August 21, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Set-Off to Other Liable Parties Should be Applied to Jury Verdict before Contractual Limitation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. v. Terracon Consultants, Inc. on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Contract—Limitation on Liability—Setoff—Jury Award—Statutory Costs—Prejudgment Interest—Post-Judgment Interest—Expert Testimony—Willful and Wanton—Settlement Statute—Costs.

Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. (Taylor) was the developer of a residential subdivision. Taylor contracted with Terracon Consultants, Inc. (Terracon) to provide geotechnical engineering and construction materials testing services for the development of the subdivision. Taylor and Terracon agreed to cap Terracon’s total aggregate liability to Taylor at $550,000 (Limitation) for any and all damages or expenses arising out of its services or the contract. After homeowners notified Taylor about drywall cracks in their houses, Taylor investigated the complaints and then sued Terracon and other contractors for damages relating to those defects. After trial, the jury awarded Taylor $9,586,056 in damages, but also found that Terracon’s conduct was not willful and wanton. The court concluded that the Limitation includes costs and prejudgment interest and applied it to reduce the jury’s $9,586,056 damages award to $550,000. It also deducted the $592,500 settlement received from the other liable parties to arrive at zero dollars. The court found that neither party prevailed for purposes of awarding statutory interest and further concluded that neither Terracon’s deposit of $550,000 into the court registry nor its email to Taylor addressing a mutual dismissal constituted a statutory offer of settlement that would have allowed Terracon a costs and fees award.

On appeal, Taylor contended that the trial court erroneously deducted the setoff from the Limitation instead of deducting it from the jury damages verdict. The correct approach is to first apply the setoff against the jury verdict and then apply the contractual limitation against this reduced amount. Thus, Terracon’s liability according to the Limitation should have been a final judgment of $550,000 for Taylor.

Taylor next contended that the trial court erred when it concluded that the Limitation, by its terms, includes statutory costs and prejudgment interest. The pertinent contract language states that the Limitation applies to “any and all” expenses “including attorney and expert fees.” Thus, the Limitation’s language covers costs associated with interpreting and enforcing the contract.

Taylor further argued that the trial court erred in ruling that the Limitation does not include prejudgment interest within its cap on liability. The Limitation caps Terracon’s liability for “any and all injuries, damages, claims, losses, or expenses.” (Emphasis in original.) Because prejudgment interest is a form of damages, the Limitation also covers prejudgment interest. Taylor also asserted that post-judgment interest is not covered by the Limitation. The Court of Appeals agreed because post-judgment interest is not an element of compensatory damages.

Taylor next argued that the trial court’s exclusion of expert testimony concerning willful and wanton conduct was reversible error. Here, the court allowed the experts to testify about the factual conduct and opine on Terracon’s performance using characterizations within their expertise, but prevented testimony about legal concepts outside their expertise and whether a legal standard was met.

Terracon argued on cross-appeal that the trial court erred by not awarding it costs under Colorado’s settlement statute. Terracon’s deposit of $550,000 into the court registry pursuant to C.R.C.P. 67(a) was not a settlement offer because Taylor did not have the option to reject it. The statute requires both an offer and a rejection; thus the statute was not triggered, and Terracon is not entitled to costs. Further, Terracon’s email did not comply with C.R.S. § 13-17-202 because this alleged “settlement offer” contained nonmonetary conditions that extended the offer beyond the claims at issue. Therefore, there was no error in denying costs to Terracon.

The judgment was reversed as to the final award and the case was remanded with instructions. The judgment and orders were affirmed in all other respects.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Senior Living Facilities Constitute “Residential Property” for CDARA Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Broomfield Senior Living Owner, LLC v. R.G. Brinkmann Co. on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Senior Facility—Residential—Commercial—Breach of Contract—Construction Defect Action Reform Act—Homeowner Protection Act of 2007—Accrual—Statute of Limitations—Public Policy—Manifestation of a Defect.

Broomfield Senior Living Owner, LLC (Broomfield) brought claims against R.G. Brinkmann Company (Brinkmann) for breach of contract, negligence, negligence per se, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of express warranties in connection with Brinkmann’s construction of Broomfield’s facility. Brinkmann moved for summary judgment, raising both contractual limitations and statutory limitations defenses to all of Broomfield’s claims. The trial court granted Brinkmann’s motion for summary judgment, reasoning that the two-year statute of limitations applicable to civil claims had expired before Broomfield filed its complaint and that Broomfield had waived its rights to assert claims for repairs under the contract by failing to give Brinkmann timely notice of defects or adequate time to make repairs.

On appeal, Broomfield contended that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment and applying the accrual provisions of the contract rather than the accrual provision of the Construction Defect Action Reform Act (CDARA), titled the “Homeowner Protection Act of 2007” (HPA). Under the parties’ contract, the contractual limitations period expired independent of when the acts or failures to act were discovered, while CDARA links the accrual of construction defect claims to their discovery. The HPA renders a contract’s limitation or waiver of CDARA’s rights and remedies void as against public policy in cases involving claims arising from residential property. The Colorado Court of Appeals determined that the term “residential” is “unambiguous and means an improvement on a parcel that is used as a dwelling or for living purposes.” Here, the building is used as a home for senior residents. Accordingly, the senior facility is “residential property,” Broomfield is a “residential property owner,” and the HPA applies. As such, the contract’s terms limiting the accrual of claims are void as a matter of public policy, and the relevant statutory claims accrual periods apply, making Broomfield’s action timely.

Broomfield also contended that the trial court erred in precluding its breach of warranty claim based on its failure to give Brinkmann an opportunity to correct the defects. The court determined that genuine issues of material fact remain regarding whether Brinkmann received prompt notice of the defects and whether it had an adequate opportunity to correct its work.

Broomfield further argued that the trial court erred in concluding that its negligence claims were barred and that it failed to establish that Brinkmann performed design services. The court concluded that these claims were not barred and the parties offered conflicting design services evidence. Further, a genuine issue of fact remains concerning whether the alleged defects are patent or latent.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Third-Party Claims in Construction Defect Case Timely Under C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(b)(II)

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re Goodman v. Heritage Builders, Inc. on Monday, February 27, 2017.

Construction Defects—Statute of Repose—Statute of Limitations.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered the parameters for timeliness of third-party claims in construction defect cases. The court concluded that such claims are timely, irrespective of both the two-year statute of limitations in C.R.S. § 13-80-102 and the six-year statute of repose in C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(a), so long as they are brought at before the 90-day time frame outlined in C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(b)(II). Accordingly, the court made its rule to show cause absolute.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

SB 17-045: Requiring Equitable Allocation of Costs in Construction Defect Claims

On January 11, 2017, Sens. Angela Williams & Kevin Grantham and Reps. Cole Wist & Crisanta Duran introduced SB 17-045, “Concerning a Requirement for Equitable Allocation of the Costs of Defending a Construction Defect Claim.”

In a construction defect action in which more than one insurer has a duty to defend a party, the bill requires the court to apportion the costs of defense, including reasonable attorney fees, among all insurers with a duty to defend. An initial order apportioning costs must be made within 90 days after an insurer files its claim for contribution, and the court must make a final apportionment of costs after entry of a final judgment resolving all of the underlying claims against the insured. An insurer seeking contribution may also make a claim against an insured or additional insured who chose not to procure liability insurance for a period of time relevant to the underlying action. A claim for contribution may be assigned and does not affect any insurer’s duty to defend.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Business, Labor, & Technology Committee. It is scheduled for hearing in committee on February 2 at 2 p.m.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Construction Defect Claims Filed Against Subcontractors were Time-Barred

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sopris Lodging, LLC v. Schofeld Excavation, Inc. on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

Construction Defect—Summary Judgment—Time Bar.

TDC was the general contractor for construction of a hotel owned by Sopris Lodging (Sopris). On March 11, 2011, Sopris sent TDC a notice of claim regarding alleged construction defects at the hotel. On May 24, 2013, Sopris filed a complaint in district court asserting construction defect claims against one of the subcontractors of the hotel and against TDC’s individual principals, who had guaranteed TDC’s performance. On the same date, Sopris and TDC entered into an agreement to toll the statute of limitations for Sopris’s claims against TDC.

In 2014, TDC filed third-party claims against several subcontractors including Schofield and CEC for breach of contract, negligence, contribution, and indemnification. CEC and Schofield moved for summary judgment, asserting the claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations in C.R.S. § 13-80-102. TDC did not dispute that the claims accrued on or before March 11, 2011 but argued C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(b)(II) tolled the statute of limitations for a defendant’s third-party clams until 90 days after a settlement or final judgment on the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of CEC and Schofield.

On appeal, Sopris (standing in the shoes of TDC following a settlement and assignment of the third-party claims) argued it was error to find the claims time-barred. C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(b)(II) gives a contractor the option to bring indemnity or contribution claims against subcontractors in a separate lawsuit after the underlying claims are resolved and tolls the statute of limitations for such claims. But because TDC asserted third-party claims in the original construction defect litigation, the tolling section does not apply. Thus TDC’s third-party claims were time barred.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statute of Repose Acts as Absolute Bar to Bringing Suit After its Expiration

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sierra Pacific Industries, Inc. v. Bradbury on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Construction Defect Action Reform Act—Summary Judgment—Statute of Repose.

Sierra Pacific Industries, Inc. hired Bradbury to install windows and doors on a condominium construction project. Bradbury began and completed this work in 2002.Sierra Pacific attended to leaks and water damage between 2004 and 2011, including two substantial retrofit repairs in 2005 and 2011. Bradbury did some repair work in 2004. Construction defect litigation resulted over the cost of the repairs.

In 2014 Sierra Pacific filed this indemnification action against Bradbury to recover losses incurred in the settlement of the defective construction case and damages for related contractual breaches. Bradbury filed for summary judgment under C.R.C.P. 56(b), asserting that the claims, brought nearly 10 years after Bradbury ceased repair efforts, were time barred by the six-year statute of limitation in Colorado’s Construction Defect Action Reform Act. The trial court granted Bradbury’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, Sierra Pacific argued it was error to find that its claims were barred by the six-year statute of repose because under C.R.S. § 13-80-104(1)(b), it was allowed to file claims against Bradbury within 90 days of settling the underlying case in 2014, notwithstanding the statute of repose. This exact argument was previously rejected by a division of the court of appeals and the court here rejected it for the same reasons. The court concluded that the settlement in the underlying case did not impact the application of the statue of repose.

Sierra Pacific also contended that summary judgment was inappropriate because there remains a dispute of material fact as to when the statute of repose expired. Sierra Pacific argued that even if the statute of repose was not tolled by the settlement, the period of repose did not commence until the improvements to the property were completed in 2011. C.R.S. §§ 13-80-104(1)(a) and (2) provide a statute of repose that expires six years after substantial completion of improvements to real property, unless it is extended two years because the underlying cause of action arose during the fifth or sixth year after such substantial completion. Sierra Pacific argued that “substantial completion” did not occur until the repairs were finished in 2011. The court reasoned that a subcontractor has substantially completed its role in the improvement at issue when it finishes working on the improvement, and the statute of repose commences upon substantial completion. Here, the project was substantially completed in 2002, or in no event later than 2004, when the last repairs by Bradbury were completed. Moreover, there is no tolling of the statute of repose based on another’s efforts to repair work.

Under the applicable statute of repose, Sierra Pacific’s claims against Bradbury were time barred, and the district court properly granted Bradbury’s motion for summary judgment. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Instructions on Implied Warranty of Suitability Insufficient

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its consolidated opinion in Rogers v. Forest City Stapleton, Inc. and Rogers v. Forest City Stapleton, Inc. on Thursday, November 19, 2015.

Implied Warranty of Suitability—Developer—Homeowner—Vacant Lot—Nuisance—Sanctions—Discovery Violation.

Defendants (collectively, Forest City) served as the master developer for the redevelopment of the old Stapleton International Airport. Forest City sold the vacant residential lot at issue here to a homebuilder, with which plaintiff Rogers contracted to build a home. Rogers paid the builder an extra fee to include a basement that could later be finished. After learning that his lot was not suitable for a home with a basement that could be finished, Rogers brought claims for breach of implied warranty, nuisance, and negligent misrepresentation.

On appeal, Forest City argued that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that it could find that an implied warranty runs from a developer to a homeowner under the circumstances of this case. An implied warranty of suitability exists between a developer of a vacant lot and the owner of a home on that lot who is not the first purchaser if (1) the developer improves the lot for a particular purpose, and (2) all subsequent purchasers rely on the developer’s skill or expertise in improving the lot for that particular purpose. Here, the trial court did not adequately instruct the jury on this law. Consequently, the judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial on the implied warranty claim.

Forest City also argued that the trial court erred in denying its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on Rogers’s nuisance claim, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the nuisance verdict as a matter of law. Because the jury was instructed that Forest City placing RABC in the roads was a necessary element of the nuisance claim, and the record reveals no evidence that Forest City placed RABC, or anything else, in the roads in Stapleton, the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s nuisance verdict. The trial court therefore erred by denying Forest City judgment notwithstanding the verdict on that claim pursuant to CRCP 59(e)(1).

Rogers argued that the trial court erred in the amount of sanctions awarded to Rogers and against Forest City’s counsel for the late disclosure of discovery documents. Because the trial court found that (1) the late disclosed documents were of “slight use” to Rogers, (2) Forest City’s counsel acted with “candor and professionalism,” and (3) the violation was an unintentional “oversight,” the trial court acted within its broad discretion by awarding only $10,000 of the $90,000 that Rogers requested.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Homeowners’ Association’s Removal of Arbitration Provision Invalid Against Builders

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Vallagio at Inverness Residential Condominium Association, Inc. v. Metropolitan Homes, Inc. on Thursday, May 7, 2015.

Motion to Compel Arbitration—Construction Defect Action.

Plaintiff association (Vallagio) brought this action against defendants, alleging construction defects in the Vallagio residential development project (Project). The Project was organized as a common interest community under the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA). Defendant Metro Inverness, LLC (Metro) was the Project’s developer and declarant. Defendant Metropolitan Homes, Inc. was Metro’s manager and the Project’s general contractor. Defendants Krause and Kudla were declarant-appointed members of Vallagio’s board before control of the Vallagio was transferred to unit owners.

The declaration contained a general provision allowing unit owners to amend the declaration by a 67% vote and a consenting vote of the declarant. The right of declarant consent expired after the last unit was sold to an owner other than declarant. There was a mandatory arbitration provision specifically for construction defect claims, which provided that it could never be amended without the written consent of declarant, without regard to whether declarant owned any portion of the Project at the time of the amendment.

In September 2013, after the declarant had turned over control of Vallagio and no longer owned any units, at least 67% of the unit owners voted to amend the declaration to remove the arbitration provision in its entirety. Metro’s consent was not obtained.

Vallagio then filed suit against defendants. Defendants moved to compel arbitration, relying on the original declaration provision, arguing that the amendment removing it was invalid because declarant had not consented. The district court denied the motion to compel arbitration, finding that the declaration had been effectively amended to remove the arbitration provision. This interlocutory appeal followed.

Defendants first argued that it was error to conclude that the declaration’s amendment provisions were ambiguous and to construe that ambiguity against declarant. The Court of Appeals agreed. Based on the plain language of the declaration, the Court held that amendments to the arbitration provision required Metro’s consent. Because that consent was not obtained, the motion to compel arbitration as to Metro should have been granted. The Court also agreed that it was error to conclude that the declarant consent requirement for amendments of the arbitration agreement violated CCIOA and was void and unenforceable.

The district court had found that CCIOA § 38-33.3-302(2) prohibited the consent requirement. This section prohibits restrictions on an association’s power that are “unique to the declarant.” Under this declaration, the unit owners have the power to amend the declaration, and under this section of CCIOA the declarant consent requirement does not impose any limitation on the “power of the association.”

The district court had also found that the declarant consent requirement violated CCIOA § 38-33.3-217 because it effectively required more than a 67% vote of unit owners to amend the declaration. The Court disagreed, finding nothing in that statutory provision prohibiting declarant consent for an amendment, but merely requirements for unit owners’ voting percentages. The Court also found that the consent requirement did not allow control of unit owners’ votes, because 67% of the unit owners had to vote favorably to amend the declaration and that requirement was not altered by the declarant consent provision. The Court also rejected Vallagio’s argument that the consent requirement violated CCIOA § 38-33.3-303(5) by allowing Metro Inverness to control Vallagio after the declarant control period expired. CCIOA provisions regarding declarant consent to an association’s actions were not relevant to the issue here presented.

Vallagio argued that even if Metro could enforce the arbitration provision, the other defendants lacked standing to do so because they were not parties to the declaration. The district court did not address this argument, so the Court remanded for resolution of these issues, in particular, whether the other defendants were third-party beneficiaries to the declaration’s arbitration provision.

Defendants argued that they could rely on the arbitration provisions in individual unit owners’ purchase agreements. Because this issue might arise on remand if the district court finds that the other defendants lack standing to enforce the declaration’s arbitration provision, the Court addressed it. The Court agreed with the ruling that Vallagio was not bound by those individual purchase agreements.

The Court rejected Vallagio’s claims that its Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) claims are non-arbitrable. The right to a civil action under CCPA § 6-1-113 was not made non-waivable under the statute.

The order was reversed in part and affirmed in part. The case was remanded for an order compelling arbitration of Vallagio’s claims against Metro, and for further proceedings to determine whether the claims against the other defendants must be arbitrated.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Construction Defects

Editor’s note: This is Part 9 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Mid Valley Real Estate Solutions V, LLC v. Hepworth-Pawlak Geotechnical, Inc.
Colorado Court of Appeals, August 1, 2013.
2013 COA 119

Construction defects; economic loss rule; duties of builder-vendor run to commercial entity that purchases house built for residential purpose.

Alpine Bank was lender on a construction project. The builder-developer defaulted. The bank threatened foreclosure, and ultimately took a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Consistent with its usual practice, the property was conveyed to the bank’s REO subsidiary, which then sued for construction defects on the property.

The soils and structural engineers appeal an order denying their motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s negligence claim. Does a commercial entity — a wholly owned subsidiary of a construction lender — have the rights of a residential consumer to sue design professionals for negligence, under the claims set out in Cosmopolitan Homes v. Weller, or are such claims barred by the economic loss rule? The court of appeals affirms the district court’s ruling that the “independent duties” outlined in Cosmopolitan Homes and its progeny inure to the benefit of a commercial entity that buys a residential property, so that the claim is not barred by the economic loss rule.

The court reviews the economic loss rule and holds that there is an independent duty of care on the part of a builder in residential construction that renders the economic loss rule inapplicable in that context. Of course, the independent duty, which arises from the holding of our supreme court in Cosmopolitan Homes, would not apply to the typical commercial construction project.

The court then looks to whether Mid Valley — whose sole function is to hold foreclosure property for resale by the bank — falls within the class of plaintiffs who may enforce this independent duty of care. It concludes that the duty arises from the residential nature of a project, not from the characteristics of the owner of that property. While Mid Valley is not a traditional homeowner, the court reasons that allowing defendants to avoid liability for this reason would afford them a “windfall” resulting from the fortuity that the latent defect caused damage before Mid Valley sold the house. Accordingly, the denial of summary judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court has accepted the case for review:

Petition for Writ of Certiorari GRANTED, March 3, 2014, S K Peightal Engineers v. Mid Valley Real Estate Solutions V, LLC

Summary of the Issues:

  • Whether the economic loss rule bars a homeowner’s negligence claim against a construction professional when the owner is a commercial entity rather than a natural homebuyer.
  • Whether the interrelated contract doctrine as defined in BRW, Inc. v. Dufficy & Sons, Inc., 99 P.3d 66 (Colo. 2004), can apply to a wholly-owned subsidiary that did not exist when the initial contracts were drafted but instead was created after work on the relevant contracts had been completed.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Contracts, Purchase and Sale, Transactions (4)

Editor’s note: This is Part 7 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. v. Bemas Construction
Colorado Court Appeals, January 30, 2013
2014 COA 10

Construction defects statute; willful and wanton breach of contract required to overcome liability limitation provisions in contract.

Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. was the developer of a residential subdivision known as Homestead Hills. Pursuant to written contracts with Taylor, Terracon Consultants, Inc. performed geotechnical engineering and construction material testing services at the construction site. Bemas Construction performed site grading.

After many of the homes were constructed, Taylor began receiving complaints about cracks in the drywall of homes. Taylor remedied the defective conditions, and then sued Terracon and Bemas for breach of contract and negligence and other claims.

Taylor also moved for determination as to whether the Homeowner Protection Act of 2007 (HPA) invalidated the limitation of liability clauses in the contracts with Terracon. The trial court denied the motion on the ground that the HPA applies to residential property owners but not to commercial entities.

Terracon moved for leave to deposit into the court’s registry $550,000, representing the maximum amount that Taylor could recover from Terracon under the contractual limitation of liability clauses and the court order. It also requested that upon acceptance of such deposit, the court should declare Taylor’s claims against Terracon moot and dismiss them with prejudice. The trial court ruled in favor of Terracon. The money was deposited and the claims were dismissed with prejudice.

Taylor then went to trial against Bemas. The jury returned a verdict in Bemas’ favor on all of Taylor’s claims. Taylor appeals.

Taylor argued that it was error to rule that the HPA did not invalidate the limitation of liability clauses in Taylor’s contracts with Terracon. The court of appeals panel affirms the trial court’s judgment, but for different reasons. The court holds that regardless of whether the HPA applies to commercial entities, retroactive application of the HPA to these facts would be unconstitutionally retrospective. The Court concludes, however, that further proceedings are necessary to determine whether Taylor should have been permitted to introduce evidence of Terracon’s willful and wanton conduct to attempt to overcome Terracon’s assertion of the limitation of liability clauses.

The judgment is affirmed and the case is remanded to the trial court to determine whether Taylor should have been permitted to introduce evidence of Terracon’s willful and wanton conduct for the sole purpose of attempting to overcome Terracon’s assertion of the limitation of liability clauses at issue.

 

Jehly v. Brown
Colorado Court of Appeals, March 27, 2014
2014 COA 39

Fraudulent Concealment; Imputed Knowledge.

“Actual knowledge,” in the context of a fraudulent concealment claim, cannot be imputed to a principal through knowledge of its agent. Defendant Brown owned real property in Teller County and hired a general contractor to build a house on it. Before commencing, the contractor discovered that part of the property was located in a floodplain. Brown was not told of this fact.

Plaintiffs David and Peggy Jehly entered into a contact to purchase the house from Brown. Brown filled out a Seller’s Property Disclosure form by writing “New Construction” diagonally across every page and not checking any of the boxes. Before buying the house, the Jehlys were never informed that part of the property was located in a floodplain.

Approximately five years after the home purchase, heavy rains caused severe flooding and damage to the basement of the house. The Jehlys sued Brown, alleging he fraudulently concealed knowledge of the floodplain to induce plaintiffs to buy the house. During a bench trial, defendant denied having any personal knowledge of the floodplain at the time of the sale and denied that his general contractor or any subcontractors had so informed him. The trial court found as a matter of fact that he had no knowledge, and found in favor of defendant.

On appeal, plaintiffs asserts that it was error not to impute the general contractor’s knowledge that part of the property was in a floodplain to Brown. The court of appeals disagrees, and affirms. To prevail on a claim of fraudulent concealment, a plaintiff must show that a defendant actually knew of a material fact that was not disclosed. It is not enough that defendant should have or might have known the fact, and knowledge of his agent cannot be imputed for the purpose of this particular tort claim. Plaintiffs did not contest on appeal the trial court’s factual finding that defendant had no active or conscious belief or awareness of the existence of the floodplain. The trial court did not apply the wrong legal standard, because defendant did not have the requisite actual knowledge of the information allegedly concealed.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

SB 14-220: Requiring Mediation or Arbitration of Construction Defect Claims Where Required by Owners’ Association Governing Documents

On April 30, 2014, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri introduced SB 14-220 – Concerning Prerequisites to the Authority of a Unit Owners’ Association to Pursue Resolution of Disputes Involving Construction Defects. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The bill states that when the declaration, bylaws, or rules of a common interest community require mediation or arbitration of construction defect claims and the requirement is later removed, mediation or arbitration is still required for a construction defect claim based on an alleged act or omission that occurred when the mediation or arbitration requirement was in place. Section 1 also specifies that the arbitration must take place in the judicial district in which the community is located and that the arbitrator must:

  • Be a neutral third party;
  • Make certain disclosures before being selected; and
  • Be selected as specified in the community’s governing documents if possible or, if that is not possible, in accordance with the uniform arbitration act.

The bill adds to the disclosures required prior to the purchase and sale of property in a common interest community a notice that the community’s governing documents may require binding arbitration of certain disputes.

The bill requires that before a construction defect lawsuit is filed on behalf of the association, the executive board of the association must give advance notice to all unit owners, together with a disclosure of the projected costs, duration, and financial impact of the litigation, and must obtain the written consent of a majority of the unit owners.

The bill is assigned to the State, Veterans & Military Affairs and the Judiciary Committees; the State Affairs Committee will take up the bill first at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, May 5.

Since this summary, State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee referred the bill, unamended, to the Judiciary Committee, which voted to postpone the bill indefinitely.

Colorado Court of Appeals Kicks the Can as to Whether HPA Voids Limitations-of-Liability Clauses in Residential A/E Contracts Between Construction Professionals

Tim_GordonBy Timothy Gordon

Colorado’s Homeowner Protection Act (the “HPA”) protects homeowners by voiding any contractual provision that would result in the waiver of a homeowner’s rights under the Construction Defects Action Reform Act. C.R.S. § 13-20-806(7)(a). But some have argued that this same law should also void certain waivers and releases in agreements between construction professionals working on residential projects. Recently, the Colorado Court of Appeals was faced with, but did not decide, this issue.

The HPA provision in question provides as follows:

In order to preserve Colorado residential property owners’ legal rights and remedies, in any civil action or arbitration proceeding described in section 13-20-802.5 (1), any express waiver of, or limitation on, the legal rights, remedies, or damages provided by the “Construction Defect Action Reform Act”, this part 8, or provided by the “Colorado Consumer Protection Act”, article 1 of title 6, C.R.S., as described in this section, or on the ability to enforce such legal rights, remedies, or damages within the time provided by applicable statutes of limitation or repose are void as against public policy.

C.R.S. § 13-20-806(7)(a).

The reference to “section 13-20-802.5(1)” is to the definition of the word “Action”, which is defined as “a civil action or an arbitration proceeding for damages, indemnity, or contribution brought against a construction professional to assert a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third party claim for damages or loss to, or the loss of use of, real or personal property or personal injury caused by a defect in the design or construction of an improvement to real property.” So the basic argument is that construction professionals who bring cross-claims or third party claims for indemnification against other construction professionals should be protected under C.R.S. § 13-20-806(7)(a).

In Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. v. Bemas Construction, Inc., et al., 2014 COA 10, Taylor Morrison hired Terracon to perform certain geotechnical engineering and construction materials testing for a residential subdivision that Taylor Morrison was developing. After many homes were constructed, homeowners began complaining about cracks in the drywall. Taylor Morrison investigated the complaints and ended up spending significant amounts of money to remedy the defective conditions.

Taylor Morrison then sued Terracon to recover the money that it spent remedying the defects. Terracon’s contract with Taylor Morrison limited Terracon’s liability to $550,000, but Taylor Morrison was seeking more. So Taylor Morrison filed a motion with the trial court, asking the trial court to determine whether the HPA invalidated the limitation of liability in its contract with Terracon. The trial court ruled in favor of Terracon, holding that the HPA did not apply to invalidate a limitation of liability clause in a contract between it and Taylor Morrison because the HPA was meant to protect homeowners, not commercial entities. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but on different grounds. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the HPA could not apply retroactively to the contract between Terracon and Taylor Morrison. So the issue of whether the HPA would void a limitation of liability in an engineer’s agreement with a developer remains unresolved at the appellate level.

Consider the outstanding issue in light of the Court of Appeals’ decision in Mid Valley Real Estate Solutions V, LLC v. Hepworth-Pawlak Geotechnical, Inc., et al., 2013 COA 119. There, the Court of Appeals held that a bank holding title to residential property qualifies as a “homeowner” for purposes of the economic loss rule, and therefore may bring tort claims against construction professionals for construction defects. The Court’s reasoning in Mid Valley Real Estate Solutions is broad enough to include just about any person or entity holding title to residential property. So query the following:

  • Can developers who still hold title to homes that they have developed sue their own subcontractors and consultants in tort for alleged construction defects under Mid Valley Real Estate Solutions?
  • If so, are the developers bound by limitations of liability in their contracts with their subcontractors and consultants, or does the HPA void such limitations?
  • Finally, does it make sense to make a distinction between developers who still hold title to homes and developers who no longer hold title to homes when deciding whether or not the HPA applies?

Timothy Gordon represents construction and commercial real estate clients in complex disputes, and understands the interrelationship between the long-term real estate development, project construction, and property management. A thought leader in construction law, he currently authors Construction Law in Colorado, a blog that provides insight on key cases and developments relevant to construction law in Colorado, where this post originally appeared on February 21, 2014. He is the Co-Managing Editor of The Practitioner’s Guide to Colorado Construction Law, a three-volume treatise on construction law in Colorado.

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