Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that a fact issue existed as to whether a general contractor on a construction project owed a duty of care to its independent contractor's employee who was injured on the job, holding that no genuine issue of material fact existed regarding the existence of a duty.The trial court entered judgment in favor of the general contractor, concluding that there was no evidence to support the negligence elements of duty, breach, and causation. The court of appeals reversed as to the negligence claim, concluding that a fact issue existed regarding whether the contractor exercised actual control and thus owed the employee a duty, whether the contractor breached that duty, and whether the contractor's breach proximately caused the employee's injuries. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the contractor owed the employee no duty as a matter of law. View "JLB Builders, LLC v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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In this construction contract dispute, the Supreme Court held that the San Antonio River Authority possessed the authority to agree to arbitrate claims under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 271 and exercised that authority in the contract and that the judiciary, rather than an arbitrator, retains the duty to decide whether a local government has waived its governmental immunity.The River Authority hired Austin Bridge and Road L.P. for a construction project. The parties agreed to submit any disputes about the contract to arbitration. Austin Bridge invoked the contract's arbitration provisions when disagreements about the scope of work and payment arose. After the arbitrator denied the River Authority's plea of governmental immunity, the River Authority sued Austin Bridge, arguing that it lacked the authority to agree to the contract's arbitration provisions. The trial court concluded that the arbitration provisions in the contract were enforceable. The court of appeals agreed that the River Authority had the authority to agree to arbitrate but concluded that a court, rather than an arbitrator, must decide whether the River Authority was immune from the claims against it. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that chapter 271 waived the River Authority's immunity from suit for Austin Bridge's breach of contract claim. View "San Antonio River Authority v. Austin Bridge & Road, L.P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's appeal of the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Plaintiff and against Defendants for want of jurisdiction, holding that, contrary to the decision of the court of appeals, the trial court's judgment was final and appealable.Plaintiff sued Defendants for declaratory judgment and monetary damages arising from a commercial construction project. The trial court awarded summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. Despite the trial court's confirmation of its intent to render a final judgment, the court of appeals concluded that no final judgment had been rendered. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred by analyzing the record for evidence of finality after the trial court provided a clear and unequivocal statement that it had intended the appealed-from order to be a final judgment. View "Bella Palma, LLC v. Young" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally granted Mobile Mini, Inc.'s petition for writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its order denying Mobile Mini's motion to designate a responsible third party in a construction worker's personal injury suit, holding that the trial court was obligated to grant Mobile Mini's motion to designate a responsible third party under the circumstances of this case.Mobile Mini, the owner of a construction trailer, was sued for injuries Luis Covarrubias received when a wind gust blew the door of the trailer closed on his hand. Mobile Mini filed a motion to designate Nolana Self Storage, LLC, the owner of the construction site, as a responsible third party so a jury could determine whether Nolana caused or contributed to Covarrubias's injury. The trial court denied Mobile Mini's request. The court of appeals denied Mobile Mini's mandamus petition. The Supreme Court conditionally granted the petition and directed the trial court to vacate its order denying Mobile Mini's motion to designate Nolana as a responsible third party, holding that Mobile Mini's discovery response disclosing Nolana as a potentially responsible third party was timely even though it was served after the statute of limitations had expired on Covarrubias's tort claims. View "In re Mobile Mini, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this billing dispute between a general contractor, Dudley Construction, Ltd., and a pipe supplier, ACT Pipe and Supply, Inc., the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals in part and reversed it in part, holding (1) in defending a favorable judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict, ACT successfully raised a “cross-point” in the court of appeals that preserved an alternative argument proscribing the jury’s original verdict, even though ACT did not formally label its argument a “cross-point”; and (2) attorney’s fees are not recoverable for a claim brought under the Texas Construction Trust Fund Act. The Court remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Dudley Construction, Ltd. v. ACT Pipe & Supply, Inc." on Justia Law

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Homeowners sued Builder for failing to construct their home in a good and workmanlike manner. Builder’s commercial general liability insurer (Insurer) refused to defend Builder in the suit. Judgment was granted in favor of Homeowners after a trial, and Builder assigned the majority of its claims against Insurer to Homeowners. Homeowners subsequently sought to recover the judgment from Insurer under the applicable policy. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Homeowners. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and, in the interests of justice, remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial, holding (1) the judgment against Builder was not binding on Insurer in this suit because it was not the product of a fully adversarial proceeding; but (2) this insurance litigation may serve to determine Insurer’s liability, although the parties in the case focused on other issues during the trial. View "Great American Insurance Co. v. Hamel" on Justia Law

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Centerpoint Builders was hired as the general contractor to build an apartment complex. Centerpoint contracted with a subcontractor to install wooden roof trusses. Centerpoint purchased the trusses directly from Trussway, Ltd., the truss manufacturer. Merced Fernandez, an independent contractor, was rendered paraplegic when a truss broke while he was walking across it. Fernandez sued several entities, including Centerpoint and Trussway, and eventually settled. Centerpoint filed a cross-action against Trussway alleging that Trussway was required to indemnify Centerpoint for any loss arising from Fernandez’s suit. Trussway filed its own indemnity cross claim against Centerpoint. Centerpoint sought partial summary judgment, arguing that it was a seller under Tex. Civil Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. chapter 82 and was thus entitled to indemnity as a matter of law. Chapter 82 entitles the “seller” of a defective product to indemnity from the product manufacturer for certain losses. The trial court concluded that Centerpoint was a seller under chapter 82. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Centerpoint did not fit the statutory definition of a seller and was therefore not eligible to seek indemnity. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Centerpoint, as the general contractor, was not a “seller” entitled to seek indemnity under chapter 82. View "Centerpoint Builders GP, LLC v. Trussway, Ltd." on Justia Law

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At issue in this residential construction dispute was whether the statutory cap on exemplary damages is waived if not pleaded as an affirmative defense or avoidance. The trial court affirmed an exemplary damages award in excess of the statutory cap because Petitioner did not assert the cap until her motion for a new trial. The court of appeals affirmed the exemplary damages award, concluding that the statutory cap on exemplary damages did not apply because Petitioner failed to expressly plead the cap as an affirmative defense. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the court of appeals’ judgment in relation to the exemplary cap, holding (i) the exemplary damages cap is not a matter ”constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense” and need not be affirmatively pleaded because it applies automatically when invoked and does not require proof of additional facts, and (ii) because Petitioner timely asserted the cap in her motion for new trial, the exemplary damages must be capped at $200,000; and (2) affirmed in all other respects. View "Zorilla v. Aypco Constr. II, LLC" on Justia Law

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A property developer filed suit against several defendants involved in a construction project asserting claims for negligence and breach of contract. Defendants filed motions to compel arbitration, which the trial court denied. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held that the developer must arbitrate its claims against the general contractor but not its claims against the other defendants, as (1) the developer agreed to arbitrate its claims against the general contractor, and the general contractor did not waive its right to demand arbitration; (2) the developer’s argument that a contractual deadline barred the general contractor’s demand for arbitration was itself a claim that must be arbitrated; (3) the developer did not agree in the general contract to arbitrate its claims against the other defendants; (4) the developer was not equitably estopped from denying its assent to its purported agreement that the other defendants could enforce the general contract’s arbitration provisions; and (5) the subcontracts did not require the parties to arbitrate these claims. View "G.T. Leach Builders, LLC v. Sapphire V.P., L.P." on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a construction corporation, contracted to construct a wharf for Respondent, the Port of Houston Authority of Harris County, Texas. After the construction was to be completed, Petitioner sued, claiming damages from delays caused by the Port. The Port, in turn, claimed that a no-damages-for-delay provision in the construction contract between the parties precluded delay damages. Petitioner also sought recovery of $2.36 million in delay damages withheld by the Port for Petitioner’s failure to meet deadlines. After a trial, the jury found that the Port had breached the contract for deliberately and wrongfully interfering with Petitioner’s work, causing Petitioner to incur $18,602,697 in delay damages. The jury also found Petitioner had not released its claim to the $2.36 million liquidated damages the Port withheld. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, holding (1) the Local Government Contract Claims Act waives governmental immunity from suit on a contract claim for delay damages the contract does not call for; (2) the no-damages-for-delay provision in the parties’ contract did not shield the Port from liability for deliberately and wrongfully interfering with the contractor’s work; and (3) Petitioner was entitled to recover the liquidated damages withheld by the Port. View "Zachry Constr. Corp. v. Port of Houston Auth. of Harris County" on Justia Law