Submission of Pre-Suit Claim Notice Required by Construction Defect Statute Timely ‘Commences the Action’ Within the Meaning of the Florida Statute of Repose

Gindel v. Centex Homes, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 13019 (Fla. 4th DCA Sept. 12, 2018)

 A group of townhome owners (the “Homeowners”) sued the contractor and a subcontractor (collectively, “Contractor”) who built their townhomes, alleging that Contractor performed defective work.  Contractor had completed construction and conveyed the townhomes to the Homeowners on March 31, 2004.  The Homeowners did not discover the alleged defect until years later.  On February 6, 2014, nearly ten years after Contractor completed the work, the Homeowners notified Contractor of the claimed construction defect.  The Homeowners provided that notice in accordance with Florida’s construction defect statute (Fla. Stat. §§ 558.003; 558.004) that requires pre-suit notice of construction defect claims.  The Homeowners completed the statutory pre-suit procedure and filed their lawsuit on May 2, 2014, more than ten years after taking possession of the townhomes.

Contractor argued that Florida’s ten-year statute of repose barred the lawsuit.  While acknowledging that they filed their lawsuit beyond the ten-year period, the Homeowners stressed that the claims were timely because the action truly had commenced within the ten year period when they submitted the pre-suit notice of claim.  The trial court agreed with Contractor and entered summary judgment in its favor.  The Homeowners appealed. Continue reading

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Deciding Arbitrability and Arbitration Agreements: Eleventh Circuit Refines Its Interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act and United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards

Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC v. Converteam SAS, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 24671 (11th Cir. Aug. 30, 2018)

On August 30, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision to compel arbitration between an Alabama steel plant owner and a French division of General Electric Co.  The case is noteworthy because the Court settled two questions of law within the Eleventh Circuit about the interpretation of the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention”) and the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). The first question concerned the interpretation the FAA’s grant of removal jurisdiction to the federal courts.  The second concerned whether an entity could compel arbitration under the Convention despite the lack of a signed arbitration agreement.

Outokumpu Stainless, LLC (“OS”) operates a steel plant in Calver, Alabama that contains three cold rolling mills.  In 2007, OS entered into three separate agreements with an entity known as Fives for the purchase of the mills.  The Agreements each contained an arbitration clause which required all disputes be resolved via arbitration in Germany under the Rules of Arbitration of the ICC.  The Agreements also provided that Fives, and all of its subcontractors, would be treated as one and the same under the contracts.

Fives subcontracted with GE Energy (“GE”) to produce motors for the mills.  The motors were installed between 2011 and 2012.  By June 2014 they began to fail. Continue reading

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Sharply Divided Massachusetts Supreme Court Holds That the Statute of Repose Bars a Homeowner’s Claim Against a Contractor Under the Consumer Protection Statute

Bridgwood v A.J. Wood Constr., Inc., 2018 Mass. Lexis 561 (Sup. Ct., Aug. 29, 2018)

On October 30, 2000, the city of Newburyport, through its housing rehabilitation program, awarded A.J. Wood a contract for the rehabilitation of Ms. Terry Bridgwood’s home in Newburyport.  Under the city’s contractor agreement for the housing program, Wood was required to comply with certain standards, including that all rehabilitation, alterations, repairs, or extensions be in compliance with all applicable Federal, State, and local codes.  The agreement also required that all contractors and subcontractors must obtain and maintain all necessary permits, and must certify that the work complied with all Federal, State, and local regulations of the Massachusetts home improvement law, among other things.  The work on the Bridgwood home was completed by Wood in 2001.

In 2012, Bridgwood’s home suffered a substantial fire.  She filed suit in the state superior court in 2016, under the Consumer Protection Statute, claiming that Wood and its electrical subcontractor failed to obtain a permit to replace or repair certain ceiling light fixtures on the premises.  Additionally, she alleged that none of the defendants gave proper notice to local inspectors, nor did they perform their work in compliance with the applicable Federal, State, or local codes, as required by the contractor agreement.

Wood moved to dismiss Bridgwood’s lawsuit as untimely under the statute of repose.  The Superior Court agreed and dismissed the suit.  Bridgwood appealed and the appeal was transferred to the Supreme Court.  A divided Supreme Court affirmed in a 4-3 decision. Continue reading

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Arbitration by Estoppel: North Carolina Court Holds That Arbitration Clauses Bind Nonsignatories Who Seek to Enforce the Contracts in Which the Clauses Appear

Charlotte Student Hous. DST v. Choate Constr. Co., 2018 NCBC LEXIS 88 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 24, 2018).

This case arose from the construction of a student apartment complex known as Arcadia.  The plaintiffs, Arcadia’s current owner and landlord, asserted breach of warranty, negligence, and fraud claims against Arcadia’s original owner, the architect, the general contractor, and two subcontractors, alleging that defects in Arcadia’s design and construction caused millions of dollars in repairs and lost rent.

The general contractor, Choate Construction Company, and its geotechnical engineering subcontractor, Geoscience Group, moved to dismiss all claims asserted against them on the ground that they were subject to arbitration.  Choate and Geoscience pointed to arbitration clauses in their contracts with the original owner, both of which required all claims “arising out of or related to” those contracts to be arbitrated before the AAA in accordance with its Construction Industry Arbitration Rules.

The plaintiffs argued that the arbitration clauses were not binding on them because the contracts that contained them were not assigned to plaintiffs when they purchased Arcadia. They also argued that their tort claims were not subject to the arbitration clauses. Continue reading

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New York Appellate Division Holds That Contractor’s Assertion That No Payments Were Due to Subcontractor Until a Separate Prevailing Wage Action Was Resolved Precludes Application of Contractual Limitations Period

AWI Sec. & Investigations, Inc. v. Whitestone Constr. Corp., 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5867 (August 23, 2018)

A subcontractor, AWI Security and Investigations, Inc. (“AWI”), sued a general contractor, Whitestone Construction Corp. (“Whitestone”), for unpaid contract payments for providing security services on four separate construction projects.  A separate prevailing wage action (“Wage Action”) was also filed by AWI employees who worked on the projects, against both AWI and Whitestone.  Whitestone notified AWI that it was invoking the subcontract indemnity provision to withhold funds from AWI pending the outcome of the Wage Action.

Whitestone moved to dismiss AWI’s suit for payment based on a contractual limitations period requiring the suit to be brought within 6 months of: the cause of action accruing; the termination or conclusion of the contract; or the last day AWI performed work at the site, which Whitestone alleged had all occurred.  The court granted Whitestone’s motion to dismiss, finding that AWI had completed its work more than six months prior to filing its lawsuit and that AWI’s suit was barred by the contractual limitations period.  AWI appealed. Continue reading

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