Ninth Circuit Holds That Despite ‘Known Damage’ Exclusion Insurer Had Duty Under Oregon Law to Indemnify and Defend Contractor When Property Damage Resulted From Contractor’s Negligent Repair of a Prior Negligent Act

Alkemade v. Quanta Indem. Co., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 6896 (9th Cir. Apr. 20, 2017)

 In 1994, Adrianus and Rachelle Alkemade (the “Alkemades”) bought a house from Meltebeke Built Paradise Homes (“Meltebeke”). The home was built on expanding soils, causing significant structural damage.  Meltebeke repaired the existing damage and hired an engineering firm to install a helical pier foundation, which would have prevented any further damage to the home.  However, the helical pier foundation was also installed negligently, afflicting the home with the same type of structural damage as before.

Alkemades sued Meltebeke for negligent supervision of the helical piers installation. Meltebeke entered a settlement agreement with Alkemades in which Meltebeke assigned to Alkemades the right to sue its insurers, Quanta and GFIC, who refused to defend Meltebeke on grounds that its knowledge of the damage caused by the original, defective construction prevented coverage under a known damages provision in Meltebeke’s policies (the “Policies”).  Alkemades subsequently sued the issuers for breach of contract in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon for their failure to defend and indemnify Meltebeke.  The insurers moved for summary judgment.

The Policies excluded coverage for damage known by the insured, in whole or in part, that occurred before the policy period began. If such damage was known to the insured, then any “any continuation, change or resumption” of that damage was also deemed known, and excluded.   Continue reading

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Owners Beware: Washington Appellate Court Holds Playing ‘Gotcha’ With Project Submittal Review Could Breach the Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

Nova Contr., Inc. v. City of Olympia, No. 48644-0-II, 2017 Wash. App. LEXIS 913 (Ct. App. Apr. 18, 2017)

This case arose out of a public project in which the City of Olympia (“City”) hired Nova Contracting, Inc. (“Nova”) to replace a culvert. A prior City project on which Nova completed work ended with Nova receiving extra compensation due to the City’s design errors and, as a result, a grudge held by some City staff against Nova.  The present contract required Nova to send submittals describing its plans for bypass pumping and excavation to the City’s engineer for approval before it could begin work.  The City’s decision regarding submittals was final and Nova bore the risk and cost of delay due to any non-approval.

The City issued its Notice to Proceed on August 11, 2014, but Nova could not begin construction due to the City’s rejection of its submittals. Nearly one month later, the City declared Nova to be in default because it failed to provide satisfactory submittals and failed to mobilize to the site.  Coincidentally, that same day, Nova had mobilized to the site; the City, however, later ordered Nova to cease work because it had commenced operations before obtaining the requisite approval.  Nova protested the City’s declaration of default, but the City terminated the contract on September 24.

Nova filed suit against the City for breach of contract, claiming that its handling of the submittals imposed requirements that were not part of the project’s specifications, thereby delaying Nova’s performance to a point where the project could not be timely completed. In support thereof, Nova’s witnesses declared that the City had appeared to be reviewing the submittals with the goal of rejecting them as a sort of “gotcha” review employed to prevent Nova’s performance.  The City moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted its motion.  Nova appealed, arguing that there existed genuine issues of fact as to why the project was not completed and that the City had breached its duty of good faith by preventing Nova from attaining its justified contractual expectations.  The City argued that the duty of good faith did not apply because it had unconditional authority to accept or reject Nova’s submittals. Continue reading

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Supreme Court of Wisconsin Holds That Private Subcontractor Is Immune to Property Damage Claims by Adjoining Landowners Because it Followed Specifications Provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Melchert v. Pro Elec. Contrs., 2017 Wis. Lexis 169 (April 7, 2017)

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (“DOT”) contracted with Payne & Dolan (“P&D”) as General Contractor on a road improvement project. P&D in turn contracted with Pro Electric Contractors (“Pro Electric”) to install concrete bases for new traffic signal poles.  DOT provided Pro Electric with detailed plans and specifications for the project (“Project Plan”) that specified the location of the concrete bases and the excavation equipment to be used.  Pro Electric was required to comply with the Project Plan and could only make deviations if approved by DOT’s engineer.

While excavating one of the specified locations, Pro Electric unknowingly severed a sewer line, causing sewage backup and flooding on adjoining private property. Pro Electric then backfilled the excavation site without inspecting the sewer line for damage.  The private property owners (“Owners”) brought a negligence action against Pro Electric.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Pro Electric, ruling that it was immune from liability because it was merely implementing DOT’s design decisions.  The court of appeals affirmed, and Owners appealed to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. Continue reading

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Illinois Appellate Court Attempts to Draw the Line Between Contract and Quasi-Contract; Holds That Quantum Meruit Is Only Available Where Disputed Work is Outside the “General Subject Matter” of the Contract

Archon Construction Co. v. U.S. Shelter, LLC, 2017 Ill. App. LEXIS 197 (March 31, 2017)

U.S. Shelter, LLC, a developer, undertook to develop a new residential subdivision in Elgin, Illinois. As part of that project, U.S. Shelter retained Archon Construction Company, Inc. (“Archon”) to install the sanitary sewer system for $890,955.29.

Archon’s contract provided that after the system was completed, Archon would videotape the interior of the piping, to allow the City of Elgin (“City”) to inspect and determine the acceptability of the system as installed.

Archon completed its work in August of 2005. In early 2007, the City requested that Archon perform the required videotaping.  Archon complied.

After viewing the videotapes, the City announced that the system, as installed, was not acceptable and that certain repairs were necessary. In particular, the City specified that one of the lines running through the system needed to be replaced because of cracking, the existence of gravel in the lines, and other issues.  While the entire sewer system had been constructed with PVC pipe, the City directed that this line be replaced with ductile iron pipe. Continue reading

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Construction Liens Filed by Suppliers in New Jersey After Contractor’s Filing of Bankruptcy Petition Are Barred by the Automatic Stay Provision of the Bankruptcy Code

In re: Linear Electric Co., Inc., No. 16-1477, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 5527 (3d Cir., March 30, 2017)

This case concerns whether suppliers, Cooper Electrical Supply Co. and Samson Electrical Supply Co. (“Suppliers”), could file construction liens under New Jersey law, despite the fact that Linear Electric Inc. (“Contractor”), filed a petition for bankruptcy, which automatically stays any act to create or perfect any lien against the contractor’s property. Two weeks after Contractor filed for bankruptcy, the Suppliers filed construction liens against projects in New Jersey where the materials were incorporated.  Following a motion by the Contractor, the Bankruptcy Court held that the liens were in violation of the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code. The District Court affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s holding that, under New Jersey law, the liens were claims against the Contractor’s accounts receivables, which receivables are part of the bankruptcy estate and protected by the automatic stay.  On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the ruling of the District Court. Continue reading

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