In McMillin Albany LLC v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App., Aug. 26, 2015) 2015 Daily Journal D.A.R. 9931 (“McMillin”), the Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeal in California published a resounding win for builders, general contractors, and others entities seeking the protections of the Right to Repair Act, Civil Code sections 895, et seq. (“SB800”). The McMillin Court firmly rejected the reasoning and outcome of both Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. Brookfield Crystal Cove LLC (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 98 (“Liberty Mutual”) and Burch v. Superior Court (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 1411 (“Burch”), and held that:
the Legislature intended that all claims arising out of defects in residential construction, involving new residences sold on or after January 1, 2003 (§ 938), be subject to the standards and the requirements of the Act; the homeowner bringing such a claim must give notice to the builder and engage in the prelitigation procedures in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 4 of the Act prior to filing suit in court.
(McMillin, Opinion, p. 15.) The McMillin Court further held that even if the claimant’s counsel intentionally pleads around SB800 by asserting only tort causes of action, SB800 still applies to all defect claims and a stay of the action to require SB800 compliance is appropriate.
Newmeyer & Dillion has strongly supported builders’ efforts to enforce the Right to Repair Act since its inception. The firm filed an amicus brief in McMillin on behalf of Leading Builders of America (“LBA”), an association of the leading residential homebuilders in the United States. For years, LBA members developed their warranty and dispute resolution procedures according to the Right to Repair Act and performed prelitigation repairs to the satisfaction of thousands of homeowners. Liberty Mutual and Burch undermined the Right to Repair Act by allowing plaintiffs’ attorneys to circumvent the prelitigation procedures to the detriment of homeowners and builders, resulting in confusion and increased litigation. The McMillin decision breathes new life into the Right to Repair Act and sets the stage for future review by the California Supreme Court.
The McMillin Court focused on the express language of the Right to Repair Act to arrive at its conclusion that Civil Code sections 896, 897, 943 and 944 demonstrate a clear Legislative intent to occupy the field of construction defect litigation – a belief held by nearly all in the construction industry and the California Superior Courts before Liberty Mutual. The McMillin Court found further support for SB800’s comprehensive nature in the Legislative history, which consistently described the Act as “groundbreaking reform” and a “major change” in construction defect litigation, designed to “significantly reduce the cost of construction defect litigation and make housing more affordable.” (McMillin, Opinion, pp. 18-19.) The McMillin Court found it inescapable that the Right to Repair Act exclusively governs construction defect litigation involving homes sold on or after January 1, 2003.
The McMillin, decision will have a significant impact on construction litigation moving forward in two respects. First, McMillin, is the only appellate decision to date to address whether a builder has the right to enforce SB800 when the claimant’s counsel deliberately attempts to plead around SB800 by asserting only tort claims. Second, the decision provides trial courts with the authority and precedent to ensure compliance with the Right to Repair Act. Trial courts may also find it necessary to revisit prior rulings against builders that relied on Liberty Mutual.
Newmeyer & Dillion will continue to advocate in support of builders and general contractors by working vigorously to gain further support for the McMillin, decision and setting the stage for review by the California Supreme Court.
Jeffrey R. Brower is an associate at the Newport Beach office of Newmeyer & Dillion, LLP. His practice focuses on business and construction litigation. Jeffrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nathan Owens is the managing partner of the Las Vegas office for Newmeyer & Dillion, LLP. He represents businesses and individuals operating in a wide array of economic sectors including real estate, construction, insurance and health care in all stages of litigation in state and federal court. Nathan can be reached at email@example.com.
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