Articles Posted in Contracts

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A policy exclusion for personal liability “under any contract or agreement” does not apply to relieve an insurer of its duty to defend its insured, an alleged builder-vendor, against a claim for negligent excavation brought by the home buyer because the negligence claim arose from the common law duty to construct the home as a reasonable builder would. After rockslides damaged his property, the home buyer sued the alleged builder-vendor, asserting breach of contract, negligence, and fraud-based claims and alleging that the rockslides were the result of improper excavation during construction. The builder-vendor’s insurer declined the tender of defense on grounds that there was no coverage under the relevant insurance policies. The builder-vendor sought damages and declaratory relief. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the policy’s “contractual liability” exclusion did not apply. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the contractual liability exclusion did not relieve the insurer of its duty to defend the builder-vendor against the home buyer’s negligence claim. View "Teufel v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Arizona equitable indemnity law does not incorporate the Restatement (First) of Restitution section 78 because it conflicts with Arizona’s general equitable indemnity principles. Michael Bovre rented a vehicle from Payless Car Rental System Inc. Payless offered Bovre supplemental liability insurance (SLI) under a policy provided by KnightBrook Insurance Co. Bovre caused an accident while driving the rental vehicle that injured Lorraine and Robert McGill. The McGills sued Bovre. The parties settled. Bovre assigned to the McGills his claims against KnightBrook and Payless for their alleged failure to provide supplemental liability insurance (SLI) and agreed to an adverse judgment. Thereafter, the McGills sued Payless and KnightBrook seeking to recover the judgment. The McGills and KnightBrook entered into a settlement in which the McGills’ claims against Payless were assigned to KnightBrook, which paid the McGills the $970,000 SLI policy limit. KnightBrook then filed an action in federal court against Payless, asserting an equitable indemnification claim for the $970,000 it paid McGills. Relying on the First Restatement section 78, the district court ruled that KnightBrook was entitled to equitable indemnification from Payless for the $970,000 SLI policy limits. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit certified two questions to the Supreme Court. The court answered the first question as set forth above, which rendered moot the second question. View "KnightBrook Insurance Co. v. Payless Car Rental System Inc." on Justia Law

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Ariz. R. Evid. 408 precludes use of a consent judgment to prove substantive facts to establish liability for a subsequent claim. Likewise, a consent judgment cannot be used for impeachment purposes under Ariz. R. Evid. 613. Before disciplinary proceedings were initiated against attorney Brent Phillips, the Arizona Attorney General sued Phillips for violations of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). To resolve the CFA action, Phillips agreed to a consent judgment. During attorney disciplinary proceedings, Phillips’ counsel moved in limine to preclude the State Bar from introducing the consent judgment into evidence for any purpose. The State Bar opposed the motion, arguing that it should be allowed to use the consent judgment to impeach Phillips’ testimony if it differed from the facts contained in the consent judgment. The presiding disciplinary judge (PDJ) concluded that Rule 408 did not render the stipulated facts inadmissible. The Supreme Court vacated the PDJ's order denying Phillips’ motion in limine, holding (1) none of the exceptions to Rule 408 allowed the State Bar to admit the consent judgment or its contents into evidence during the disciplinary proceedings; and (2) Rule 408 did not permit the use of the consent judgment to impeach Phillips. View "Phillips v. Honorable William O’Neil" on Justia Law

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Because the warranty of workmanship and habitability is imputed into every residential construction contract, it is a term of the contract, and therefore, the successful party on a claim for breach of the warranty qualifies for an attorney-fee award under a controlling contractual fee provision or, barring that, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-341.01. Defendants contracted with Plaintiff to build a basement at their home. Defendants refused to pay to the full contract amount after the work was completed, and Plaintiff sued for the unpaid contract amount. Defendants counterclaimed for breach of the implied warranty of workmanship and habitability. The jury found in Defendants’ favor on their claim for breach of the implied warranty. The trial court awarded Defendants attorney fees pursuant to a contractual fee provision and section 12-341.01. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding that the implied warranty was a term of the contract, and as the successful party in the claim to enforce the warranty, Defendants were entitled to their reasonable attorney fees. View "Sirrah Enterprises, LLC v. Wunderlich" on Justia Law

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In this employment dispute, Employee filed an action in superior court alleging an unjust enrichment claim against Employee. Employee moved to compel arbitration under the parties’ employment contract’s arbitration provision and brought a claim for severance pay. The superior court granted the motion. Employer asserted various counterclaims. The arbitrator ruled in favor of Employer, finding that Employer properly rescinded the contract based on Employee’s underlying misrepresentations and omissions. The final arbitration award fully settled all claims and counterclaims submitted. The superior court confirmed the award but also granted Employer leave to amend its complaint to reassert its counterclaims. The superior court granted Employer’s motion to amend its complaint. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Employer, having not specifically challenged the contract’s arbitration provision, may not amend its complaint and litigate its various claims against Employee in this action. View "Hamblen v. Honorable Ralph Hatch" on Justia Law

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The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s award of attorney fees to Plaintiff and its ruling that Plaintiff was the “prevailing party” in the proceedings below. Before trial, Defendant made a settlement offer of $1,000,001. Plaintiff rejected the offer and, later, obtained a jury verdict in the amount of $10,733. Because a fee award provision in a contract between the parties did not itself define “prevailing party” but did incorporate Arizona law to determine the parties’ rights and remedies, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-341.01(A) applied for the purpose of determining the successful party. Because the final judgment was more favorable to Defendant than its pretrial offer, Plaintiff was not entitled to recover any fees incurred after the offer under section 12-341.01(A). The court remanded to the trial court to apportion fees and costs between the parties. View "American Power Products, Inc. v. CSK Auto, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce loaned Dobson Bay Club II DD, LLC and related entities (Dobson Bay) $28.6 million for Dobson Bay’s purchase of commercial properties. The loan was secured by a deed of trust encumbering the properties. Under the terms of a promissory note, as a consequence for any delay in payment, Dobson Bay was required to pay, in addition to regular interest, default interest and collection costs and a five percent late fee assessed on the payment amount. When Dobson Bay failed to make the required payments, La Sonrisa de Siena, LLC, which bought the note and deed of trust, noticed a trustee’s sale of the secured properties, arguing that Dobson Bay owed more than $30 million, including a nearly $1.4 million late fee. At issue during the ensuing trial was whether the note was an enforceable liquidated damages provision. The superior court concluded that the late fee was enforceable as liquidated damages. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and reversed the trial court’s partial summary judgment in favor of La Sonrisa on the liquidated damages claim, holding that an approximately $1.4 million late fee is unreasonable and an unenforceable penalty. View "Dobson Bay Club II DD, LLC v. La Sonrisa De Siena, LLC" on Justia Law

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Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-341.01(A) provides that if a party makes a written settlement offer that is rejected, and the final judgment is more favorable to the offering party, that party “is deemed to be the successful party from the date of the offer.” American Power Products (American) and CSK Auto (CSK) entered into a contract that provided that, in the event of an action arising out of the contract, “the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover…reasonable attorneys’ fees.” American later sued CSK for breach of contract. Before trial, CSK served American with an offer of judgment in the amount of $1,000,001. American did not accept the offer and obtained a jury verdict in the amount of $10,733. The trial court concluded that American was the “prevailing party” at trial and awarded American attorney fees. The court of appeals affirmed the fee award. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the contract did not define “prevailing party” but did incorporate Arizona law to determine the parties’ rights and remedies, the statute applied for the purpose of determining the successful party; and (2) the trial court correctly determined that American was the prevailing party before CSK’s offer of judgment but erred in ruling that American was the prevailing party after CSK’s settlement offer. View "American Power Products Inc. v. CSK Auto, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified certain questions to the Supreme Court regarding what impact, if any, a lender’s full-credit bid made at an Arizona trustee’s sale has on an insurer’s liability under standard form title insurance policies. The policy provisions at issue were (1) Section 2, which provides that coverage continues in force when an insured acquires the property in a foreclosure sale but the amount of coverage is reduced by all payments made; (2) Section 9, which provides that payments of principal or the voluntary satisfaction or release of the mortgage reduce available insurance coverage, except as provided under Section 2(a); and (3) Section 7, which explains how the insurer’s liability is calculated. The Supreme Court answered the certified questions as follows: (1) Section 2 applies when a lender purchases property by full-credit bid at a trustee’s sale; (2) the full-credit bid does not constitute a “payment” under Sections 2 or 9 of the policy; and (3) accordingly, the full-credit bid neither terminates nor reduces coverage under Section 2 or Section 7. View "Equity Income Partners, LP v. Chicago Title Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Patients filed suit to set aside accord and satisfaction agreements and to recover the amounts paid to release liens. Hospitals, health care providers who treated patients injured by third parties, were paid by the Patients' insurer, AHCCCS, which had negotiated reduced rates with the Hospitals. The Hospitals then recorded liens against the Patients pursuant to A.R.S. 33-931 and A.R.S. 36-2903.01(G) for the difference between the amount typically charged for their treatment and the reduced amount paid by AHCCCS. In order to receive their personal injury settlements with the third parties, Patients settled with the Hospitals by paying negotiated amounts to release the liens. At issue is the validity of these accord and satisfaction agreements. The court assumed, without deciding, that Arizona’s lien statutes are preempted by federal law. But, because there was a bona fide dispute about the enforceability of these liens when the Patients and Hospitals entered into settlement agreements to achieve lien releases, the agreements were supported by adequate consideration and addressed a proper subject matter. Therefore, the accord and satisfaction agreements are valid. View "Abbott v. Banner Health Network" on Justia Law