When Is “Summary Judgment” Appropriate in a Construction Lawsuit?
When a construction delay or dispute ends up in litigation, the process can often take many months or years to resolve. There are certain legal processes in place that can help expedite matters. For example, after the parties to a lawsuit have completed their discovery, either side may ask the judge to grant “summary judgment.” This basically means that there is no “genuine issue of material fact” in dispute, and the judge can proceed to make a ruling without the need for a full trial.
Appeals Court: No Reasons Given for Judge’s Decision to Rule in Favor of Subcontractor in Dispute with Developer, GC
Summary judgment is not appropriate, however, when there are issues of material fact that remain disputed. In such cases, summary judgment can actually violate the due process rights of the party who loses. And that party has every right to appeal the trial judge’s decision.
This is exactly what happened in an ongoing construction lawsuit, Prime Investors & Developers, LLC v. Meridien Companies, Inc. The parties to this case are the developer, general contractor, and a subcontractor who were working on the construction of a new hotel in Miami-Dade County. This particular sub-contractor was hired to install cabinets and counters in the hotel’s guest rooms. Under the terms of the subcontract, the subcontractor acknowledged that “time is of the essence” and that it was responsible for completing its work in accordance with the overall product schedule.
As you might have guessed, there was subsequently a dispute over the quality of the subcontractor’s work. The general contractor withheld final payment, claiming that the “cabinets and countertops were deficient in both material quality and installation.” The contractor then sued the subcontractor in Broward County for breach of contract.
In response, the subcontractor counter-sued both the general contractor and the developer, seeking to enforce a construction lien against the latter. After the end of discovery, the subcontractor moved for summary judgment. In support of its motion, the subcontractor argued the original subcontract had been “modified” such that its timing was not linked to the overall project schedule, and that the contractor had agreed to the materials used, among other things.
The contractor and the developer denied this. They maintained the original subcontract was never modified, and they did not approve of the subcontractor’s work. Nevertheless, the judge granted summary judgment to the subcontractor, finding there were no disputed issues of material fact.
This confused the appeals court, which reversed the summary judgment order. Not only were there clearly issues of material fact still in dispute, but the trial court “did not provide any details of its reasoning.” Indeed, if the trial judge reached his decision after weighing the evidence, that would be “improper,” the appeals court said. On a motion for summary judgment, the court is not supposed to weigh evidence, as that is the purpose of a trial.
Speak with a Florida Contractor Representation Attorney Today
When money is on the line in a construction lawsuit, you want to ensure that judges are playing by the rules and not taking shortcuts that negatively affect your rights. If you need advice or representation from an experienced Florida construction lawyer, contact Linkhorst & Hockin, P.A., to schedule a consultation today.