Suffolk Constr. Co. v. Rodriguez & Quiroga Architects Chtd., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42652 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 15, 2018)

This case arises out of the design and construction of a science museum in Miami, Florida (the “Project”).  Museum of Science, Inc. (“MSI”), the Project owner, executed several agreements relating to the Project, including: (i) an agreement with Defendant Rodriguez and Quiroga Architects Chartered (“R&Q”) to serve as executive architect; (ii) an agreement with Defendant Grimshaw Architects P.C. (“Grimshaw”) to serve as the design architect; (iii) a construction services contract with Plaintiff Suffolk Construction Co. (“Suffolk”); and (iv) a direct contract with Suffolk’s subcontractor, Plaintiff Baker Concrete Construction, Inc. (“Baker”) for construction services after MSI terminated Suffolk for convenience.  After execution of these agreements, R&Q executed contracts with Defendant Fraga Engineers, LLC (“Fraga”) for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design services, and with Defendant DDA Engineers, P.A. (“DDA”) for structural design and engineering services.

Suffolk and Baker (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed suit for negligence against R&Q, Grimshaw, Fraga, and DDA (collectively, “Defendants”), claiming that by issuing deficient design documents, Defendants breached their duties owed to Plaintiffs causing Plaintiffs to incur economic losses.  All Defendants but R&Q moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that they had no supervisory role or control over Plaintiffs, as demonstrated by the fact that their contracts with MSI did not designate them as “supervisory architects,” and thus, owed no duty to Plaintiffs.


Continue Reading How Much Control Is Too Much Control? Federal Court in Florida Holds Designers’ Supervision of Project and Issuance of Design Documents Creates Control Over—And Potential Tort Liability To—Project Contractors

Dormitory Auth. of the State of NY v. Samson Constr. Co., 2018 N.Y. Lexis 218 (February 15, 2018)

The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (“DASNY”) undertook, as project manager, to construct a facility for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York (the “City”) as a forensic biology laboratory (the “Project”).  DASNY retained Perkins Eastman Architects, P.C. (“Perkins”) as architect for the Project, and Samson Construction Co. (“Samson”) as the foundation contractor.

Complications during the construction of the foundation resulted in 18 months of delays due to the adjacent building settling eight inches, damages to the adjacent sidewalks, utilities and emergency repairs.  DASNY and the City filed suit against Samson, and later joined Perkins, asserting claims against Perkins for breach of contract and negligence.

Perkins moved for summary judgment to dismiss the City’s claims, and to dismiss DASNY’s negligence claim as duplicative of its breach of contract claim.  The trial court dismissed the City’s breach of contract claim; holding that the City was not an intended third-party beneficiary of the contract between DASNY and Perkins (the “Contract”), and allowed both DASNY’s breach of contract and negligence claims to proceed, holding that the claims were not duplicative of each another.


Continue Reading Divided New York Court of Appeals Holds That a Third Party Cannot Sue for Breach of Contract Absent Express Language Naming Them as an Intended Beneficiary and That Claims for Breach of Contract and Professional Negligence Against an Architect Cannot Both Be Maintained When the Allegations Supporting Both Claims Are Nearly Identical

Lathan Co. v. State, No. 2016-CA-0913, 2017 La. App. LEXIS 2277 (La. App. 1st Cir. Dec. 6, 2017)

 
On December 6, 2017, the Louisiana Court of Appeals, First Circuit, reversed and remanded the trial court’s decision to grant the appellee’s, Jacobs Project Management Co./CRSS Consortium (“Jacobs”), motion for summary judgment.  In its opinion, the court of appeals held that a project manager owed a general contractor a duty of professional care and thus, could be held liable to a general contractor under Louisiana law, even if the project manager was not in direct privity with the general contractor.

On August 13, 2010, the appellant, The Lathan Company, Inc. (“Lathan”), entered into a public works contract with the State of Louisiana, Department of Education, Recovery School District (“Owner”) to renovate the William Frantz School in New Orleans.  Jacobs, through its contract with the Owner, served as project manager on behalf of the Owner.  Four years later, in August 2014, after filing an original lawsuit against the Owner in 2012 for payment of undisputed amounts due, Lathan filed an amended pleading that alleged inter alia Lathan was entitled to damages from Jacobs under general tort law for negligent professional undertaking and under Louisiana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.  According to Lathan, Jacobs owed Lathan a duty of conduct in accordance with a standard of care similar to professionals in the industry and that Jacobs breached its duty of care by failing to (i) disclose mold conditions and the existence of an underground fuel tank at the outset of the project; (ii) timely respond to Lathan’s 400+ requests for information; (iii) perform inspections consistent with industry standards; and (iv) review, certify, and/or approve amounts due to Lathan.


Continue Reading No Privity, No Problem: Louisiana Court of Appeals Holds That Project Manager Owes a Duty of Professional Care to General Contractor Despite a Lack of Privity

S. Indus. Contractors, LLC v. Neel-Schaffer, Inc., No. 1:17CV255-LG-JCG, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 196804 (S.D. Miss. Nov. 30, 2017)

This case arises out of the West Pier Facilities project at the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi (“Project”).  Southern Industrial Contractors, LLC (“SIC”), the Project’s general contractor, filed suit for negligence against CH2M, the Project’s program manager and consultant, to recover increased costs incurred while excavating and working around underground debris at the Project site.  SIC alleged first that CH2M owed it a duty to ensure that the Project plans, specifications and bidding documents accurately represented the Project’s conditions, and second that CH2M breached this duty by failing to warn SIC of the underground obstructions it had encountered.  SIC argued that, as a result of CH2M’s breach, the Project became much more expensive and time-consuming.  CH2M filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing it owed no duty to SIC.

The court first recognized that Mississippi law imposes upon design professionals, such as architects and engineers, a duty to exercise ordinary skill and diligence, and further, that Mississippi law allows third parties to rely upon the contractual obligations that a design professional owes to a project’s owner.  The court explained that, because of the design professional’s contractual obligations to the owner, the design professional owes a further duty, sounding in tort, to a contractor who relies upon the design to his economic detriment.  The court recognized that whether the design professional owes such a duty to a contractor is a factual determination that must be made on a case-by-case basis.


Continue Reading Mississippi Federal District Court Permits General Contractor’s Negligence Claim to Proceed Against Project Consultant Given Consultant’s Contractual Obligations to Owner

Melchert v. Pro Elec. Contrs., 2017 Wis. Lexis 169 (April 7, 2017)

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (“DOT”) contracted with Payne & Dolan (“P&D”) as General Contractor on a road improvement project. P&D in turn contracted with Pro Electric Contractors (“Pro Electric”) to install concrete bases for new traffic signal poles.  DOT provided Pro Electric with detailed plans and specifications for the project (“Project Plan”) that specified the location of the concrete bases and the excavation equipment to be used.  Pro Electric was required to comply with the Project Plan and could only make deviations if approved by DOT’s engineer.

While excavating one of the specified locations, Pro Electric unknowingly severed a sewer line, causing sewage backup and flooding on adjoining private property. Pro Electric then backfilled the excavation site without inspecting the sewer line for damage.  The private property owners (“Owners”) brought a negligence action against Pro Electric.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Pro Electric, ruling that it was immune from liability because it was merely implementing DOT’s design decisions.  The court of appeals affirmed, and Owners appealed to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.


Continue Reading Supreme Court of Wisconsin Holds That Private Subcontractor Is Immune to Property Damage Claims by Adjoining Landowners Because it Followed Specifications Provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Apex Directional Drilling, LLC v. SHN Consulting Eng’rs & Geologists, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105537 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 11, 2015)

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that an engineer that prepares plans and specifications to be relied upon by contractors in preparing their bids for a construction project owes a duty of care to those contractors, and therefore can be held liable to the contractors for breach of professional duty and/or negligent misrepresentation.


Continue Reading U.S. District Court for Northern District of California Holds Engineer May Be Liable to Contractor for Breach of Professional Duty and Negligent Misrepresentation

Bedwell Co. v. Camden County Improvement Auth., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95510 (D.N.J. July 14, 2014)

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey contracted HDR Architects and Engineers, P.C. (“HDR”) to design a medical school building. After the project went to bid, the Bedwell Company (“Bedwell”) contracted with the owner’s development and contracting agent for the performance of foundation, structural steel, and other construction work.

Bedwell and HDR did not have a contract with each other. According to the allegations in Bedwell’s complaint, however, HDR was aware that the design documents that it prepared under its contract with the owner would be used by contractors like Bedwell in their estimation of costs and time for completion of the work. In its complaint, Bedwell alleged that defects in HDR’s design documents—which led to 212 Requests for Information and 469 Change Order Requests—caused unexpected costs and numerous delays.


Continue Reading Federal District Court in New Jersey Holds that Economic Loss Rule Does Not Bar Contractor’s Tort Claims Against Architect Where Parties Were Not in Privity of Contract

Engeman Enterprises, LLC, v. Tolin Mechanical Systems Company
2013 Colo. App. LEXIS 345 (Colo. App. Mar. 14, 2013)

Engeman operates a cold storage facility and Tolin designs, installs, maintains, and repairs cooling systems. In 2008, Engeman engaged Tolin for an emergency repair at Engeman’s facility. The parties entered into two agreements, both of which stated that Tolin would perform its work in a “prudent and workmanlike manner,” and which disclaimed Tolin’s liability beyond repairing issues caused by defective workmanship.


Continue Reading Colorado Court of Appeals Upholds Summary Judgment Barring Owner Tort Claims Against Service Contractor Pursuant To Economic Loss Rule

Maisel v. Erickson Construction, Inc.
2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108726 (D. Colo. August 3, 2012)

Plaintiff contracted with Charles Cunniffe & Assoc. Architects (“CCA”) for architectural services. Plaintiff separately contracted with Erickson Construction, Inc. (“Erickson”) for construction and general contractor services. No contract existed between CCA and Erickson.

Plaintiff sued both CCA and Erickson for various defects and design deficiencies, and asserted claims for breach of contract, breached of implied warranties, negligence and vicarious liability. Erickson cross-claimed against CCA for negligence, breach of contract (on a third-party beneficiary theory), indemnification and contribution.


Continue Reading U.S. District Court in Colorado Dismisses Contractor’s Negligence, Third-Party Beneficiary and Indemnity Claims, But Not Its Contribution Claim, Against Architect

LeBlanc v. Logan Hilton J.V.
463 Mass. 316 (2012)

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled where there is evidence that design professionals had actual knowledge of deficiencies in the installation of electrical switchgear but failed to fulfill their contractual duties to report the deficiencies to the property owner, the evidence of is sufficient to support a finding of professional negligence without an expert opinion.


Continue Reading Massachusetts Supreme Court Holds Expert Testimony Is Not Always Required to Support Professional Negligence Claim