English v. RKK. . . The Saga Continues

Businessman holding scale of justice

Some clarity in the various documents would have gone a great way toward lowering the expense of this litigation.

December 16, 2019
Christopher G. Hill - Construction Law Musings

Remember back in 2018 when I thought I’d told you the end of the English Construction story regarding its various consultants, etc.? I was wrong. The matter went up on appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals where the Appeals Court considered the summary judgment granted to the defendant Rummel, Klepper & Kahl (“RKK”) based upon what came down to a contributory negligence reading of the indemnity clause that was allowed to survive in the first district court opinion relating to these ambiguous contracts finding that English was negligent so couldn’t recover. The 4th Circuit also considered the finding that defendant CDM Smith did not breach its contract as a matter of law and that English’s negligence was the cause of the damages.

The Court of Appeals reversed both of the holdings by the Western District of Virginia court, essentially stating that there was enough of a factual dispute to render any summary judgment to be premature.

As to English’s arguments regarding the indemnity scheme in the contracts, the court found that the interpretation was at least ambiguous enough that summary judgment was inappropriate, stating:

While we are not prepared to settle conclusively these interpretation disputes at the summary judgment stage, English’s proffered interpretation is, at the very least. reasonable. Indeed, of the two interpretations, English’s seems to be more closely aligned with the actual language in the contract. The district court thus erred in rejecting English’s interpretation and adopting RK&K’s interpretation as a matter of law.

[A]t bottom, while the district court was authorized to construe unambiguous language as a matter of law, it could not resolve genuine disputes regarding the meaning of ambiguous contractual language against the nonmoving party on summary judgment. We therefore vacate the court’s grant of summary judgment to RK&K and remand for further proceedings.

Mr. Hill may be contacted at chrisghill@constructionlawva.com


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