Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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Sharfarz hired Goguen to build an addition to his house. Despite taking full payment, Goguen never finished the job. Sharfarz had to pay another to finish the work and sued consumer-protection laws, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 142A. Sharfarz obtained a default judgment of $272,745. After an evidentiary hearing to assess damages, the state judge wrote that Goguen was "both deceptive and unfair, almost from the beginning and to the end," and that his "violations" had been "willful and knowing." Goguen filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Sharfarz sought to have his judgment declared nondischargeable, under a provision that bars discharge of "any debt ... for money ... to the extent obtained by ... false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud" 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(2)(A). The bankruptcy judge denied the petition. The First Circuit vacated and remanded for determination of the nondischargeable amount. Goguen’s false statements were both the legal and factual cause of Sharfarz’s loss. View "Sharfarz v. Goguen" on Justia Law

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Lynch is a highway construction contractor and a signatory of the Construction Industries of Rhode Island's collective bargaining agreement with Local 251, as representative of truck drivers employed by Lynch. Lynch employed 26 Local 251 members in 1995, 16 in 1997, and only 10 in 2001. Local 251's vice president, Boyajian, testified that each time a truck driver retired, Lynch would sell a truck and replace that person with a subcontractor, gradually reducing the number of bargaining unit employees. The collective bargaining agreement states that employers are not permitted to use subcontractors unless employees of the subcontractors are paid the prevailing rate. Boyajian complained to Lynch about its use of subcontractors that did not pay prevailing rate and, in 1999, filed grievances with the NLRB. Lynch and the union entered into a letter of agreement, which was later challenged as violating the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 158(e), by impermissibly preventing Lynch from doing business with two subcontractors. The NLRB upheld the challenge and subsequently sought enforcement. The First Circuit noted contradictory evidence that the Board failed to consider and reversed with respect to one company, while entering an order of enforcement with respect to the other.View "Nat'l Labor Relations Bd v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Local 251" on Justia Law

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Defendants were employees of subcontractor that provided concrete for Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel project, the "Big Dig." The government charged that over nine years, the company knowingly provided concrete that failed to meet project specifications and concealed that failure by creating false documentation purporting to show that the concrete provided complied with specifications. Several employees, including defendants, were convicted of mail fraud, highway project fraud, and conspiracy to defraud the government. The district court calculated the guidelines sentencing range as 87- to 108-months incarceration, then sentenced defendants to six months of home monitoring, three years of probation, and 1,000 hours of community service. The First Circuit affirmed. The district court's explanation ultimately supports the reasonableness of the sentences, based on its finding that the loss amount caused by the crimes, the most significant factor in determining the GSR, was imprecise and did not fairly reflect the defendants' culpability. The court also found that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the defendants' conduct made the Big Dig unsafe in any way or that the defendants profited from the offenses and considered personal circumstances. View "United States v. Stevenson" on Justia Law

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A worker, injured at a construction site while working for a subcontractor, sued the developer. The developer submitted the claim to the insurer, which obtained a declaratory judgment that it was not required to indemnify or defend. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that a Contractors Exclusion clause was unambiguous and precluded coverage for any injuries arising out of operations performed for the insured by independent contractors. View "Certain Interested Underwriters at Lloyd's, London v. Stolberg" on Justia Law

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During the early 1990s, debtor Redondo entered into three construction contracts with the Authority: the Patillas project, construction of a bridge and access road; the Dorado project, replacement of a different bridge; the Mayguez project, highway improvements. The Authority retained the right to modify the plans; Redondo had the right to seek extra compensation. Redondo also could claim extra compensation for certain contingencies requiring substantial additional work. Each project encountered unanticipated problems, including unforeseen site conditions and flawed design plans. Redondo completed all three projects and submitted claims for additional amounts owed under the contracts, including claims for two subcontractors on the Mayaguez project. With the claims unresolved, Redondo filed for bankruptcy protection, 11 U.S.C. 1101-1174, and served the Authority with adversary complaints. The bankruptcy court awarded the debtor a total of $12,028,311.92 plus prejudgment interest at 6.5 percent, later reduced by $69,792.26. The district court affirmed. The First Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting claims concerning timely notice on one project and Redondo's standing to assert subcontractor claims. The court vacated and remanded calculation of extended overhead damages and the award of prejudgment interest. View "PR Highway and Transp. Auth. v. Redondo Constr. Corp." on Justia Law

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OSHA fined the employer, a public works contractor, $33,700 for violations of safety regulations relating to the excavation of a trench. The “cave-in” provision, 29 C.F.R. 1926.652(a)(1) requires protective measures, such as shoring or trench boxes, for excavations at least five feet deep and in potentially unstable soil; other rules require inspections by a competent person, and specific egress measures, 29 C.F.R. 1926.650-652. An ALJ confirmed the fine and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld the decision. The First Circuit denied review. An employer can be charged with constructive knowledge of a safety violation that supervisory employees know or should reasonably know about. The employer did not provide any documentary evidence of safety inspections. Substantial evidence supported the decision. View "P. Gioioso & Sons, Inc. v. Occupational Safety & Health Admin." on Justia Law

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The "Big Dig" highway project, built largely with federal funds, has transformed vehicular travel in Boston. Defendant supplied concrete and, on occasion, secretly substituted substandard material for the concrete required by contract specifications. Certain employees, including plaintiff, learned of the deception and brought a sealed qui tam action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729-3733. The federal government intervened, and settled the case for several million dollars. Plaintiff received a percentage of the settlement. A few days after he signed the settlement, defendant dismissed plaintiff, allegedly for his refusal to take a drug test. Plaintiff sued, asserting pretext and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. The First Circuit vacated and remanded, applying a burden-shifting analysis and concluding that the circumstances of the firing are open to legitimate question and that the record, viewed as a whole and in the light most favorable to plaintiff, did not warrant the entry of summary judgment.

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Two laws were challenged under the Buy American Act, 41 U.S.C. 8301, which requires that only materials mined, produced, or manufactured in the U.S. be employed for "public use" or used in construction, alteration, or repair of "any public building or public work. A 1985 Puerto Rican law required that local construction projects financed with federal or Commonwealth funds use only construction materials manufactured in Puerto Rico, with limited exceptions relating to price, quality, and available quantity, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 3, 927-927h (Law 109). Cement is deemed "manufactured in Puerto Rico" only if composed entirely of raw materials from Puerto Rico. P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 10, 167e (Law 132), enacted in 2001, imposes labeling requirements on cement and required that foreign-manufactured cement carry a special label warning against its use in government-financed construction projects unless one of the exceptions contained in the BAA and Law 109 applies. The district court held that the local laws were preempted. The First Circuit upheld Law 109 as a permissible action taken by Puerto Rico as a market participant, but invalidated provisions of Law 132 that discriminate against sellers of foreign cement, leaving the remainder of the law intact.

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In 1999 plaintiff pled guilty to making false statements while working on a project funded by the Federal Highway Administration (18 U.S.C. 2, 1014, and 1020). The agreement prohibited plaintiff from participating in any FHWA-funded project for a year. Plaintiff challenged Puerto Rico agencies' subsequent actions. The parties negotiated settlements; plaintiff entered into an agreement allowing it to bid on FHWA projects. Puerto Rico then enacted Law 458, which prohibits award of government contracts to any party convicted of a crime constituting fraud, embezzlement, or misappropriation of public funds and requires rescission of any contract with a party convicted of a specified offense. The statute states that it does not apply retroactively. One agency cancelled plaintiff's successful bids, another withdrew its consent to the settlement. The district court rejected claims of violation of the federal Contracts Clause and breaches of contract under Puerto Rico law. The First Circuit affirmed with respect to the constitutional claim. Any breach of the settlement agreements did not violate the Contracts Clause, even if committed in an attempt to unlawfully enforce Law 458 retroactively; defendants have not impaired plaintiff's ability to obtain a remedy for a demonstrated breach. Given the stage of the litigation, the district court should have retained the breach of contract claims.

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The claim arose from an accident at a construction site. The company was insured under its own commercial general liability policy, issued by Acadia, and as an additional insured on a subcontractor's policy, issued by AIG. Both policies contained provisions that: This insurance is excess over: (1) Any of the other insurance, whether primary, excess, contingent, or on any other basis . . . (a) That is . . . coverage for "your work"; . . .(2) Any other primary insurance available to you covering liability for damages arising out of the premises or operations for which you have been added as an additional insured by attachment of an endorsement. The company and Acadia sought declaratory judgment that AIG was obligated to defend the construction company and compensation of costs incurred by Acadia that defense. The district court granted judgment in AIG's favor. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the plain language of the policy requires that the Acadia policy be treated as excess over the AIG policy. The word "you" refers solely to the listed Named Insured in the policy Declarations or "qualifying as Named Insureds" under the policy.