You Didn’t Build This

The court affirmed a judgment in a construction contract dispute between two subcontractors. The general contractor of a shopping center project, Mycon, subcontracted with Bulldog to fabricate the steel and erect the steel-reinforced concrete panels around the center’s trash dumpsters. Bulldog subcontracted Top Flight to erect the panels. Top flight testified that Mycon directed the concrete pouring to take place well outside of the range that Top Flight had instructed. Top Flight then requested a $7,500 change order from Bulldog for the extra erection cost, which Mycon refused. Under pressure from Mycon, Bulldog eventually installed the panels themselves, without notifying Top Flight, and then invoiced and eventually sued Top Flight for the cost of installation. Top Flight counterclaimed for the 10% retainage amount left on the contract. Finding that Bulldog did not notify Top Flight to complete installation of the panels breached the subcontract by preventing Top Flight’s performance, the trial court rendered judgment for Top Flight for its retainage, interest, and attorney’s fees.

On appeal, Bulldog did not challenge the trial court’s finding that Top Flight was never notified to complete the installation of the dumpster panels despite the extra cost, and without allowing Top Flight an opportunity to perform, Bulldog undertook to install the dumpster panels using its own employees. The court held the fact that Bulldog prevented Top Flight from performing under the contract, which supported the conclusion that Top Flight did not breach the contract and that Bulldog did.

Bulldog Ironworks, LLC v. Top Flight Steel, Inc., 05-10-01360-CV

Maybe We Should Hang Some Art …

In this certificate of merit case, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant-architect’s motion to dismiss. After walking into a very clean glass wall in the lobby of a condominium complex, Zion sued the owners of the building and added claims against the architect, MSM, for negligently designing the wall. He included with his petition a certificate of merit, which was an affidavit authored by architect James R. Drebelbis, as required by § 150.002 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. MSM filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the affidavit did not meet the requirements of § 150.002. The trial court denied MSM’s motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the court first held that a certificate of merit need not demonstrate the affiant’s practice in the same sub-specialty as the defendant. Drebelbis’s affidavit, which stated he was knowledgeable in the area of architecture, was therefore sufficient. Next, the court held that the certificate of merit need not state the applicable standard of care to satisfy the statute’s requirement that it allege a negligent action, error, or omission. Finally, the court held that the affidavit included a sufficient factual basis for Zion’s claims, as opposed to merely conclusory opinions, to meet the requirements of § 150.002. Thus, the affidavit was sufficient and the court affirmed the trial court’s order.

Morrison Seifert Murphy, Inc. v. Buck Zion, 05-11-00621-CV

Argument for Dismissal for Lack of Certificate of Merit Lacked Merit

The court reversed the dismissal of a claim against an engineering consultant in an opinion dealing with the “certificate of merit” requirement in section 150.002 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Though there was no written contract between JJW and Strand, JJW originally asserted claims against Strand for breach of contract and negligence arising from a cracked foundation Strand designed. JJW later dropped its negligence claims and asserted only the contract action against Strand in its third amended petition, claiming that it entered an oral or implied contract with Strand to perform a “pre-pour” inspection of the foundation. JJW alleged that Strand breached this contract by failing to measure the depth of the concrete slab. Strand moved to dismiss the action because JJW failed to file a certificate of merit with its petition. JJW responded that the applicable 2005 version of section 150.002 does not apply to a claim for breach of contract. The trial court dismissed the claim.

On appeal, the court first held that it would consider the live pleadings at the time of the trial court’s ruling on the motion to dismiss to determine whether and how section 150.002 applied to the plaintiff’s claims. Examining the third amended petition, the court agreed with the majority of the Texas courts of appeals and held that the 2005 version of section 150.002 requires a certificate for negligence claims only and not for non-negligence claims. In doing so, the court rejected the approach recently taken by an en banc panel of the Austin court of appeals. The court noted, however, that it still must determine whether JJW’s contract claim was truly based on Strand’s alleged contractual obligations to JJW or was merely a negligence claim recast as breach of contract.

To determine the nature of the claim, the court looked to the source of the duty owed and the nature of the remedy sought. The court held that because JJW alleged that Strand had an express or implied contractual obligation to measure the depth of the slab – independent from its duty to exercise a professional degree of care, skill, and competence in performing the pre-pour inspection – the duty arose from the contract. The court also held that the remedy – consequential damages for the diminution in value of the residence and the loss of use and other damages due to necessary repairs – was based in contract because those damages are “consequences of the alleged failure to perform a pre-pour inspection.” Thus, the court concluded that the nature of the claim was, indeed, contractual.

JJW Development, LLC v. Ramer Concrete, Inc. and Strand Systems Engineering, Inc., 05-10-01359-CV

Jewelry Manufacturer’s Exchange, Inc. v. Tafoya

In a construction contract case, the court has reversed summary judgment in favor of an electrician subcontractor against a retail property leaseholder. The subcontractor alleged that he had performed 80% of the work at the property when the general contractor’s check bounced, and the subcontractor sued the property leaseholder for the difference. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the subcontractor. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that (1) a fact issue existed as to the proper amount of retainage the leaseholder was to retain and (2) the court erroneously awarded the subcontractor certain amounts under the Texas “Fund Trapping” statute that the leasehold had paid to replacement contractors.

Jewelry Manufacturer’s Exchange, Inc. v. Tafoya, No. 05-11-00065-CV