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Homeowners Can’t Nail Builder for Landslide

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - Pulte Homes is not liable to Texans who say that their property values faltered because of a collapsed retaining wall and landslide, a federal judge ruled.

Owners of property in the Rivermist and Hills of Rivermist residential subdivisions of Bexar County failed to show the court evidence of Pulte's involvement, according to the Monday order from U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez.

The homeowners sued Pulte and its subsidiaries, Centex Homes and Pulte Homes of Texas, in Bexar County Court in January, alleging negligence, private and public nuisance, fraud in a real estate transaction in violation of the Texas Business and Commerce Code, fraud, violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, breach of contract, and breach of implied warranty.

They said a retaining wall between the subdivisions collapsed in January 2010, resulting in a landslide.

Pulte moved for summary judgment six months ago, arguing that it is not a proper party because it was not involved in the construction of the homes, was not involved in the development of the subdivisions, and was not a party to the sales agreements that plaintiffs entered into with Centex.

Rodriguez sided with the builder.

"First, the exhibits to which plaintiffs refer relate to Centex's citizenship and were offered in support of an argument that Centex is a citizen of Texas," the nine-page order states. "The exhibits do not address the development, construction, or sale of plaintiffs' homes or subdivisions, much less indicate that Pulte was somehow involved in any way. Indeed, the court is unaware of any instance in which Pulte is even named in any of the exhibits."

He adds: "The exhibits and attachments to which plaintiffs refer are over 400 pages in length. Plaintiffs do not point the court to any specific document or exhibit, nor do plaintiffs suggest how the exhibits might implicate Pulte's involvement with the subdivisions, homes, or the retaining wall. This court is not required to hunt through such voluminous records in search of evidence, which might or might not exist, in support of plaintiffs' claims; rather, plaintiffs have the burden of pointing the court to the evidence that supports their position."

Though the homeowners said Pulte did participate in the reconstruction of the retaining wall, Rodriguez said there is no evidence supporting that claim.

"Pulte, on the other hand, has provided several pieces of evidence indicating that it did not participate in the reconstruction of the retaining wall," he wrote.

In particular, Rodriguez noted that Pulte was not a party to the contract hiring engineering designs for the new wall.

In February 2010, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Pulte closed on its purchase of Dallas-based Centex, creating the country's largest homebuilder in a stock transaction worth more than $3 billion.

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