Saturday, January 14, 2017

Florida Court’s Decision Should be a Caution to General Contractors to Precisely Follow a Performance Bond’s Procedural Requirements

In Arch Insurance Company v. John Moriarty & Associates of Florida, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 172173, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted Summary Judgment to a surety after finding that a general contractor did not satisfy the procedural requirements of a performance bond before it submitted a bond claim.  The Defendant was a general contractor who subcontracted the bond’s principal to furnish labor and materials on a project.  The subcontract required the provision of a performance bond which the subcontractor acquired through the Plaintiff.  At some point during the course of the project, the Defendant notified the Plaintiff that it was considering to declare the subcontractor in default. Later at the completion of the contract, the Defendant demanded a $995,239.83 payment from the Plaintiff on the bond due to the performance of the subcontractor.

The terms of the performance bond addressed specific procedures that must have been followed in the event of the subcontractor’s termination for default.  The bond required that: 1) Notice be provided to the subcontractor and Plaintiff that Defendant is, “considering declaring a Contractor Default”; 2) "Declares a Contractor Default, terminates the Construction Contract and notifies [Plaintiff]"; and 3) "Agree[s] to pay the Balance of the Contract Price…to [Plaintiff] or to a contractor selected to perform the Construction Contract." Once those three condition precedents had been met, the bond required that the Plaintiff be given the opportunity to mitigate its damages through arranging for the completion of the defaulted work.  Finally, seven days’ notice must be provided before Defendant can make a demand on the bond. 

The Court found the first requirement was met by Defendant when it alerted the Plaintiff that it was considering declaring a default.  The Court then went on to find that none of the other bond’s default or termination requirements were met.  The Defendant never declared the subcontractor to be in default, never terminated the subcontractor, nor paid the contract balance to the Plaintiff to complete the work.  In fact, the Defendant admits in its response that it, "did not declare [subcontractor] in default, did not terminate the Subcontract, and continued to administer the Subcontract substantially as it had before the Pre Default meeting, with a few additions." The Court stated that, “There can thus be no dispute that [Defendant] never allowed [Plaintiff] to mitigate its damages by arranging for the completion of the subcontract itself. By depriving [Plaintiff] of its completion options, [Defendant] materially breached the bond.”


In its ruling, the Court found that the Defendant failed to comply with the terms of the bond and as a result the Plaintiff was not liable for the nearly $1 million demand.  

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The author, Brendan Carter, is a contributor to The Dispute Resolver and a former Student Division Liaison to the Forum on Construction Law.  He is an attorney and a Senior Consultant with Navigant’s Global Construction Practice based in Boston, MA.  He may be contacted at 617.748.8311 or brendan.carter@navigant.com

Friday, December 23, 2016

The AAA Permitted to Pull Rank to Disqualify a Named Arbitrator

In the recently decided case, LD Miller Construction, Inc. V. Kirschenbaum, - P.3d - (N.M. App. Dec. 1, 2016) the Court of Appeals of New Mexico affirmed the hearing justice's order that the American Arbitration Association ("AAA") indeed could disqualify an arbitrator from arbitrating a dispute between a contractor and homeowners for the failure of the arbitrator to follow the AAA Rules.

The Homeowners hired the Contractor to do concrete and framing work on their property in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Contractor completed the work, but the Homeowners disagreed that is was done properly.  They hired someone else to correct the work.  A short time later, the Contractor submitted an invoice for the concrete and framing work to the Homeowners.  The Homeowners only paid half of what was claimed owed by the Contractor.  Apparently in recognition that a dispute had arisen, about two weeks later, the Homeowners and Contractor entered into an arbitration agreement:
Contractor and Owner agree to binding arbitration under AAA (American Arbitration Association) for any dispute (claim, work, material, etc.) between Contractor and Owner . . . . Contractor and Owner agree that the designated arbitrator shall be Roger Lengyel.
Fast forward two years later, the Contractor filed a complaint in court for the unpaid amount.  The Homeowners answered with an affirmative defense that the action must be dismissed in light of the arbitration agreement. The Court agreed and issued an order that stated in pertinent part:
the parties are compelled to arbitrate this matter pursuant to the terms of the arbitration agreement, requiring binding arbitration under the [AAA] with . . . Roger Lengyel as the designated arbitrator.
The parties attempted arbitration but it quickly devolved with the Contractor sending a letter to the AAA requesting disqualification of the arbitrator for non-neutrality.  According the Contractor, the arbitrator was having ex parte communications with the Homeowners and setting rules that only served to delay the arbitration (which benefited the Homeowners). The Homeowners insisted that the Court's order had designated the named arbitrator and usurped AAA's power to disqualify him.  The AAA sought clarification from the court.  The hearing justice concluded based on the language of the order that the AAA could disqualify. AAA did just that.  The Homeowners appealed.

On appeal, the court applied New Mexico contract law for the interpretation and construction of the agreement. Because neither party argued that the agreement was ambiguous, the court simply was to determine "what do the words of the agreement mean and what is their legal effect"? The Homeowners argued for an "integral-ancillary" bifurcation of the agreement under the Rivera v. Am. Gen. Fin. Servs., Inc., 259 P.3d 803 (N.M. 2011).  They claimed that because the designation of the arbitrator was introduced with the precatory "shall be Roger Lengyel," this provision is integral and must be abided, whereas the "under the AAA" was merely ancillary. The Court explained that Rivera was limited to its facts, where the parties had "clearly intended to use a designated institutional arbitration provider" but that provider no longer existed. As a result, the Rivera court held that the arbitration provision would have to stricken in its entirety because arbitrating with the chosen provider was integral to the agreement and the section could not be rewritten by the court.  The Court continued that the instant dispute was much different. To treat the two cases as the same "would unreasonably treat as equivalent an unavailable arbitration provider and a disqualifiable arbitrator" with an available provider. Plus the Court noted that Rivera did not even get to the issue presented by the Homeowners -- weighing the relative value of two, separate provisions.

In the Court's de novo review of the agreement's language, the Court held that "most reasonable construction of this language is that 'under AAA' incorporates all of the AAA rules normally applicable to proceedings held under AAA's auspices." There was nothing in the agreement that limited the AAA's powers or made certain rules inapplicable.  The Court acknowledged that the use of "shall" to designate the arbitrator is strong evidence that the parties agreed to use him. However there was nothing in agreement that this arbitrator could be non-neutral, which is contrary to the AAA rules. If this arbitrator could be non-neutral in violation of the AAA Rules, then it would "potentially cause [the Rules] to have no meaning." In sum, the Court held that "The most natural construction of the Arbitration Agreement is that the parties intended to arbitrate disputes between them concerning [the Contractor's] construction work under all of the AAA rules, with Lengyel serving as a neutral arbitrator. To interpret the Arbitration Agreement designating Lengyel to trump the AAA rule permitting replacement of a neutral arbitrator in certain circumstances would risk rendering the AAA Rules meaningless." Accordingly, the hearing justice's order and the AAA's disqualification were affirmed.
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The author, Katharine Kohm, is a committee member for The Dispute Resolver. Katharine practices construction law and commercial litigation in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She is an associate at Pierce Atwood, LLP in Providence, Rhode Island. She may be contacted at 401-490-3407 or kkohm@PierceAtwood.com.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Certified, Schmertified: Federal District Court Rules Against Subcontractor’s Breach and Quantum Claims Due to its Fraudulent Davis-Bacon Payrolls

The Plaintiff in METRIC ELECTRIC, INC., v. CCB, INC. and THE HANOVER INSURANCE COMPANY was an electrical subcontractor who was contracted by the Defendant to provided electrical services for a GSA project at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston. The subcontract was executed on December 2, 2013 for a value of $1,380,301 with the project to be completed over four phases.  The project fell under the Davis-Bacon Act which required that working tradesmen be paid the geographically designated Department of Labor prevailing wage rate.  The Davis-Bacon Act, along with the subcontract, required that subcontractors submit weekly payroll reports that certify under signed oath the tradesmen on the project were paid for all hours worked for the appropriate prevailing wage. In accordance with the Davis-Bacon Act and the specific language in the subcontract, the Plaintiff submitted signed certified payrolls during the course of the project from December 21, 2013 until April 26, 2014.

In March of 2014, six employees of the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit for unpaid wages in Massachusetts District Court and summary judgement was issued on April 6, 2014 in favor of the employees.  When the Defendant learned of this judgement, it advanced funds to the Plaintiff to pay the back wages, but ultimately the Plaintiff’s employees quit the project on April 23, 2014. The Defendant later found that the funds it provided were not paid to the employees until three months later in July 2014.  On May 16, 2014, the Defendant put the Plaintiff on notice of breach for failure to maintain schedule, and then formally terminated the Plaintiff on June 10, 2014, citing the failure to pay wages and to timely perform the contract schedule.  At the time of termination, Plaintiff had only completed 75% of the Phase I work and was 44% complete on the entire job.

In May of 2015, the Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendant in federal district court for: 1) breach of contract; 2) quantum meruit; 3) violation of the Miller Act; and 4) violation of the Massachusetts unfair business practices act. Defendant counterclaimed for breach of contract and violation of the unfair business practices act, plus a cross-complaint against the Plaintiff’s owner for fraud.

The Court began its analysis of the Plaintiff’s claim by simply stating that the Plaintiff’s failure to pay its employees in a timely fashion, as required both by the Davis-Bacon Act and the subcontract, was a material breach.  That material breach in turn relieved the Defendant of any duty to make payments on the contract to the Plaintiff.  The Court then rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that the act of the Defendant paying the employee’s back wages constituted waiver of that breach.  The Court discounted this argument by stating there was no “clear, decisive, and unequivocal conduct” indicating waiver by the Defendant.

The Court next reviewed the Plaintiff’s claim in quantum meruit for $158,823.14 in work it claimed to have performed before its termination.  To start this analysis, the Court pointed to the maxim of Equity that, “a party coming before the court seeking equitable relief must do so with clean hands.”  The Court declared that the Plaintiff in this instance not only failed to follow Federal law, it also failed to adhere the terms of the subcontract by paying its tradesmen in a timely fashion, and it finally then filed perjured certified payrolls, compounding the issues.  As such, a claim in equity for “quantum meruit…is a nonstarter.”

Based upon its ruling on the first two counts of the complaint, the Court rejected the Miller Act and unfair business practices claims outright and granted Summary Judgment in favor of the Defendant.

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The author, Brendan Carter, is a contributor to The Dispute Resolver and a former Student Division Liaison to the Forum on Construction Law.  He is an attorney and a Senior Consultant with Navigant’s Global Construction Practice based in Boston, MA.  He may be contacted at 617.748.8311 or brendan.carter@navigant.com




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

No Flow-Down of a Waiver of the Statute of Limitations to Subcontractor

In the matter Hensel Phelps Construction Company v. Thompson Masonry Contractor, Inc. et al. the Supreme Court of Virginia considered whether a subcontract waived the applicable statute of limitations--meaning there was no time restriction to filing a lawsuit--by incorporating by reference the prime contract between the general contractor and the Commonwealth. The Court held that there was no waiver and therefore the general contractor's lawsuit against the subcontractors was time barred by the applicable statute of limitation.

The underlying project was for the construction of a health and fitness center at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. The general contractor entered into the $15 million contract with Virginia Tech, a Commonwealth agency. By law, no statute of limitations period can run against Virginia Tech. Va. Code section 8.01-231. By contract, the prime contract stated that: Except
as otherwise specified, all work shall be guaranteed by the [general contractor] against defects resulting from the use of inferior materials, equipment or workmanship for one (1) year from the date of final acceptance of the entire project by [Virginia Tech] in writing[.]
Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish a period of limitation with respect to any other obligation which the [general contractor] might have under the Contract Documents, including liability for defective work under [the Warranty provisions].
In sum, besides the 1-year warranty, there was no statute of limitations applicable to claims or disputes under the prime contract.
The project undisputedly was finished in 2000. Twelve years later in April 2012, Virginia Tech found variety of construction defects, repaired them, and then brought a claim against the general contractor to recover over $7 million. The general contractor looked to its subcontractors for these repair costs. When they refused, the general contractor settled with Virginia Tech for $3 million, and then sued all its implicated subcontractors. The subcontractors invoked the statute of limitations, which in Virginia, is five years for an action on a written contract. Va. Code § 8.01-246(2).

In turn, the general contractor pointed to its subcontracts' flow-down provision, which stated that "[t]he subcontractor is bound to the [general contractor] by the same terms and conditions by which [the general contractor] is bound to [Virginia Tech] under the [prime] contract," and that the subcontractor's warranty period covers any time "prior to [the general contractor's] release from responsibility to [Virginia Tech] therefor as required by the Contract Documents." The general contractor argued that because the general contractor was obligated to Virginia Tech on its claims brought 12 years after the project concluded, the subcontractors too were subject to claims from the general contractor.

Virginia's highest court sided with the subcontractors holding that any waiver of a known right must be "express" in that it reflects both knowledge of the right and the clear intent to relinquish the right. It need not be in writing. Here, the Court continued, the subcontract incorporation by reference neither acknowledged the 5-year statute of limitation nor the clear intent to waive the benefit of the statute. Moreover, just because the prime contract was silent on the statute of limitations, the subcontract could not be held to incorporate a statute that existed outside the prime contract. As a result, the Court held that the statutory waiver of the statute of limitations was not incorporated into the subcontracts, the 5-year period had run, and therefore the general contractor had no claim against the subcontractors.

As an alternate argument, the general contractor focused on the accrual date for the claim. It argued that its claims against the subcontractors, which sounded in indemnification, did not accrue until it settled with Virginia Tech. But because Va. Code § 8.01-246(2) states that the accrual is "when the breach of contract occurs in actions ex contractu and not when the resulting damage is discovered," this too was a dead end for the general contractor. Another statute Va. Code § 8.01-249(5) for "actions for contribution or indemnification," established accrual when "the contributee or the indemnitee has paid or discharged the obligation." But, here, the indemnification provision in the subcontract was rendered void because it could be read as requiring indemnification for the general contractor's own negligence. The Court disagreed that other parts of the subcontract, cobbled together, could give rise to independent cause of action for indemnification. So again, the general contractor could not proceed with its lawsuit.

The lesson learned is that explicitness in a follow-down provision is necessary if a waiver of rights is involved.
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The author, Katharine Kohm, is a committee member for The Dispute Resolver. Katharine practices construction law and commercial litigation in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She is an associate at Pierce Atwood, LLP in Providence, Rhode Island. She may be contacted at 401-490-3407 or kkohm@PierceAtwood.com.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Surety’s Motion to Stay ‘Little Miller Act’ Claim Until Resolution of General Contractor's Owner Claim Is Rejected by D.C. Court

In an effort to protect subcontractors on public works projects, the District of Columbia joined other states in enacting a statutory structure entitled the ‘District of Columbia Little Miller Act’ (DCLMA).  This and the other Little Miller Acts throughout the country are modeled after the Federal Miller Act which requires a general contractor on a public works project to secure a payment bond before work can commence on a project.  The intent of the Little Miller Acts is to provide subcontractors who do not received full payment from a general contractor a means to recover when a mechanic’s lien is not available due to the owner’s sovereign immunity protection.  Like the Federal Miller Act, the DCLMA has a 90 day accrual window from the last day of labor or material furnished until a subcontractor or supplier can submit a claim on a payment bond if full payment is not received.  This 90 day accrual period is to ensure a prompt resolution for the subcontractor.  In Strittmatter Metro,LLC v. Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland et al, U.S. District Court for D.C. ruled on whether a DCLMA payment bond claimant must exhaust dispute resolution procedures set out in the prime contract between the owner and general contractor before it can recover for non-payment.

The plaintiff in Strittmatter is a site contractor who was contracted by a general contractor (GC) for work at the Ballou Senior High School in the amount of $4.9 million.  The Master Subcontract Agreement contained provisions allowing for the expansion of the scope of work as the project progressed. The plaintiff claims that it performed its contractual scope of work and is owed additional payments in excess of $1.2 million and has made a claim on the GC furnished payment bond in accordance with the DCLMA.  The GC’s prime contract with the District contains dispute resolution procedures which include mandatory mediation. If mediation fails, all disputes are then brought to the District of Columbia’s Board of Contract Appeals.  The GC has initiated a claim against the District and entered into this mediation.  The GC’s claim is inclusive of the plaintiff’s $1.2 million claim as well. The defendant is the payment bond issuer and has submitted a motion to dismiss or stay the DCLMA action pending resolution of the GC’s claim with the District.

The defendant argues that due to a clause in the plaintiff’s subcontract which fully integrates the terms of GC’s prime contract, the plaintiff must enter into the mediation and District of Columbia’s Board of Contract Appeals procedures outlined in the GC’s contract.  To counter, the plaintiff points to a clause in the prime contract that states the District is not in privity with any subcontractors and as such subcontractors cannot seek compensation from the District.  Plaintiff contends that as a result of this, it is not possible for it to enter into a dispute resolution procedure that is not available to it. The Court reviewed Miller Act case law and found that the intent of the Miller Act is to deal with this lack of privity between the government and a subcontractor; the payment bond is there to bridge that gap and protect the subcontractor.  The Court further found that the District’s prime contract language disavowing subcontractor claims and payment only further proves the intent of the Miller Act. Accordingly, the court rejected the requirement that the plaintiff enter into mandatory dispute resolution procedures before initiating a DCLMA claim.

The Court next reviewed the defendant’s assertion that the plaintiff must await the completion of the GC’s dispute resolution procedures with the District before it can present a DCLMA claim.  The Court too rejected this argument by stating that the plaintiff lacks control over any proceeding involving the GC and District, even with the inclusion of the plaintiff’s $1.2 million claim.  The Court reasoned that such waiting period is counter to the “express purpose of the DCLMA to provide a prompt remedy to an aggrieved subcontractor.” If the plaintiff were required to wait for the GC’s dispute resolution process to complete, and the GC did not prevail with plaintiff’s claim, the Court mused the plaintiff might be put in a situation where it would statutorily time barred from recovery under the DCLMA.  Putting a subcontractor in such a situation would once again run counter to the intent of the Miller Act.


Accordingly, the Court denied the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or Stay the Proceeding. 

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The author, Brendan Carter, is a contributor to The Dispute Resolver and a former Student Division Liaison to the Forum on Construction Law.  He is an attorney and a Senior Consultant with Navigant’s Global Construction Practice based in Boston, MA.  He may be contacted at 617.748.8311 or brendan.carter@navigant.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thanks to Philip Bruner and JAMS Global Engineering and Construction Group for the following contribution to the Dispute Resolver:  


Settle Now, Argue Later: Expedited Construction Adjudication Is Coming to North America

Construction adjudication, the dispute resolution method credited with reducing construction litigation by more than 80 percent in the United Kingdom, is coming to North America. The adjudication method requires disputes arising during construction to be submitted to an adjudicator for a prompt initial decision that is binding until completion of the contract, and subject to challenge in arbitration or litigation only thereafter. Construction participants wryly refer to it as the “settle now, argue later” approach to final dispute resolution.

Adjudicators with expertise in construction and selected by the parties seek to make their decisions within 30 days of submission of the disputes. Adjudication thus offers a more structured process than the neutral evaluation or expert determination dispute resolution methods. Although parties may challenge the adjudicator’s decision after the contract is completed, British experience is that parties accept the adjudicator’s decision in nearly 85 percent of the cases and thus avoid later litigation altogether.

In the United States, adjudication has been introduced on large, public-private partnership (P3) projects through surety performance bonds, which guarantee contract completion and provide for adjudication of disputes as to whether contractors are in default. Prior to initiation of the concept, the primary performance security on such P3 projects has been demand letters of credit, which tie up contractors’ bank credit lines and which can be drawn down by owners without any showing of default on the underlying construction contract by the contractors or even upon review by neutral third parties.

The focus of the adjudication process in the P3 performance bond is obtaining prompt review of and final decisions on the critical issue of the performance bond obligation—has a contractor default occurred that triggers the surety’s performance under the bond? The adjudication process thus offers both the contractor and surety some semblance of due process not offered by a demand letter of credit. In turn, it provides the owner (or obligee) of the construction project time certainty for prompt resolution of disputes.

JAMS has developed rules for adjudication of surety bond disputes. Adjudicators under those rules are selected by parties from the neutral panel of the JAMS Global Engineering and Construction Group.  The selected adjudicator is accorded full authority to investigate the disputed issues surrounding the contractor’s alleged default and can require parties to produce documents, present employees for interviews and cooperate in ferreting out the relevant facts. The adjudicator then will present a decision on the dispute within 30 days of the commencement of the adjudication. 

As contractors, owners, designers and lenders on P3 projects gain experience with adjudication, the process is expected to spread beyond P3 projects. Parties desiring quicker resolution of disputes, even on an interim basis, than offered by mediation or neutral evaluation now will also have an expedited JAMS adjudication process available to them.

Philip L. Bruner, Esq. is a JAMS neutral based in Minneapolis.  He is director of JAMS Global Engineering and Construction Group and one of the world’s leading arbitrators, mediators and resolvers of construction, engineering and infrastructure claims.  Mr. Bruner can be reached at pbruner@jamsadr.com.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Collaborative Construction Claim (CCC) Process

Roy E. Wagner
Von Briesen & Roper, s.c.
Chair - Construction Law Section
411 E. Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 1000
Milwaukee, WI 53202
rwagner@vonbriesen.com
 
John W. Hinchey
JAMS International
Chartered Arbitrator, CIArb
One Atlantic Center
1201 West Peachtree, NW, Suite 2650
Atlanta, GA 30309
jhinchey@jamsadr.com


 




















On October 6, 2016, at the Forum’s Fall Meeting, Roy Wagner and John Hinchey presented at the Division 1 Lunch Program. The Program was on the Collaborative Construction Claim (“CCC”) process. Division 1 members and guests learned that CCC is a party and lawyer-driven process to identify construction disputes and issues, followed by a collaborative process to solve those disputes by utilizing several different “currencies.” If allocation of financial responsibility cannot be achieved by the parties and lawyers, a neutral is engaged to push the deal over the goal line. The goal is to minimize attorney and expert fees and achieve a better and quicker net result.

The Program detailed how to implement CCC successfully and highlighted advantages such as the potential to fast track and that CCC fosters maintaining relationships on long term on-going projects. Further, the lawyer in the process is viewed as a problem solver, not a claims process beneficiary. The Program concluded that CCC is a lawyer driven, flexible and resolution centric process that reduces legal and expert fees, and leaves more money for repair and settlement.  If unsuccessful, CCC efforts can be leveraged for the claims process.

The Program was well attended and well received by the audience. We were thrilled to have knowledgeable presenters such as Roy and John at our lunch Program and thank them for their contribution to Division 1.

On December 14, from 2:30 to 3:30 pm EST, the American Arbitration Association will be presenting a webinar called “What Advocates Can Learn from Walking in an Arbitrator’s Shoes.”  Here are the particulars:
 
What Advocates Can Learn From Walking In An Arbitrator’s Shoes
Live Webinar | December 14, 2016

Faculty: 
Melinda Gentile, Peckar & Abramson, PC
Karen Layng, Scheck Industries
Danny Shaw, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC

Too often advocates do not properly consider how they are perceived by the arbitrator or give proper thought to the effectiveness of the tools they are providing to assist the arbitrator in rendering a decision. Every advocate should step into the shoes of an arbitrator—if just for a day—to see thing’s from an arbitrator’s perspective.

This 90-minute webinar will examine the steps an advocate can take to ensure optimal presentation of a case, that the arbitrator is receiving the resources and information that will enable him or her to come to an informed decision, and ultimately improve the chances of success. Areas covered will include—

  • the vital tools and resources an advocate needs to provide to the arbitrator to support the decision making process and how these tools should be prepared and presented;
  • how an advocate should collaborate with the opposition;
  • what to do to show respect for the arbitration process;
  • things to avoid when in front of an arbitrator;
  • how to maintain credibility;
  • disclosure responsibilities and transparency; and more.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND:  Advocates, arbitrators, academics, and anyone interested in the dynamics of arbitration.

 CLE:  West LegalEdcenter is procuring continuing legal education (CLE) credits on behalf of American Arbitration Association. This program is available for CLE credits in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Credit amounts vary by attendance verification and jurisdictional rules. 





Monday, October 24, 2016

10 Days Means 10 Days: Ohio Appeals Court Upholds Decision Requiring Strict Compliance with Time and Notice Claim Requirements in State Construction Contract


The plaintiff in IPS Electric Services, LLC v. University of Toledo was an electrical contractor contracted with the University of Toledo to construct a new enclosure at existing buildings and remodel existing space at the UT Health Science Campus.  The contract included provisions for contract modifications and dispute resolution. During the course of the project, problems were encountered that impacted the completion date.  In response to the defendant issuing a new completion schedule, the plaintiff began documenting these impacts beginning on October 24, 2012.  The new schedule would require the plaintiff to add additional manpower, additional shifts, and overtime thereby increasing costs significantly.  On December 24, 2012, the plaintiff sent a letter to the defendant stating it was experiencing compensable costs related to the defendant’s late delivery of air handling units and slow RFI responses resulted in a delay to the metal framing and overhead duct installation. 

On January 22, 2013, the plaintiff sent another letter to the defendant stating that, “we are arguably obligated under the contract documents to provide additional support for our claims as a follow-up to our prior submissions.”  Plaintiff then presented costs associated with schedule acceleration labor, disruption, and additional general conditions. Plaintiffs followed up on February 21, 2013 with detailed costs and formal change order requests.  Finally, on April 25, 2013, the plaintiffs submitted a certified claim for the above costs, adding an additional $100,000 to the disruption total.  In its claim, plaintiff stated “IPS gave notice of delay and potential costs impacts in its October 24, 2012, December 24, 2012, January 22, 2013 and February 21, 2013 letters."  In September of 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Court of Claims alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment. 

The Court of Claims dismissed the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim finding that a written contract governed the relationship between the parties.  The Court of Claims further found that even though the actions of the defendant could constitute a breach of contract, by a preponderance of the evidence the plaintiff failed to comply with the dispute resolution procedures contained within the contract which resulted in the irrevocable waiver of any related claim.  The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that it could only know the full amount of damages it suffered at the completion of the project, which in turn would not allow for strict adherence to the notice and time requirements in the contract.  The plaintiffs appealed the Court of Claims decision for the defendants.

The Appeals Court began its analysis by presenting excerpts from Article 8 of the contract that provided the dispute resolution procedures for the project.

8.1.2 Except as provided under paragraph 2.15, the Contractor shall initiate every claim by giving written notice of the claim to the A/E and the Contracting Authority within 10 days after the occurrence of the event giving rise to the claim[.]


8.1.4 The Contractor's failure to initiate a claim as and when required under this paragraph 8.1 shall constitute the Contractor's irrevocable waiver of the claim.

The plaintiff argued in its appeal that the contract violates Ohio’s “no damage for delay” statutory prohibition through the inclusion of a ‘no damage for delay’ clause found in Article 4.  The plaintiff further contended that the waiver conditions in Article 8 constituted a no damage for delay cause as well. The Court was not swayed by these arguments pointing to the fact the clause referenced in Article 4 addressed delays caused by other contractors, not by the defendant and therefore is not prohibited by the statute.  The Court further found that the Article 8 claim provisions do not contain “no damages for delay” language.  Article 8 deals with procedural matters for claims, not the substance of the claim and is not the type of contract term that would be barred by the statute either.

The Court next addressed the plaintiff’s claim that the Court of Claims created a “windfall” for the defendant by not finding it liable for the breach of contract claim.  The plaintiff’s argument was that it was unfair for the lower court to require strict compliance with Article 8 because 1) it was waiting for change orders to be executed under Article 7; 2) it had sent repeated notices to the defendant that its actions had caused schedule delays; 3) it was not possible to quantify the extent of the damages until the project was complete. The Court pointed to Ohio case law in order to discount the plaintiff’s argument that adherence to Article 8 would have been a “vain act” by stating, “the Article 8 process remains operative even if the contractor can demonstrate that the Article 8 adjudicators were unlikely to provide the relief sought.” Cleveland Constr., Inc. v. Kent State Univ., 10th Dist. No. 09AP-822, 2010-Ohio-2906.  The Court further stated that the plaintiff was contractually required to inform the defendant with a written notice within ten days of an occurrence that would give rise to a claim.  The Article 8 provision did not require a fully priced change order proposal to accompany that notice.  The Court stated, “initiation of a claim pursuant to the contract's dispute resolution procedures was not contingent on IPS's ability to precisely calculate its damages.”

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Claims for the defendant. 

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The author, Brendan Carter, is a contributor to The Dispute Resolver and a former Student Division Liaison to the Forum on Construction Law.  He is an attorney and a Senior Consultant with Navigant’s Global Construction Practice based in Boston, MA.  He may be contacted at 617.748.8311 or brendan.carter@navigant.com

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Contractors Exposed to Copyright Liability Where Owner Breaches Agreement with Architect

A federal court in the case Eberhard Architects, LLC v. Bogart Architecture, Inc. et al., 314 F.R.D. 567 (N.D.Ohio 2016) recently held that contractors and subcontractors cannot, as a matter of law, avoid liability if an owner uses an architect's plans and drawings without a license.

In Eberhard, the Architect entered into an AIA contract with the Owner to provide architectural services in connection with the design of a 12-bed hospital facility.  Per the contract the Architect granted the Owner a "nonexclusive license" to use its plans and drawings, the "instruments of service," for the hospital project unless Owner failed to make payments.  In such instance, the contract stated that the license in favor of the Owner would be cancelled.

When the Owner failed to make payment to the Architect, the Architect issued cease and desist letters to all project participants - Owner, Contractor, Subcontractor - to stop using its instruments of service as they were protected by copyright law.  The Contractor and Subcontractors, who did not have a contractual relationship with the Architect and who did not have a basis in their contract with the Owner to stop work, continued to use the drawings and plans.  The Architect then filed a lawsuit against all project participants.  The Contractor and Subcontractors moved to dismiss. The federal court denied the motion.

The Contractor and Subcontractors first argued that case did not “arise” under the Copyright Act and was really a contract dispute concerning nonpayment of fees. The court disagreed holding that the complaint sounded in infringement by Contractor and Subcontractors and therefore arises under the Act. The court commented that it did not matter that the Defendants would raise an affirmative defense that they were not infringers in light of the nonexclusive license.

Then the court likewise discarded the arguments from the Contractor and Subcontractors that they did not exceed the scope of the license because the instruments of service were used on the exact project that the architect had intended.  According to the Contractor and Subcontractors, the Owner did not breach its agreement with the Architect (entitling the Architect to withdraw the license in full) because complete payment was not a condition precedent to the Owner-Architect Agreement.  The court pointed out that the Architect-Owner contract granted the license “upon execution” and "therefore, by granting the license before full payment was due, the parties clearly did not intend the full payment to be a condition precedent to the license itself." And furthermore, by agreement of the parties, the license indeed "ceased to exist" upon the architect's rightful termination of which non-payment was rightful reason. In sum, the Owner and Architect had agreed that the license  would be extinguished.Accordingly, by proceeding to use the instruments of service without a license all project participants, including the Contractor and Subcontractors, were potentially liable under the Copyright Act.

Beyond this case--where, in light of the cease and desist letters, the Contractors and Subcontractors arguably were aware that the license was potentially expired--it is important to note that civil violations of the Copyright Act need not be willful or knowing. See generally R. Anthony Reese, Innocent Infringement in US Copyright Law: A History, 30 Colum. J.L. & Arts 133 (2007).  As such, contractors and subcontractors who use plans and drawings that are unlicensed, whether they know so or not, may expose themselves to liability.
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The author, Katharine Kohm, is a committee member for The Dispute Resolver. Katharine practices construction law and commercial litigation in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She is an associate at Pierce Atwood, LLP in Providence, Rhode Island. She may be contacted at 401-490-3407 or kkohm@PierceAtwood.com.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Division 1 Sponsored Advocacy in Arbitration Practicum Kicks Off Forum’s 2016 Fall Meeting in Chicago



The Forum on Construction Law’s Beatles themed 2016 Fall Meeting - I Should Have Known Better - Construction & Design Defects & Project Delays is underway this week in Chicago.  The programming portion of the meeting commenced on Wednesday afternoon with the Advocacy in Arbitration Practicum sponsored by Division 1, The Young Lawyers Division, and the Forum Leadership Circle.  The Practicum was a great success with almost sixty attendees participating in the three hour session. 

The practicum was moderated by Division 1’s Tom Dunn of Pierce Atwood  with a panel comprised of Former Division 1 Chair Buzz Tarlow of Tarlow and Stonecipher, the Leadership Circle’s John R. Heisse of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, and the YLD’s Haim Benjamin of Becker & Poliakoff. The practicum centered on a fact pattern of an EPCM power plant project that went off the rails with a change order dispute between the owner and general contractor.  Topics covered include the arbitration agreement, arbitrator selection, information exchange, and vacatur and appeals.  Attendees were divided into Claimant and Respondent teams and mock cross examinations held with the assistance of Erin Krejci of Laurie & Brennan and Brendan Carter of Navigant Consulting, Inc. playing the roles of the owner's and general contractor’s project managers.


Tom Dunn moderates the conversation.

John R. Heisse leads the discussion on preliminary hearings.

Haim Benjamin discusses information exchange between the parties.

Buzz Tarlow strategizing with his team for cross examination.



Friday, September 30, 2016

Do All Those Qualifications on Subcontractor Bids Really Mean Anything? California Appeals Court Says Yes and it is Unreasonable to Disregard Them

The plaintiff in Flinto Pacific, Inc. v. TEC Management Consultants, Inc. was a general contractor who was awarded a building project at the Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hills, California. Two months earlier on bid day, the defendant submitted a proposal for the glass and glazing package in the amount of $1,272,090. The proposal contained qualifications that stated a deposit of 35% was required for the work, the defendant would not accept responsibility for liquidated damages, all bonds were excluded, and the bid could be withdrawn if it was not accepted within 15 days. It further stated that the bid was subject to a 3% escalation per quarter after that 15 day acceptance period. In its winning bid for the project the plaintiff carried the defendant’s number and identified it as the curtain wall and glazing subcontractor. 

On the day it was awarded the project, the plaintiff held a meeting with the defendant to discuss the upcoming project.  A few days later a letter of intent was sent to the defendant which stated the "contract award is contingent upon the following terms and conditions," which included the requirement that the defendant accept liquidated damages and agree to a complete scope of work. The next week the plaintiff sent its standard subcontract to the defendant which did not include a scope of work or price information.  Defendant reviewed the contract and alerted the plaintiff that the boilerplate language of the contract was in conflict with the qualifications in its bid, specifically the deposit, bond, and 3% escalation provisions.  Conversations regarding the contract continued into the next month with the plaintiff sending the defendant another subcontract which had not been modified to address any of the defendant’s bid qualifications. Just prior to the second subcontract being sent, the defendant notified the plaintiff that it decided not pursue the contract any further. Two more correspondence exchanges were had with the defendant stating it was within its rights to withdraw its bid per the 15 day acceptance qualification.  Ultimately, the plaintiff found a new subcontractor for the glass and glazing package.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant alleging promissory estoppel in the amount of the $327,000. At trial, the plaintiff stated that on a typical bid days when it is pulling together all the subcontractor bids, it generally, “disregards all terms and conditions of a subcontractor's bid except for scope of work, price, length of time the bid would remain open, and bonding.” Plaintiff’s project manager also admitted that he had not reviewed the defendant’s proposal until after it was listed in the winning bid.  The trial court ruled in favor of the defendant stating that the plaintiff’s reliance on the submitted bid without regard for the material conditions was not reasonable.  

Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals of California, Second District contending that the trial court erred in ruling that the elements of promissory estoppel had not been met. 

The Court began its analysis by establishing that the four elements of promissory estoppel are “(1) a promise clear and unambiguous in its terms; (2) reliance by the party to whom the promise is made; (3) [the] reliance must be both reasonable and foreseeable; and (4) the party asserting the estoppel must be injured by his reliance.” US Ecology, Inc. v. State of California (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 887, 901; Kajima/Ray Wilson v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (2000) 23 Cal.4th 305, 310.  The Court centered its review of the case on the reasonableness element.  It found the trial court’s conclusion that, “TEC's bid contained conditions that were material to its bid price, and which if omitted, would have considerably increased the price…therefore… Flintco's reliance on the bid price alone was not reasonable.”  The Court also pointed to the trial court’s examination of the record with the defendant’s clear 35% deposit requirement, rejection of liquidated damages liability, unwillingness to provide a bond, and 15 day rejection period as “evidence [supporting] the trial court's finding that Flintco's reliance on the bid price alone while ignoring the material terms and conditions was unreasonable.”

The Court further reviewed the plaintiff’s argument that the conditions of the defendant’s qualifications to the bid are irrelevant based upon custom and practice in lump-sum contracting.  The Court pointed to the plaintiff’s cited cases and stated that, “unlike the cases Flincto [cited]…where the bids were made orally and were comprised of price only, TEC's bid was written and contained terms and conditions that were underscored and material because they affected the price. Nor does TEC claim it made a mistake in the bid. Thus, the justification in Drennan for invoking the equitable doctrine of promissory estoppel does not apply here.”

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. 

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The author, Brendan Carter, is a contributor to The Dispute Resolver and a former Student Division Liaison to the Forum on Construction Law.  He is an attorney and a Senior Consultant with Navigant’s Global Construction Practice based out of Boston, MA.  He may be contacted at 617.748.8311 or brendan.carter@navigant.com.

Friday, September 23, 2016

NJ Superior Court Halts End Run Around the Statute of Repose



https://www.thenaturalhome.com/img/septic/infiltratorandpipe.jpg

In the matter Caprioti et al. v. Beazer Homes Corp., the Superior Court of New Jersey halted some artful pleading by the Plaintiffs seemingly intended to avoid the state statute of repose.
The homeowner plaintiffs claimed that the builder had violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act “by selling homes . . . without including allegedly pertinent information regarding the type of septic tank used on the properties.” All the homes included a septic system comprised of a chamber tank rather than a conventional stone and pipe system. This chamber characteristic is noteworthy because chamber systems fail prematurely more often than the conventional systems.  The plaintiffs argued is that a reasonable person would want to know this information prior to purchasing the home as it speaks to the homes useful life. They also claimed that the builder had concealed or omitted this information from the plaintiffs.  Many of the plaintiffs did indeed experience major problems including failure of the system, backup, odor, and the cost of more frequent service.

The builder moved for summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ complaints that “were more than 10 years after the purchase of their homes, and are thereby beyond the applicable 10-year Statute of Repose." See N.J. Stat. 2A:14-1.1(a) (“No action, whether in contract, in tort, or otherwise, to recover damages for any deficiency in the design, planning, surveying, supervision or construction of an improvement to real property . . . . shall be brought against any person performing or furnishing the design, planning, surveying, supervision of construction or construction of such improvement to real property, more than 10 years after the performance or furnishing of such services and construction.").  The builder framed the issue as one of alleged inadequate or inferior construction whereas the homeowner plaintiffs stated that their claims “[arose] out of defendant’s unlawful sales practices, not negligent design, planning or construction of their homes.”

The Superior Court sided with the builder and summarily decided and dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims.  In so deciding, the Court emphasized that statutes of repose are intended to be read broadly to “limit the expanding liability of contractors . . . .”  The Court also focused on the fact that the plaintiffs did not dispute that the chamber septic system was an “improvement to real property” alleged to be “insufficient, inadequate, and not functioning properly.”  The Court reasoned that although couched as a misrepresentation “but for the alleged septic system failures, there would be no cause of action.”
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The author, Katharine Kohm, is a committee member for The Dispute Resolver. Katharine practices construction law and commercial litigation in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She is an associate at Pierce Atwood, LLP in Providence, Rhode Island. She may be contacted at 401-490-3407 or kkohm@PierceAtwood.com.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fundamentals of Construction Law: Learning From The Pros - November 4, 2016


On November 4, 2016, the ABA Forum on Construction Law will present, in four cities across the counry, "Fundamentals of Construction Law."  The concepts covered apply to projects ranging from a single building to complex infrastructure improvements.

Taught by leading construction lawyers in each locale, this program presents a unique opportunity for new construction lawyers or experienced lawyers who occasionally practice construction law as well as non-lawyer and construction professionals to learn the essentials from those who practice it daily at its highest levels.  The program concisely covers the gamut of construction issues including the roles of the key participants in a project, the structure of project delivery systems, the bidding and construction process, insurance and bonding, government construction contracts, and dispute resolution.  This affordable, conventiently-located program provides an excellent way for firms and companies of all sizes to provide an exceptional training opportunity to their lawyers and construction professionals.  Tuition includes the Fundamentals of Construction Law (2nd Ed.) book, plus lunch and a full day of CLE instruction. 

Register today at Fundamentals of Construction Law: Learning From the Pros
                            
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