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“Details Matter” is the Foundation in a Texas Construction Defect Suit

March 1, 2012 — CDJ Staff

The Court of Appeals of Texas has ruled in the case of Barzoukas v. Foundation Design. Mr. Barzoukas contracted with Heights Development to build a house. He subsequently sued Heights Developments and “numerous other defendants who participated in the construction of his house.” Barzoukas eventually settled with all but two defendants, one who went bankrupt and Foundation Design, the defendant in this case. In the earlier phase, Barzoukas made claims of “negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, fraudulent inducement, conspiracy, and exemplary damages in connection with the foundation.”

Foundation Design had been hired to install 15-foot piers to support the foundation. The engineer of record, Larry Smith, sent a letter to Heights Development noting that they had encountered hard clay stone when drilling. Smith changed the specifications to 12-foot piers. Initially, the City of Houston called a halt to work on the home when an inspector concluded that the piers were too shallow. Heights Development later convinced the city to allow work to continue. Subsequently, experts concluded that the piers were too shallow.

Foundation Design filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted this, “without specifying the basis for its ruling.” Barzoukas contends the court was in error. Foundation Design contends that “Barzoukas failed to proffer competent evidence establishing that their conduct proximately caused damages.” Further, they did not feel that Smith’s letter gave “rise to viable claims for fraud and fraudulent inducement.”

One problem the court had was a lack of evidence. The court noted that “the purported subcontract is entirely missing” in the pleadings. The court has no contract between Bazourkas and Heights Development, nor one between Heights Development and either Foundation Design or Smith. The court underscored the importance of this, writing, “details matter.” They found that “the details are largely missing here.” Without the contract, the court found it impossible to determine if “Smith or an entity related to him agreed to indemnify Heights Development for damages arising from Smith’s negligent performance.”

As the material facts are in dispute, the appeals court found that there were no grounds for a summary judgment in the case. “Pointing to the existence of a contract between Heights Development and Barzoukas, or to the existence of a subcontract, is the beginning of the analysis ? not the end.”

Foundation Design and Smith also claimed that Barzoukas’s expert did not proffer competent evidence and that the expert’s opinions were conclusory. The trial court did not rule on these claims and the appeals court has rejected them.

Finally, Barzoukas made a claim that the trial court should not have rejected his argument of fraud and fraudulent inducement. Here, however, the appeals court upheld the decision of the lower court. “Barzoukas did not present evidence supporting an inference that Smith or Foundation Design made a purposeful misrepresentation.

The court remanded the case to the trial court for reconsideration. One member of the panel, Judge Charles Seymore, upheld the entire decision of the trial court. He dissented with the majority, finding that the economic loss rule foreclosed the claim of negligence.

Read the court’s decision…

“Details Matter” is the Foundation in a Texas Construction Defect Suit