Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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A federal district court in Texas does not have jurisdiction to vacate an arbitration award in Florida. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action based on lack of personal jurisdiction over the subcontractors. The court held that the subcontractors did not have the minimum contacts in Texas such that a Texas court could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over them. In this case, the place of contractual performance was Florida—not Texas, after plaintiff allegedly failed to pay its subcontractors' invoices, the parties met in Florida to discuss the dispute, then they arbitrated the dispute in Florida, and Florida's courts have determined that Florida is a proper venue for the subcontractors to seek enforcement of the arbitration awards. Therefore, the subcontractors did not purposefully avail themselves to being sued in Texas courts. View "Sayers Construction, LLC v. Timberline Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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Waypoint, the project owner, entered into a construction contract with Team Contractors, the general contractor, and entered into an architectural contract with HCA. HCA then retained KLG as the project's engineer. Team filed suit and subsequently prevailed against the engineers and architects for negligence, but not against the owner for breach of contract. After a finding that the initial verdict had an irreconcilable conflict, a second trial was held just on the breach of contract claim. The jury then reached a verdict for the general contractor, and the owner appealed.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for the district court to reinstate the original verdict. The court held that if the answers to written questions require jurors to apply the instructed law to their fact-findings, thereby fully explaining who prevails on all claims against a single defendant, and if relevant, the amount of any monetary award, that is sufficient for a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 49(b) verdict. Though in this case the jurors were not given, as Rule 49(b) states, "forms for a general verdict" and also for answers to written questions, jurors applied their instructions on the law to their fact finding and found there had been no breach of contract. The court held that the result fully resolved the claim against Waypoint. The court stated that the general verdict is incomplete in Rule 49(b) terms, but it is sufficient. The court also held that Team waived any argument to have the verdict set aside. Finally, the court remanded for the district court to consider attorneys' fees. View "Team Contractors, LLC v. Waypoint NOLA, LLC" on Justia Law

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D2 filed suit for breach of contract, quantum meruit, violations of the Texas prompt pay statute, and to foreclose on a statutory and constitutional lien. Thompson, in turn, alleged that D2 breached the excavation contract between the parties. The district court held in D2's favor on all claims and ordered Thompson to pay for unpaid work and for "excess" excavating work, as well as interest and attorneys' fees.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that management of the site was so deficient that D2 had to regrade the same areas as many as six times and was unable to complete its work in other parts of the site, justifying D2's cessation of work. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment for the $81,068 in unpaid work and the related prompt payment statute and lien remedies for that breach of contract. However, the court held that neither breach of contract nor quantum meruit allows D2 to recover for "excavation of unanticipated excess soil." Thus, the court reversed the district court's judgment of $257,588.53 for the "excavation of unanticipated excess soil" and rendered judgment for Thompson on those breach of contract and quantum meruit claims. The court remanded for modification of the judgment. View "D2 Excavating, Inc. v. Thompson Thrift Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision setting aside CMR's default, grant of summary judgment in CMR's favor, and denial of plaintiff's Rule 59(e) motions for reconsideration. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in setting aside the entry of default and partial default judgment, because the district court did not err when it chose to credit CMR's President's affidavit over plaintiff's evidence that CMR had notice of the lawsuit. The court also held that plaintiff was not entitled to the extraordinary relief that Rule 59(e) provided, because the evidence plaintiff wished to bring forward was already available before final judgment was entered. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on the fraud claim stemming from the 2006 purchase of plaintiff's roof; the claims related to the 2011 repairs; and the negligence, fraud, and detrimental reliance claims surrounding the 2012 repairs. View "Koerner v. CMR Construction & Roofing, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Construction Law
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Hensel, the general contractor building a new Austin public library, maintained control over the worksite through on-site management personnel, Hensel's subcontractor, HEW, worked on the project’s East Screen Wall. HEW's sub-subcontractor, CVI, was to complete demolition and excavation for the Wall. A nearly vertical 12-foot wall of “Type C” soil developed. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations mandate systems to protect employees from cave-ins. No protective systems were in place. On a rainy morning in 2015, CVI was to reinstall rebar at the base of this wall of soil, preliminary to pouring concrete footings. Concerned about the weather and the instability of the wall, CVI owner Daniels sent his employees to work on another area. Hensel's superintendent instructed Daniels to return his employees to the excavation. Daniels sent an email to HEW’s senior project manager, who gave only a cursory reply. Daniels sent his employees back to the excavation. That day, an OSHA compliance officer discovered CVI employees working at the unprotected wall. The city inspector, Hensel’s superintendent, and HEW’s superintendent were present. OSHA cited CVI and Hensel for violating 29 C.F.R. 1926.652(a)(1), pursuant to its multi-employer citation policy. OSHA considered Hensel a “controlling employer” An ALJ agreed but found that Fifth Circuit precedent that “OSHA regulations protect only an employer’s own employees,” foreclosed the citation. The Fifth Circuit reversed, deferring to OSHA’s construction of 29 U.S.C. 651, as granting authority to issue citations to controlling employers. View "Acosta v. Hensel Phelps Construction Co." on Justia Law

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A general construction contractor, S&P, filed suit against its secondary insurance provider, US Fire, after US Fire refused to cover damages S&P incurred when a courthouse construction project went awry. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to US Fire, holding that US Fire's policy allowed it to count the arbitration agreements as "Other Insurance." The court explained that an indemnity agreement fell under the plain language of the "Other Insurance" provision of US Fire's policy because it was a mechanism by which an insured arranged for funding of legal liabilities for which US Fire's policy also provided coverage. Under the reasoning of RSR Corp. v. International Insurance Co., 612 F.3d 851 (5th Cir. 2010), settlement proceeds resulting from an indemnity agreement also counted as "Other Insurance." The court also held that S&P failed to meet its burden to show allocation of the settlement proceeds between covered and noncovered damages. View "Satterfield and Pontikes Construction v. US Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a general contractor in an action by the subcontractor, alleging that the general contractor fraudulently induced it into entering a settlement agreement that released the general contractor from any claims for liability under the Miller Act. In this case, Fisk was the subcontractor and DQSI was the general contractor on a post-Hurricane Katrina federal construction project. The court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Fisk justifiably relied on DQSI's representations about Fisk's Request for Equitable Adjustment at settlement, which was an element of Fisk's fraudulent-inducement. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Fisk Electric Co. v. DQSI, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Construction Law
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This appeal arose out of a dispute over a construction contract between Golden Nugget and Yates. On appeal, Yates challenged the dismissal of its claim for a statutory lien under the Louisiana Private Works Act (LPWA), La. Stat. Ann. 9:4822, which grants general contractors a privilege to secure payment for their work. However, the LPWA requires that the contractor must preserve their lien by filing a statement of claim or privilege in a timely manner. In this case, although Yates did not file a lien statement within the time required by statute, the court found that because Golden Nugget never filed a notice of substantial completion, Yates's lien statement was timely filed. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Golden Nugget Lake Charles v. W. G. Yates & Son" on Justia Law

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Arch Specialty Insurance Company appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Amerisure Mutual Insurance Company. In 2006, Amerisure issued a Texas Commercial Package Policy to Admiral Glass & Mirror Co. The policy afforded coverage in excess of any coverage afforded by a controlled insurance program policy. Arch issued an Owner Controlled Insurance Program (“OCIP”) policy to Endeavor Highrise, LP and its contractors and subcontractors for bodily injury and property damage arising out of construction of the Endeavor Highrise. Admiral was a subcontractor insured under the OCIP policy. Endeavor sued Admiral and others for faulty work. Amerisure tendered the lawsuit to Arch as the primary insurer. Prior to Arch accepting the defense, Amerisure incurred $23,879.27 in defense fees. In April 2012, Arch withdrew from defense of the Endeavor lawsuit asserting that attorneys’ fees, defense costs, and settlements of $2,000,000.00 from defending Admiral and other subcontractor defendants exhausted policy limits. Amerisure took over the defense and incurred additional fees and costs of $114,957.14 before settling the claims against Admiral. In total, Arch paid a settlement of $1,555,000.00 and defense costs of $159,543.15 under the general coverage limit of the OCIP, and paid settlements totaling $1,472,032.61 and defense costs of $527,967.36 under the products-completed operations coverage of the OCIP policy. Amerisure sued Arch in Texas state court for breach of contract, contending that Arch wrongfully refused to defend and indemnify Admiral. Amerisure argued on appeal that the term “expenses” in the Supplementary Payments provision did not include attorneys’ fees and other costs of defense. It also argued that, even if “expenses” includes defense costs, the effect of the statement “All other terms and conditions of this Policy remain unchanged” read together with the language that the duty to defend expires when “we have used up the [policy limits] in the payment of judgments or settlements” means that the policy limits are eroded only by payment of “judgments or settlements,” not defense costs. For its part, Arch argued that “expenses” included defense costs and that the endorsement controlled over any contrary language such that it converts this policy into an eroding policy. The Fifth Circuit agreed with Arch, concluding that the endorsement transformed the policy into an “eroding limits” policy. The Court affirmed the district court’s judgment regarding the duty to indemnify, reversed the district court’s judgment regarding the duty to defend, and rendered judgment for Arch. View "Amerisure Mutual Ins. Co. v. Arch Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Holt and TAUG, subcontractors of the bankrupt Seiber, appealed the district court's affirmance of a prior bankruptcy court order, holding that the funds of an interpleader action, filed by EnCana, were property of the bankruptcy estate of Seiber, not EnCana, because the interpleader action extinguished the earlier construction liens of Holt and TAUG. The court upheld the validity of TAUG's chapter 56 lien where TAUG had a valid mineral lien against EnCana's property at the time EnCana was discharged from further liability to Seiber; as to Holt, the district court did not err in holding EnCana's interpleader and its deposited funds automatically satisfied its liability to Seiber, thus transferring legal possession of the funds to Seiber and the bankruptcy estate; the district court and bankruptcy courts erred in failing to draw the distinction between the act of depositing funds into the district court registry and the judicial act of discharging the depositor of any further liability; simply depositing interpleader funds does not automatically mean that the funds have been legally accepted, ownership thereof transferred, and the interpleader relieved of further duty to the court or further obligation to the parties of the dispute; the court need not address whether chapter 56 allows the liens to extend to the funds because the bankruptcy court entered an order, separate from this appeal, ruling on the interpleader and discharging EnCana; and, therefore, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Holt Texas, Ltd., et al. v. Zayler" on Justia Law