Attorneys representing nearly 1,000 Sun City Summerlin residents whose individual damage claims were nearly all rejected by a jury in a massive construction defect dispute took their case to the Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The primary issue for the court was whether the lower court erred in rejecting class action status for the claims of damaged stucco from faulty construction by Del Webb Communities for the thousands of homes.
The case, which began in 2003, was billed as one of the largest construction defect cases in Nevada history.
After class action status was denied by District Judge Allan Earl in 2006, about 1,000 homeowners jointly went forward with a case. Attorneys were seeking $70 million for the homeowners.
The case went to trial in District Judge Susan Johnson’s court. A jury in 2008 determined that only 71 homeowners merited compensation totaling about $4 million for the stucco issues.
The homeowners are asking the Supreme Court in their appeal to find that class action status is warranted and return the case to District Court for a new trial.
The single issue involved the stucco. Homeowners alleged that Del Webb failed to install metal screeds that would protect homes from water damage, and as a result, the homes suffered from cracked stucco, mold and weakened walls.
In his opening brief, attorney Don Springmeyer, representing the homeowners, said: “Numbers tell the tale: 939 homes in Sun City Summerlin had their day in court … 6,840 homes (88 percent) did not. As a practical matter the denial of class certification was a denial of justice for the vast majority of homeowners in the community.”
Springmeyer said the case fits as a class action case, both because there is a common defect and because a simple mathematical calculation was offered to award damages that applied to each homeowner.
“And that applies to every single one of the 10,000 homes in Sun City Summerlin,” he said.
Attorneys for Del Webb argued that the decision to reject class action status was correct and that the jury verdict against most of the homeowners should be upheld.
Attorney Dan Polsenberg, representing Del Webb, said there wasn’t a common issue that qualified the case for class action status.
He also argued that the question of damages was properly left in the hands of the jurors.
“The jury should determine whether something needs to be fixed, and that’s what the jury in this case did,” Polsenberg said. “And in the overwhelming number of cases, in the overwhelming number of buildings, they said no, the repair isn’t necessary.”
The class action status decision was a major issue before the justices, although several other issues were brought forward in the appeal. Justices gave no clear hints of how they will rule in the case.
Chief Justice Mark Gibbons said at the conclusion of the oral argument that the court will issue a decision as soon as possible.
“We know this case has been pending before this court for quite a while,” he said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.