By: Richard H. Glucksman, Glenn T. Barger, Jon A. Turigliatto, David A. Napper
February 15, 2018
HOT OFF THE PRESS:
THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT HAS RULED THAT THE RIGHT TO REPAIR ACT (SB800) IS THE EXCLUSIVE REMEDY FOR CONSTRUCTION DEFECT CLAIMS NOT INVOLVING PERSONAL INJURIES WHETHER OR NOT THE UNDERLYING DEFECTS GAVE RISE TO ANY PROPERTY DAMAGE in McMillin Albany LLC et al. v. Superior Court (2018) S229762.
The Construction Industry finally has its answer. The California Supreme Court ruled that the Right to Repair Act (SB800) is the exclusive remedy for construction defect claims alleged to have resulted from economic loss, property damage, or both. Our office has closely tracked the matter since its infancy. The California Supreme Court’s holding resolves the split of authority presented by the Fifth Appellate District’s holding in McMillin Albany LLC v. Superior Court (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1132, which outright rejected the Fourth Appellate District’s holding in Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Brookfield Crystal Cove LLC (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 98.
By way of background, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held in Liberty Mutual that compliance with SB800’s pre-litigation procedures prior to initiating litigation is only required for defect claims involving violations of SB800’s building standards that have not yet resulted in actual property damage. Where damage has occurred, a homeowner may initiate litigation under common law causes of action without first complying with the pre-litigation procedures set forth in SB800. Two years later, the Fifth District Court of Appeal, in McMillin Albany, held that the California Legislature intended that all claims arising out of defects in new residential construction sold on or after January 1, 2003 are subject to the standards and requirements of the Right to Repair Act, including specifically the requirement that notice be provided to the builder prior to filing a lawsuit. Thus, the Court of Appeal ruled that SB800 is the exclusive remedy for all defect claims arising out of new residential construction sold on or after January 1, 2003.
After extensive examination of the text and legislative history of the Right to Repair Act, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s ruling that SB800 preempts common law claims for property damage. The Complaint at issue alleged construction defects causing both property damage and economic loss. After filing the operative Complaint, the homeowners dismissed the SB800 cause of action and took the position that the Right to Repair Act was adopted to provide a remedy for construction defects causing only economic loss and therefore SB800 did not alter preexisting common law remedies in cases where actual property damage or personal injuries resulted. The builder maintained that SB800 and its pre-litigation procedures still applied in this case where actually property damages were alleged to have occurred.
The Supreme Court found that the text and legislative history reflect a clear and unequivocal intent to supplant common law negligence and strict product liability actions with a statutory claim under the Right to Repair Act. Specifically the text reveals “…an intent to create not merely a remedy for construction defects but the remedy.” Additionally certain clauses set forth in SB800 “…evinces a clear intent to displace, in whole or in part, existing remedies for construction defects.” Not surprisingly, the Court confirmed that personal injury damages are expressly not recoverable under SB800, which actually assisted the Court in analyzing the intent of the statutory scheme. The Right to Repair Act provides that construction defect claims not involving personal injury will be treated the same procedurally going forward whether or not the underlying defects gave rise to any property damage.
The Supreme Court further found that the legislative history of SB800 confirms that displacement of parts of the existing remedial scheme was “…no accident, but rather a considered choice to reform construction defect litigation.” Further emphasizing how the legislative history confirms what the statutory text reflects, the Supreme Court offered the following summary: “the Act was designed as a broad reform package that would substantially change existing law by displacing some common law claims and substituting in their stead a statutory cause of action with a mandatory pre-litigation process.” As a result, the Supreme Court ordered that the builder is entitled to a stay and the homeowners are required to comply with the pre-litigation procedures set forth in the Right to Repair Act before their lawsuit may proceed.
The seminal ruling by the California Supreme Court shows great deference to California Legislature and the “major stakeholders on all sides of construction defect litigation” who participated in developing SB800. A significant win for builders across the Golden State, homeowners unequivocally must proceed via SB800 for all construction defect claims arising out of new residential construction sold on or after January 1, 2003. We invite you to contact us should you have any questions.