclusions are construed to afford coverage to the insured.”
The court did determine that the Duphuys were not in “a situation where the plaintiffs caused the risk for which they now seek coverage.” The judge cited an earlier case, In re Chinese Drywall, “a case with substantially similar facts and construing the same policy” and in that case, “property damage” was determined to “include the loss of use of tangible property.” The court’s conclusion was that the Duphuys “suffered a direct, physical loss triggering coverage under their policy.”
Unfortunately for the Duphuys, at this point the judge noted that while they had a “direct, physical loss,” the exclusions put them “in the tough predicament of claiming the drywall is neither defective nor its off-gassing corrosive or a pollutant, but nonetheless damage-causing.”
In the earlier Chinese Drywall case, the judge found that “faulty and defective materials” “constitutes a physical thing tainted by imperfection or impairment.” The case “found the drywall served its intended purpose as a room divider and insulator but nonetheless qualified under the exclusion, analogizing the drywall to building components containing asbestos that courts have previously determined fit under the same exclusion.” In the current case, the judge concluded that the drywall was “outside the realm of coverage under the policy.”
The court also found that it had to apply the corrosion exclusion, noting that the plaintiffs tried to evade this by stating, “simplistically and somewhat disingenuously, that the damage is not caused by corrosion but by the drywall itself.” The plaintiffs are, however, parties to another Chinese drywall case, Payton v. Knauf Gips KG, in which “they directly alleged that ‘sulfides and other noxious gases, such as those emitted from [Chinese] drywall, cause corrosion and damage to personal property.’” As the court pointed out, the Duphuys could not claim in one case that the corrosion was caused by gases emitted by the drywall and in another claim it was the drywall itself. “They hope their more ambiguous allegations will be resolved in their favor and unlock the doors to discovery.”
The court quickly noted that “the remaining damage allegations are too vague and conclusory to construe” and permitted “exploration of the latent defect and pollution exclusions.”
The judge concluded that the plaintiffs did not provide sufficient facts to establish coverage under the ensuing loss provision, stating that the “plaintiffs must allege, at the very least, how the drywall causes damage to the trimwork, carpet, etc., not simply that it does so.” Given the court’s determinations in the case, the plaintiffs’ motion was dismissed.
Read the court’s decision…
Construction Defects Not Occurrences under Ohio Law
November 7, 2012 — CDJ Staff
Concluding the “claims of defective construction or workmanship brought by a property owners are not claims for ‘property damage’ caused by an ‘occurrence’ under a commercial general liability policy,” the Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled in Westfield Insurance Co. v. Custom Agri Systems, Inc. In the underlying case, Custom Agri Systems, Inc. built a grain bin as a subcontractor to Younglove Construction, LLC. Younglove had been contracted by PSD Development, which withheld payment, claiming it had suffered damages due to defects in Custom Agri System’s work. Younglove filed a complaint against Custom Agri, which filed complaints against its subcontractors. Custom Agri also requested that its insurer, Westfield Insurance Company, defend and indemnify it. Westfield claimed that it had no such duty. The Ohio Supreme Court concurred.
The decision notes that “Custom was being sued under two general theories: defective construction and consequential damages resulting from the defective construction.” Westfield argued that none of the claims were “for ‘property damage’ caused by an ‘occurrence” and therefore none of the claims were covered under the CGL policy.” Further, Westfield argued that “even if the claims were for property damage caused by an occurrence, they were removed from coverage by an exclusion in the policy.”
The case was filed in the US District Court which issued a summary judgment for Westfield. The plaintiff appealed and Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the questions to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The court noted that “all of the claims against which Westfield is being asked to defect and indemnify Custom relate to Custom’s work itself.” And so, the court concluded that they “must decide whether Custom’s alleged defective construction of and workmanship on the steel grain bin constitute property damage caused by an ‘occurrence.’” However, the court noted that under the terms of the insurance contract, an occurrence is defined as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions,” and the court noted that the “natural and commonly accepted meaning” of “accident” is something “unexpected, as well as unintended.”
The Ohio Supreme Court also looked at court decisions in other places, and found that in many similar cases, courts have concluded that construction defects are not occurrences.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Pfeifer argues that “if the defective construction is accidental, it constitutes an ‘occurrence’ under a CGL policy.” Justice Pfeifer characterized the majority’s definition of “accidental” as “broad, covering unexpected, unintentional happenings.”
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Supreme Court of Oregon Affirms Decision in Abraham v. T. Henry Construction, et al.
April 20, 2011 — April 20, 2011 Beverley BevenFlorez - Construction Defect Journal
After reviewing the decision in Abraham v. T. Henry Construction, et al., the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed that a tort claim for property damage arising from construction defects may exist even when the homeowner and the builder are in a contractual relationship.
When the case was initially filed, the plaintiffs alleged breach of contract and negligence. The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that one, the claim was barred by the six-year statute of limitations and two, no special relationship (such as one between a doctor and patient) existed. The court agreed with the defendants. However, the Court of Appeals while affirming the trial court’s decision on breach of contract reversed the decision on negligence. The Court of Appeals stated that an administrative or statute rule could establish a standard of care independent from the contract.
The Oregon Supreme Court gave an example of cases where a tort claim could exist when a contract is present: “If an individual and a contractor enter into a contract to build a house, which provides that the contractor will install only copper pipe, but the contractor installs PVC pipe instead (assuming both kinds of pipe comply with the building code and the use of either would be consistent with the standard of care expected of contractors), that failure would be a breach of contract only. […] If the failure to install the copper pipe caused a reduction in the value of the house, the plaintiff would be able to recover that amount in an action for breach of contract. […] On the other hand, if the contractor installed the PVC pipe in a defective manner and those pipes therefore leaked, causing property damage to the house, the homeowner would have claims in both contract and tort. […] In those circumstances, the obligation to install copper instead of PVC pipe is purely contractual; the manner of installing the pipe, however, implicates both contract and tort because of the foreseeable risk of property damage that can result from improperly installed pipes.”
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Demand for Urban Living Leads to Austin Building Boom
August 16, 2012 — CDJ Staff
The New York Times reports that Austin is undergoing a building boom as a high-tech firms, including Facebook and Google, have moved into the downtown area. With them, comes a need for more apartment buildings and more retail space. Mike Kennedy, the president and chief executive of an Austin real estate firm, told the Times “the office space was here, the housing came, and retail is arriving last to the scene.” Currently, two large projects that will add about 500 apartment units is underway, including a 222-unit, 18-story building, and another that will contain 277 units. Apartment occupancy in Austin is at ninety-seven percent.
Developers also have hotels and more office space planned. The area has about 6,000 hotel rooms with an additional 2,000 planned, but events in Austin can bring in more people than the city’s 30,000 hotel rooms can accommodate. Office space is eighty-eight percent occupied, and a lack of office space could cause firms to look elsewhere.
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Changes to Arkansas Construction and Home Repair Laws
September 30, 2011 — CDJ Staff
A new law, set to take effect in 2012, lowers the ceiling on when work must be done by a licensed contractor. Through the end of the year, projects costing $20,000 or more had to be done by an Arkansas licensed contractor. As of January 1, 2012, that new limit will be $2,000.
This will apply to all single-family residences and according to Lovely County Citizen, covers “construction, alteration, renovation, repair, modification, improvement, removal, demotion, or addition to a pre-existing structure.” Residential building contractors will be required to have workers compensation insurance, as will home improvement contactors if they take jobs worth more than $20,000.
Morris Dillow, a building inspector in Holiday Island, said, “It will get these scammers out of here who are ripping people off.” He cited the example of a contractor who after getting paid for roof repairs and painting, left the job unfinished.
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No Coverage Under Ensuing Loss Provision
September 9, 2011 — Tred Eyerley, Construction Law Hawaii
The cost of removing and replacing cracked flanges to prevent future leakage was not covered as an ensuing loss under a builder’s risk policy in RK Mechanical, Inc. v. Travelers Prop. Casualty Co. of Am., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83958 (D. Colo. Aug. 1, 2011).
The insured, RK Mechanical Inc., was a subcontractor hired to install plumbing for a residential construction project. RK was an additional insured on the general contractor’s policy with Travelers. RK installed approximately 170 CPVC flanges on the project. Subsequently, two of the flanges cracked, allowing water to overflow and causing water damage to the project. Travelers was notified of the flange failure and resulting water damage.
RK subsequently removed and replaced the two cracked flanges and began water remediation. Travelers paid for the cost of the water damage due to the cracked flanges.
RK then examined all of the flanges installed in the project and discovered many were cracked and/or showed signs of potential failure. RK removed and replaced the cracked flanges. RK tendered a claim and demand for indemnity to Travelers for these repair costs. Travelers denied the claim. RK then sued for breach of contract and declaratory relief. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment.
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Reprinted courtesy of Tred R. Eyerly, Insurance Law Hawaii. Mr. Eyerly can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org