Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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The Miller Act, 40 U.S.C. 3131, protects subcontractors against nonpayment for work performed on federal government construction projects by requiring the prime contractor to provide a payment bond on which the subcontractor can then make a claim for payment. A&C, a subcontractor on an air base project in Qatar, claims that it was not paid approximately $8.5 million for work it performed on the project, so it filed suit against the prime contractor’s two sureties, Zurich and The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania. As strict preconditions to payment, the Miller Act requires that subcontractors provide a notice of nonpayment within 90 days after the last day of work performed and then file suit within one year of the last date of work. The district court found that A&C missed both deadlines and granted the sureties summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rejecting A&C’s argument that its last day of work was much later than asserted by the sureties and that it gave “too much notice,” the court strictly construed the requirement be “within 90 days.” View "A&C Construction & Installation Co., WLL v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Construction Law
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Skyrise bid $950,000 to supply “stick building” rough frame carpentry for building housing units near the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Upon receiving a letter of intent from Annex, the general contractor, to enter into a contract, Skyrise blocked the project on its calendar and declined other work. Skyrise delayed returning the actual proposed contract for two months. Amex rejected Skyrise’s subsequent proposals for a broader scope of work and a different payment plan and awarded the carpentry contract to another firm. Skyrise sued for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, negligent misrepresentation, violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and violation of the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Although the parties signed various proposals during their negotiations, no contract formed. The undisputed, objective evidence demonstrates that both parties intended for their relationship to be governed by a detailed contract that remained under review until Skyrise ultimately rejected that contract by making material alterations. Skyrise knew or should have known, that the negotiations could fall apart before the parties entered into a binding agreement. Annex never represented to Skyrise that it had the framing subcontract. View "Skyrise Construction Group LLC v. Annex Construction LLC" on Justia Law

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Flameproof, a distributor of fire retardant and treated lumber (FRT lumber), maintained liability insurance through Lexington, covering liability for "property damage” that is “caused by an occurrence that takes place in the coverage territory.” “Occurrence” is defined as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” “Property damage” is “physical injury to tangible property, including all resulting loss of that property,” or loss of use of property that is not physically injured. Three lawsuits arose from Flameproof’s sale of lumber to Minnesota-based contractors. The contracts called for FRT lumber meeting the requirements of the International Building Code (IBC). The complaints alleged that Flameproof “unilaterally” decided to deliver its in-house FlameTech brand lumber, which purportedly was not IBC-compliant. After the material was installed, the owners discovered that the lumber was not IBC-certified. Flameproof “admitted” that it had shipped FlameTech lumber rather than the FRT lumber advertised on its website and ordered. The FlameTech lumber was removed and replaced, damaging the surrounding materials. The lawsuits alleged negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, deceptive business practices, false advertising, consumer fraud, breach of warranties, and breach of contract. Lexington sought a ruling that it owed no duty to defend Flameproof. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Lexington. The underlying complaints do not allege an “occurrence”—or accident—as required to trigger Lexington’s duty to defend under the policy. View "Lexington Insurance Co. v. Chicago Flameproof & Wood Specialties Corp." on Justia Law

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Lett worked as an investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. In 2016, Lett was investigating police involvement in a particular civilian shooting. The Chief Administrator, Fairley, directed Lett to include in the report a finding that police officers had planted a gun on the shooting victim. Lett refused because he did not believe that the evidence supported that finding. Lett raised his concerns with Fairley’s deputy, who spoke with Fairley. Soon after, Lett was removed from his investigative team, then removed from investigative work, and ultimately assigned to janitorial duties. Fairley opened an internal investigation that concluded that Lett had violated the office’s confidentiality policy. Fairley ordered that Lett be fired. Lett initiated a grievance through his union. The arbitrator ordered the office to reinstate Lett with back pay and to expunge his record. Fairley immediately placed Lett on administrative leave with pay. Lett was assigned on paper to the Police Department’s FOIA office but was not allowed to return to work. Lett sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First Amendment retaliation for his refusal to write a false report and Monell liability for the city and Fairley in her official capacity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Lett spoke pursuant to his official duties and not as a private citizen when he refused to alter the report; the First Amendment does not apply. View "Lett v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Washington was driving a vehicle he owned when an Indianapolis police officer pulled him over in September 2016. Washington was arrested and charged with dealing in marijuana, resisting law enforcement, and obstruction of justice. The officer had Washington’s vehicle towed and held for forfeiture under Indiana Code 34- 24-1-1(a)(1) and 2(a)(1). In November 2016, Washington demanded the return of his vehicle per I.C. 34-24-1-3. He filed a federal class-action complaint, claiming such seizures violate the due process clause. In February 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office released the vehicle to Washington. The district court certified a class and granted Washington summary judgment, declaring I.C. 34-24-1-1(a)(1) (read in conjunction with other provisions of the chapter) unconstitutional in allowing for seizure and retention of vehicles without an opportunity for an individual to challenge pre-forfeiture deprivation. While an appeal was pending, Indiana amended the statute, arguably increasing the available process by providing for a probable cause affidavit, a motion for provisional release, and a shortened window for the Prosecutor to file a forfeiture complaint. The Seventh Circuit remanded for consideration of the constitutionality of the amended statute, expressing no opinion regarding the constitutionality of the old or new versions of the statute, regarding mootness, or regarding the class. View "Washington v. Marion County Prosecutor" on Justia Law

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Prolite Building Supply bought Ply Gem windows, which it resold to Wisconsin builders. Some homeowners were not satisfied with the windows, which admitted air even when closed. Contractors stopped buying from Prolite, which stopped paying Ply Gem. Prolite and homeowners sued. Ply Gem removed the action to federal court and counter-claimed against Prolite for unpaid bills. Additional parties intervened. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Prolite. The court vacated the judgment on the homeowners’ claims for remand to state court. The service agreement between Prolite and Ply Gem requires Prolite to repair the Ply Gem windows in exchange for a discount and needed parts. There was no breach of that agreement. The homeowners’ claims can be resolved under supplemental jurisdiction only if they “are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy,” 28 U.S.C. 1367(a). The language of the window warranties received by the homeowners and the service agreement did not overlap. Prolite complained that Ply Gem did not do enough to ensure that its customers (the builders) remained willing to purchase Ply Gem windows. The homeowners just wanted to stop drafts and moisture. The nature of the work done differed. View "ProLite Building Supply, LLC v. Ply Gem Windows" on Justia Law

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Ballard obtained a $280,000 loan from SBH to construct the Stone Fence residence, then requested another $90,000 to finish the property. There was insufficient equity to cover that amount; SBH lent him $20,000. Ballard obtained construction loans on properties in Bradley. Grant was the SBH loan officer for all three properties. Ballard submitted required Sworn Contractor’s Statements and Owner’s Payment Authorizations to the Kankakee County Title Company (KCTC), identifying the material and labor costs supposedly associated with his work on the Bradley properties. Ballard obtained $188,000 for the Bradley properties, where no work was performed. Ballard used the funds to complete Stone Fence. An SBH employee discovered Ballard’s scheme. Ballard was charged with three counts of bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344. At trial, Ballard admitted that he had misdirected funds; he argued a “good faith” defense that Grant and his supervisors knew and authorized Ballard’s acts and pressured him to complete Stone Fence. Ballard also claimed he did not read or sign the loan documents, implying that someone forged his signature. After Ballard was convicted, his attorney obtained a previously undisclosed audio recording of Grant, made during a prior, unrelated criminal investigation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in granting a new trial, finding the recording material. View "United States v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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Weis, a stonework firm, was required by a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) to contribute to the Laborers’ Pension Fund for each hour worked by Union members. Weis complied for many years, then began using more skilled marble setters and finishers on its jobs, gradually stopped hiring Union members, ceased paying into the Fund, and terminated its CBA with the Union. The Fund, a multiemployer pension plan governed by ERISA and the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendment Act, served notice that Weis owed more than $600,000 in withdrawal liability. Weis paid but challenged the assessment in arbitration, invoking 29 U.S.C. 1383(b): An employer in the building and construction industry is subject to withdrawal liability only if, after its contribution obligation ceases, it continues to perform work in the jurisdiction of the CBA of the type for which contributions were previously required. The Fund argued that the arbitrator misread the phrase “previously required” to mean “previously collected by the plan.” A district judge confirmed the award but denied Weis attorney’s fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Fund waived its statutory-interpretation argument by failing to raise it in arbitration and did not meaningfully challenge the arbitrator’s factual determinations. The judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Weis’s motion for attorney’s fees. View "Laborers' Pension Fund v. W.R. Weis Company, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Construction Law, ERISA
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A newly-constructed multi‐story condominium building suffered water damage, allegedly caused by the painting subcontractor, National, failing to apply an adequate coat of sealant to the exterior. In Illinois state court, the condominium association sued the general contractor, developer, and subcontractors. The defendants tendered the defense to Westfield, National’s insurer, Westfield filed a federal action seeking a declaration that it owed no duty to defend in the underlying action. The district court determined that the complaint triggered Westfield’s duty to defend. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment, rejecting an argument that failure to apply an adequate amount of paint cannot be considered an “accident” that would constitute a covered “occurrence” under the policy. Westfield also argued that because the damage is to the building itself, which was a new construction and not an existing structure, the association has not demonstrated that there was property damage that is subject to its policy. The policy defines “occurrence” to include the “continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same harmful conditions,” so the allegation that National acted negligently was sufficient under Illinois law to constitute an “occurrence.” National’s actions allegedly damaged parts of the building that were outside of the scope of its work, so the complaint alleges potentially covered property damage sufficient to invoke the duty to defend. View "Westfield Insurance Co. v. National Decorating Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork, alleging that Kolbe sold them defective windows that leak and rot. Plaintiffs brought common-law and statutory claims for breach of express and implied warranties, negligent design and manufacturing of the windows, negligent or fraudulent misrepresentations as to the condition of the windows, and unjust enrichment. The district court granted partial summary judgment in Kolbe’s favor on a number of claims, excluded plaintiffs’ experts, denied class certification, and found that plaintiffs’ individual claims could not survive without expert support. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs forfeited their arguments with respect to their experts’ qualifications under “Daubert.” Individual plaintiffs failed to establish that Kolbe’s alleged misrepresentation somehow caused them loss, given that their builders only used Kolbe windows. Though internal emails, service-request forms, and photos of rotting or leaking windows may suggest problems with Kolbe windows, that evidence did not link the problems to an underlying design defect, as opposed to other, external factors such as construction flaws or climate issues. View "Haley v. Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co.," on Justia Law