Justia Minnesota Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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L.H. Bolduc Company, Inc. (Bolduc) was the subcontractor of Engineering and Construction Innovations, Inc. (ECI). Bolduc damaged a sewer pipe while working on a construction project. ECI repaired the damage and sought reimbursement from Bolduc's insurer, The Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut (Travelers) under an endorsement to Bolduc's policy naming ECI as an additional insured for liability caused by acts or omissions of Bolduc. Travelers denied coverage. ECI subsequently sued Bolduc and Travelers (collectively, Appellants) for negligence and breach of contract. A jury found that Bolduc was not negligent, and the district court granted summary judgment for Appellants on ECI's breach of contract claims, concluding that Appellants had no obligation to reimburse ECI for damages not caused by Bolduc. The court of appeals reversed, determining (1) ECI was entitled to coverage as an additional insured without regard to Bolduc's fault; and (2) Bolduc was required to indemnity ECI. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) ECI did not qualify as an additional insured with respect to the pipe damage; and (2) Bolduc could not be required to indemnify ECI without violating Minn. Stat. 337.02, which prohibits indemnification for the fault of others in construction contracts. View "Eng'g & Constr. Innovations, Inc. v. L.H. Bolduc Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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A home remodeling contractor (Contractor) received a demand for arbitration regarding allegedly defective work it performed on a remodeling project. Contractor's insurer (Insurer) accepted defense of the claim under a reservation of rights. The arbitrator issued an arbitration award in favor of the homeowners. When Insurer refused to pay the award, Contractor paid the homeowners and sued Insurer for indemnification under the policy. The district court granted Contractor's motion for summary judgment, concluding that a vague arbitration award made it impossible to determine whether the insurance policy covered any of the homeonwers' successful claims and was directly attributable to the inaction of the attorney appointed by Insurer to represent Contractor. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a portion of the homeowners' claim may be covered under the policy; (2) Insurer was not vicariously liable of the absence of an explanation of the arbitration award; and (3) Insurer was directly liable to Contractor for the failure of the attorney to request an explanation of the arbitration award to determine what portion of the award, if any, was for the covered claim. Remanded. View "Remodeling Dimensions, Inc., v. Integrity Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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This case involved two mechanic's liens foreclosed against a hotel property. An agent of the lien claimants personally served mechanic's liens statements on the property owner. Appellant, a community bank, challenged the validity of this service. Appellant argued that a lien claimant may not personally serve a mechanic's lien statement, and therefore, service was improper. As a result, Appellant contended that the mechanic's liens were invalid and could not be foreclosed. The district court determined that service was proper and entered judgment in favor of the lien claimants. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a lien claimant may personally serve a mechanic's lien statement, and therefore, service of the mechanic's lien statements in this case was proper. View "Eclipse Architectural Group, Inc. v. Lam" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge. Individual plaintiffs commenced lawsuits against two contractors that performed work on the bridge pursuant to contracts entered into with the State. The contractors brought third-party complaints against Jacobs Engineering Group on the basis that Jacobs' predecessor negligently designed the bridge. One contractor also filed a third-party complaint against the State. The State cross-claimed against Jacobs for contribution, indemnity, and statutory reimbursement. Jacobs moved to dismiss the State's cross-claim as time-barred, arguing that the reimbursement provision of the compensation statutes compensating survivor-claimants of the collapse did not retroactively revive causes of action against Jacobs that had been previously extinguished by a prior version of the statute of repose. The district court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the provision retroactively revived the State's action for statutory reimbursement against Jacobs; (2) the provision did not violate Jacob's constitutional right to due process; and (3) revival of the action for statutory reimbursement did not unconstitutionally impair Jacobs' contractual obligations. View "In re Individual 35W Bridge Litig." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge. Individual plaintiffs commenced lawsuits against a contractor that performed work on the bridge pursuant to a contract entered into with the State. The contractor brought a third-party complaint against Jacobs Engineering Group for indemnity and contribution on the basis that Jacobs' predecessor negligently designed the bridge. Jacobs moved to dismiss the lawsuits as time-barred and argued that the 2007 amendments to Minn. Stat. 541.051 did not revive actions for contribution or indemnity that had previously been extinguished by a prior version of the statute of repose. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, holding that the 2007 amendments to section 541.051 did not retroactively revive the contractor's action for contribution against Jacobs. View "In re Individual 35W Bridge Litig." on Justia Law

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After the district court determined that the parties involved in this appeal were not in a special relationship, a jury found Appellants Eric Rolland and Rolland Building Corporation not negligent in an incident in which a skid loader attachment used to perform landscaping at Respondent Bradley Domagala's home fell on Respondent's foot, resulting in the amputation of three toes. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Appellants did not have a specific legal duty to warn Respondent arising in the context of a special relationship, but (2) Appellants had a general duty to warn as an exercise of the general duty of reasonable care. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court's special instructions to the jury that Appellants had no duty to warn and no duty to protect Respondent were misleading as to the crucial elements of duty and breach of duty, and (2) the instructions were prejudicial to Respondent. Remanded for a new trial. View "Domagala v. Rolland" on Justia Law

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David Miller purchased a home owned by respondents Linda Lankow and Jim Betz. The home had previously been extensively remediated because of moisture intrusion damage. Respondents Donnelly Brothers and Total Service Company and defendant Diversified Contractors, Inc. did the remediation work. After discovering and notifying respondents and defendants of additional moisture intrusion damage, buyer began to repair the home. Buyer then commenced an action against respondents and defendant to recover damages. The district court excluded buyer's expert witness evidence as a sanction for the spoliation of evidence that resulted from buyer starting to make repairs to his home. The court then granted respondents' summary judgment motion on the basis that buyer could not make a prima facie case without the expert evidence. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the duty of a custodial party to preserve evidence may be discharged when the custodial party has a legitimate need to destroy the evidence and gives the noncustodial party notice sufficient to enable the noncustodial party to protect itself against the loss of the evidence. View "Miller v. Lankow" on Justia Law

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After respondent was granted a permit by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (âMPUCâ) for routing and construction of a pipeline to deliver natural gas to an energy center within appellantâs city limits, appellant commenced an action for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking to require respondent to obtain a franchise from appellant to operate the pipeline. The district court dismissed, concluding that appellant did not have franchise authority over respondentâs pipeline, and the appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) a municipality is authorized by Minn. Stat. 301B.01 to impose a franchise on a public utility that has constructed and operates a gas pipeline located on public property within the municipality, regardless of whether the pipeline itself supplies gas to the public; (2) a municipality is authorized by Minn. Stat. 216B.36 to impose a franchise on a public utility that serves customers within the municipality or that uses public property within the municipality to serve customers elsewhere; and (3) the issuance of a permit by the MPUC for the construction of a gas pipeline does not preempt pursuant to Minn. Stat. 216G.02 a municipal ordinance requiring a franchise for the operation of the pipeline after construction is complete.

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Respondents Dr. Rajbir Sarpal and his wife Carol purchased a parcel of property in 2003 on which they built their home. The property was encumbered by two easements reserved by the City of North Oaks for a future trail. The Sarpals wanted a shed on their property, and in 2006, went to the City to obtain the necessary permits. A City employee gave Dr. Sarpal an "as-built" survey in order to obtain the necessary permits, but the survey was dated to a time before the Sarpals' home was built. Dr. Sarpal, acting as his own general contractor, drew up the plans, submitted them to the requisite authorities, and built the shed on his property. He would later find out that the shed encroached on the City's two easements. Dr. Sarpal petitioned the local zoning board for a variance in order to save the shed, but was denied. The City sued to have the shed removed. The court dismissed all of the City's claims, holding that because the Sarpals relied on the survey given to them by the City, the City was equitably estopped from suing for the easements now. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court held that when a government entity makes a "simple mistake" when providing a document to a party upon which the party relies to obtain building permits and the government approves that permit, the mistake is not wrongful conduct sufficient to support the conclusion that the government is equitably estopped from enforcing its zoning ordinances.