Construction Defect Journal Archives

$24 Million Verdict Against Material Supplier Overturned Where Plaintiff Failed to Prove Supplier’s Negligence or Breach of Contract Caused an SB800 Violation

March 16, 2017
Jon A. Turigliatto, Esq. & Chelsea L. Zwart, Esq. – Chapman Glucksman Dean Roeb & Barger Bulletin

Acqua Vista Homeowners Assoc. v. MWL Inc. (2017) 2017 WL 371379
COURT OF APPEAL EXTENDS GREYSTONE HOMES, INC. v. MIDTEC, INC., HOLDING THAT CIVIL CODE §936 CREATES A NEGLIGENCE STANDARD FOR CLAIMS AGAINST MATERIAL SUPPLIERS BROUGHT UNDER SB800.

The Fourth District California Court of Appeal recently published its decision Acqua Vista Homeowners Assoc. v. MWI, Inc. (2017) 2017 WL 371379, holding that claims against a material supplier under SB800 (Civil Code §895 and §936) require proof that the SB800 violation was caused by the supplier's negligence or breach of contract.

Civil Code §936 states in relevant part, that it applies "to general contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, individual product manufacturers, and design professionals to the extent that the general contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, individual product manufacturers, and design professionals caused, in whole or in part, a violation of a particular standard as the result of a negligent act or omission or a breach of contract .... [T]he negligence standard in this section does not apply to any general contractor, subcontractor, material supplier, individual product manufacturer, or design professional with respect to claims for which strict liability would apply."

Acqua Vista Homeowners Association (the "HOA") sued MWI, a supplier of Chinese pipe used in the construction of the Acqua Vista condominium development. The HOA's complaint asserted a single cause of action for violation of SB800 standards, and alleged that defective cast iron pipe was used throughout the building. After trial, the trial court entered a judgment against MWI in the amount of $23,955,796.28, reflecting the jury's finding that MWI was 92% responsible for the HOA's damages.

MWI filed a motion for a directed verdict and motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the grounds that the HOA had failed to present any evidence that MWI had caused an SB800 violation as a result of its negligence or breach of contract, and had therefore failed to prove negligence and causation as required by SB800, citing to Greystone Homes, Inc. v. Midtec, Inc.(2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1194. The trial court denied both motions, relying on the last sentence of Civil Code §936, which states in part, "[T]he negligence standard in this section does not apply to any ... material supplier ... with respect to claims for which strict liability would apply."

The Court of Appeal reversed and ordered the trial court to enter judgment in favor of MWI. The Court of Appeal relied on the legislative history of S8800 and Greystone, which held that the first sentence of Civil Code §936 contains an "explicit adoption of a negligence standard" for S8800 claims against product manufacturers. The Court of Appeal reasoned that since §936 treats product manufacturers and material suppliers identically, the holding of Greystone must equally apply to material suppliers.

Because the complaint did not state a common law cause of action for strict liability, the HOA was required to prove that the damages were caused by MWI' s negligence or breach of contract. Although, the Court of Appeal found that while the HOA's evidence may have supported a finding that the manufacturer of the leaking pipes was negligent, the HOA had not provided any evidence that MWI, the supplier, had failed to supply the type of pipe ordered, acted unreasonably in failing to detect any manufacturing defects present in the pipe, or damaged it during transportation. Accordingly, the HOA could not prove that the alleged S8800 violation was caused, in whole or in part, by MWI' s negligence, omission, or breach of contract.

In light of the decision, homeowner and associations that allege only violations of SB800 standards without asserting a common law cause of action for strict liability cannot prevail by simply producing evidence of a violation, and are required to prove that violation was caused by the negligent act or omission, or breach of contract, of the defendant contractor, material supplier, and/or product manufacturer.

Reprinted courtesy of Jon A. Turigliatto, Esq, Chapman Glucksman Dean Roeb & Barger and Chelsea L. Zwart, Esq., Chapman Glucksman Dean Roeb & Barger
Mr. Turigliatto may be contacted at jturigliatto@cgdrblaw.com
Ms. Zwart may be contacted at czwart@cgdrblaw.com



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