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Lawsuit over Construction Defects Not a Federal Case

August 16, 2012 — CDJ Staff

The United State District Court in California has dismissed the claims of a contractor against the United States government, on the grounds that it was not within the subject matter jurisdiction of the court. The origins of the case are in a related construction defect claim. The current plaintiff, Performance Contracting, Inc., did the lath and plaster work for a building for the Department of Veterans Affairs. After the building was completed, the Veterans Affairs complained to the general contractor, Wynema, Inc., of water intrusion problems.

Wyema and Performance conducted testing and the water intrusion was found to be due to “a variety of design defects and omissions, including: 1) omission of proper window flashing; 2) inadequate waterproof membrane around the windows; 3) inadequate T-molding around the windows; 4) lack of a window sill pan for the windows; 5) lack of any backing in the window framing; 6) lack of any backing for the stucco expansion joints and seams; and 7) failure to require that a performance mock-up of the window assembly and adjacent areas be built and water tested.” Wyema filed a construction defect action against Performance and other subcontractors.

In the current case, Performance claims that Veteran Affairs was negligent, that it “breached its duty to Plaintiff when it provided deficient plants and specifications” and “failed to properly oversee construction and inspect Project work.” The court determined that it could not hear this case, noting that “Federal Courts are presumptively without jurisdiction over civil actions.”

Performance raised its claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The judge was not persuaded by this claim, noting that the FTCA does not apply to purported breach of the General Contract. The FTCA waives the government’s sovereign immunity in cases of “injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.”

Performance was unable to pursue its claims in the Court of Federal Claims as there was no contract between Performance and the government. However, the court noted that Performance’s inability to file suit in the Court of Federal Claims does not open up a path to the District Court. “Litigants are not guaranteed a forum in which to sue the United States.” The court further noted that “if this Court were to accept Plaintiff’s logic, non-parties to contracts, but not parties, would be free to pursue contract claims in the fora of their choosing.”

Read the court’s decision…

Lawsuit over Construction Defects Not a Federal Case