The Colorado Court of Appeals has decided a case which answers a question long in need of an answer: do banks/lenders have standing to assert construction defect claims when they receive title to a newly-constructed home following a foreclosure sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure? The decision was released on August 1, 2013, in the case of Mid Valley Real Estate Solutions V, LLC v. Hepworth-Pawlack Geotechnical, Inc., Steve Pawlak, Daniel Hadin, and S K Peightal Engineers, Ltd. (Colorado Court of Appeals No. 13CA0519).
The background facts of the case are typical of a Colorado residential construction defect case generally. A developer contracted for an analytical soil engineering report from a geotechnical engineering firm (H-P) which made a foundation recommendation. The developer’s general contractor then retained an engineering firm (SPKE) to provide engineering services, including a foundation design. The general contractor built the foundation in accordance with the H-P and SPKE criteria and plans.
The house was not sold by the developer and went into default on the construction loan. These events resulted in a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure to a bank-controlled entity which purchased the house for re-sale. Shortly after receiving the developer’s deed, the bank-related entity discovered defects in the foundation that resulted in a construction defect suit against the two design firms and related individuals. The defendant parties moved for summary judgment on the negligence claims, based on the economic loss rule. The latter rule precludes the bringing of a tort/negligence claim based on a claimed breach of duty which also exists as a term of a contract between the parties.
The Cosmopolitan case held that a successor homeowner could assert newly discovered claims against a builder-vendor which were latent and therefore not discoverable at the time of purchase of the home. The separate Yacht Club II case held that there was an independent duty of due care owed by subcontractor construction professionals to homeowners to “act without negligence in the construction of homes.” To get to its result in Mid Valley, the Court conflated the holdings of both prior cases, and even engaged in retrospective application of Cosmopolitan to the Colorado cases involving the economic loss rule, in order to circumvent its effects in Mid Valley. In other words, this was more of a case about public policy and avoidance of technical defenses raised by builders than it was a legal analysis of the economic loss rule.
For now, the appellate question of legal standing for successor owners (regardless of their identity) pressing tort claims has been answered, at least where latent and later discovered problems manifest for the first time after the ownership has been transferred. By logical extension of Cosmopolitan, such claims would be barred for a successor owner if the problems were manifest at the time of transfer.