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    A Recap of the Supreme Court’s 2019 Summer Slate

    September 16, 2019 —
    As usual, the last month of the Supreme Court’s term generated significant rulings on all manner of cases, possibly presaging the new directions the Court will be taking in administrative and regulatory law. Here’s a brief roundup: An Offshore Dispute, Resolve – Parker Drilling Management v. Newton On June 10, 2019, the Court held, in a unanimous ruling, that, under federal law, California wage and hour laws do not apply to offshore operations conducted on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Newton, the plaintiff, worked on drilling platforms off the coast of California, and alleged that he was not paid for his “standby time” which is contrary to California law if not federal law. He filed a class action in state court, which was removed to federal court, where it was dismissed on the basis of a 1969 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which held that state law applies on the OCS only to the extent that it is necessary to use state law to fill a significant gap or void in federal law, and this is not the case here. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, that court disagreed with the Fifth Circuit, and ruled that state law is applicable on the OCS whenever it applies to the matter at hand. The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Thomas, conceded that “this is a close question of statutory interpretation,” but in the end the Court agreed with the argument that if there was not a gap to fill, that ended the dispute over which law applies on the Outer continental Shelf. This ruling, recognizing the preeminent role that federal law plays on the OCS, may affect the resolution of other offshore disputes affecting other federal statutes. Preemption Prevention – Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren. et al. On June 17, 2019 the Court decided important cases involving federal preemption and First Amendment issues. In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that the Atomic Energy Act does not preempt a Virginia law that “flatly prohibits uranium mining in Virginia”—or more precisely—mining on non-federal land in Virginia. Virginia Uranium planned to mine raw uranium from a site near Coles, Virginia, but acknowledging that Virginia law forbade such an operation, challenged the state law on federal preemption grounds, arguing that the Atomic Energy Act, as implemented by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, preempts the ability of the state to regulate this activity. However, the majority, in an opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, notes that the “best reading of the AEA does not require us to hold the state law before us preempted,” and that the1983 precedent that Virginia Uranium cites, Pacific Gas & Electric Company v. State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, can easily be distinguished. Justice Gorsuch rejected arguments that the intent of the Virginia legislators in passing the state law should be consulted, that the Court’s ruling should normally be governed by the exact text of the statute at hand. However, both the concurring and dissenting opinions suggest that the what the legislators intended to do is important in a preemption context. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Anthony B. Cavender, Pillsbury
    Mr. Cavender may be contacted at

    Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, LLP is Proud to Announce Jeannette Garcia Has Been Elected as Secretary of the Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County!

    February 03, 2020 —
    The Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County is an affiliate bar of the OCBA. The OC HBA promotes education, unity, and excellence in the Hispanic legal community by expanding the business and professional opportunities available to its members, enhancing the members’ business and professional stature in the Hispanic community, increasing the participation of Hispanic leaders in civic affairs and enhancing the quality of life for the members and the community. Associate Jeannette Garcia has been a member of the OC HBA since 2012, a board member since 2017 and an executive board member since 2018. Jeannette will now serve as Secretary of the OC HBA for the 2020 term. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Bremer Whyte Brown & O'Meara LLP

    Ex-Detroit Demolition Official Sentenced for Taking Bribes

    November 24, 2019 —
    Aradondo Haskins, a former Detroit demolition projects official, has been sentenced to a year in federal prison for accepting $26,500 in bribes from contractors and rigging bids to tear down homes in a federally funded demolition program. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts handed down the sentence on Sept. 23 and ordered Haskins to pay a $5,000 fine and forfeit bribes he took while employed by demolition contractor Adamo Group and by the city. The charges against Haskins were unsealed on April 8, shortly before he pled guilty. Reprinted courtesy of Jeff Yoders, Engineering News-Record Mr. Yoders may be contacted at Read the full story... Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of

    A Teaming Agreement is Still a Contract (or, Be Careful with Agreements to Agree)

    November 18, 2019 —
    I have discussed teaming agreements in this past here at Construction Law Musings. These agreements are most typically where one of two entities meets a contracting requirement but may not have the capacity to fulfill a contract on its own so brings in another entity to assist. However, these agreements are contracts and are treated as such here in Virginia with all of the law of contracts behind them. One illustrative case occurred here in Virginia and was decided by the Virginia Supreme Court. That case is CGI Fed. Inc. v. FCi Fed. Inc. While this is not strictly a “construction” case, it helps lay out some of the pitfalls of teaming agreements in general. In this case, the parties entered into a fairly typical small business (FCI) Big Business (CGI) teaming arrangement for the processing of visas for the State Department. The parties negotiated the workshare percentage (read payment percentage) should FCI get the work and the teaming agreement set out a framework for the negotiation of a subcontract between FCI, the proposed general contractor, and CGI, the proposed subcontractor. After a while working together, FCI submitted a proposal to the State Department and as part of the negotiations of this proposal, the work percentage for CGI was lowered in exchange for some management positions for CGI relative to the work by amendment to the original teaming agreement. However, one day later FCI submitted a proposal to the State Department that not only didn’t include the management positions, but further lowered CGI’s workshare. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill
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    “I Didn’t Sign That!” – Applicability of Waivers of Subrogation to Non-Signatory Third Parties

    September 30, 2019 —
    In Gables Construction v. Red Coats, 2019 Md. App. LEXIS 419, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals considered whether a contractual waiver of subrogation in the prime contract for a construction project barred a third party – a fire watch vendor hired to guard the worksite – from pursuing a contribution claim against the general contractor. The court concluded that the general contractor could not rely on the waiver of subrogation clause to defeat the contribution claim of the vendor, who was not a party to the prime contract. As noted by the court, holding that a waiver of subrogation clause bars the contribution claims of an entity that was not a party to the contract would violate the intent of the Maryland Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA). When dealing with claims involving construction projects, there may exist multiple contracts between various parties that contain waivers of subrogation. The enforceability of such waivers can be limited by several factors, including the jurisdiction of the loss, the language of the waiver and the parties to the contract. In Gables Construction, Upper Rock, Inc. (Upper Rock), the owner, contracted with a general contractor, Gables Construction (GCI) (hereinafter referred to as the “prime contract”), to construct an apartment complex. After someone stole a bobcat tractor from the jobsite, Gables Residential Services Incorporated (GRSI), GCI’s parent company, signed a vendor services agreement (VSA) with Red Coats to provide a fire watch and other security services for the project. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Rahul Gogineni, White and Williams LLP
    Mr. Gogineni may be contacted at

    Traub Lieberman Partners Lenhardt and Smith Obtain Directed Verdict in Broward County Failed Repair Sinkhole Trial

    September 03, 2019 —
    On Tuesday, July 16, 2019, Traub Lieberman Partners Michael Lenhardt and Burks Smith won a Directed Verdict at trial in a dispute over Sinkhole Loss coverage in Broward County Circuit Court. The lawsuit arose out of a claim for Breach of Contract involving an alleged “failed repair” of a 2005 sinkhole at the insureds’ property. The Plaintiffs argued that their Policy Limits did not apply because the carrier allegedly undertook the subsurface repairs, relying on Drew v. Mobile USA Ins. Co., 920 So.2d 832 (Fla. 4thDCA 2006). The Plaintiffs asserted that because the insurance company allegedly hired the below ground repair company, a “new contract” was formed, and the Plaintiffs should be entitled to limitless repairs to their home, notwithstanding the Policy Limits. This argument obviously presented the carrier with very significant exposure. Attorneys Lenhardt and Smith provided a vigorous defense for the insurance company at trial, during which they presented the jury with evidence that the carrier did not, in fact, hire the subsurface repair company. They further established to the jury that the insureds actually signed a contract with the repair company directly, and that the defendant did not invoke the Our Option repair clause of the Policy. After the Plaintiffs rested their case, Mr. Lenhardt and Mr. Smith moved the Court for entry of a directed verdict. The defense argued to the Court that the Plaintiffs could not prove their case to the jury based upon the facts presented as a matter of law, thus entitling the insurance company to a defense verdict. Reprinted courtesy of Michael Francis Lenhardt, Traub Lieberman and Burks A. Smith, III, Traub Lieberman Mr. Lenhardt may be contacted at Mr. Smith may be contacted at Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of

    Insured's Remand of Bad Faith Action Granted

    December 30, 2019 —
    The federal district court agreed remand of the insured's bad faith action to state court was appropriate. Kavanaugh v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138465 (C.D. Calif. Aug. 15, 2019). The insured sued National Union and Great American Insurance Company in state court for failing to defend him in three civil actions. In the alternative, claims were brought against Gallagher Risk Management Services, Inc. and Chelsea Laing for professional negligence in failing to broker and procure adequate insurance for him. Laing acted as an "agent and/or broker and procured at least one of the policies at issue." Gallagher removed the action based on federal diversity jurisdiction. Although Laing was a citizen of California, Gallagher argued she was fraudulently joined and was a sham defendant, so her citizenship should be disregarded for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. The insured moved to remand because Laing was a proper defendant. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Tred R. Eyerly, Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert
    Mr. Eyerly may be contacted at

    EPA Will Soon Issue the Latest Revision to the Risk Management Program (RMP) Chemical Release Rules

    February 10, 2020 —
    On November 21, 2019, EPA released a pre-publication copy of its Reconsideration of the revised Risk Management Program (RMP) Rules. In an accompanying statement, the agency noted that it has taken steps to “modify and improve” the existing rule to remove burdensome, costly and unnecessary requirements while maintaining appropriate protection (against accidental chemical releases) and ensuring responders have access to all of the necessary safety information. This action was taken in response to EPA’s January 13, 2017 revisions that significantly expanded the chemical release prevention provisions the existing RMP rules in the wake of the disastrous chemical plant explosion in West, Texas. The Reconsideration will take effect upon its publication in the Federal Register. Background As recounted by the D. C. Circuit in its August 2018 decision in the case of Air Alliance Houston, et al. v. EPA, in 1990, the Congress amended the Clean Air Act to force the regulation of hazardous air pollutants (see 42 USC Section 7412). An initial list of these hazardous air pollutants was also published, at Section 7412 (b). Section 112(r) (codified at 42 USC Section 7412 (r)), authorized EPA to develop a regulatory program to prevent or minimize the consequences of a release of a listed chemical from a covered stationary source. EPA was directed to propose and promulgate release prevention, detection, and correction requirements applicable to stationary sources (such as plants) that store or manage these regulated substances in amounts determined to be above regulated threshold quantities. EPA promulgated these rules in 1996 (see 61 FR 31668). The rules, located at 40 CFR Part 68, contain several separate subparts devoted to hazard assessments, prevention programs, emergency response, accidental release prevention, the development and registration of a Risk Management Plan, and making certain information regarding the release publicly available. EPA notes that over 12.000 RMP plans have been filed with the agency. In January 2017, in response to the catastrophe in West, EPA issued substantial amendments to these rules, covering accident prevention (expanding post-accident investigations, more rigorous safety audits, and enhanced safety training), revised emergency response requirements, and enhanced public information disclosure requirements. (See 82 FR 4594 (January 13, 2017).) However, the new administration at EPA, following the submission of several petitions for reconsideration of these revised rules, issued a “Delay Rule” on June 14, 2017, which would have extended the effective date of the January 2107 rules until February 19, 2019. On August 17, 2018, the Delay Rule was rejected and vacated by the D.C. Circuit in the aforementioned Air Alliance case (see 906 F. 3d 1049 (DC Circuit 2018)), which had the effect of making the hotly contested January 2017 RMP revisions immediately effective. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Anthony B. Cavender, Pillsbury
    Mr. Cavender may be contacted at