A GENERAL CONTRACTOR NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND CERTAIN LEGAL DOCTRINES BEFORE SUING A STATE (INCLUDING AGENCY OR SUBDIVISION) AND DESIGN PROFESSIONAL THAT IT DID NOT HIRE

HIGHWAY-CONSTRUCTION-1The recent Florida district court case, Posen Construction, Inc. v. Lee County, et al., 2013 WL 375430 (M.D.Fla. 2013), ruling on various motions to dismiss, is an interesting case that discusses two important doctrines. In this case, a roadway contractor constructing a road project for Lee County sued Lee County and Lee County’s design professionals (hired by the County) for delays and additional costs it incurred in the performance of its work. This case, among other things, discusses a state’s (inclusive of a state agency or subdivision) sovereign immunity for claims for additional work (absent a change order) and the duty of care for purposes of a negligence claim that a design professional owes to a general contractor (when the general contractor did not hire the design professional).

 

The first doctrine is known as the Miorelli doctrine which refers to a state’s (or its agencies or subdivisions) soverign immunity for extra-contractual work claims that arise on a construction project. The Miorelli doctrine is based on the Florida Supreme Court case, County of Brevard v. Miorelli Engineering, Inc., 703 So.2d 1049 (1998). The Miorelli doctrine, as maintained by the Posen court, has evolved into the following doctrine: “A claim for damages predicated on work ‘totally outside the terms of the contract’ is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity [unless memorialized in a written executed change order], whereas damages caused by extra work done at the state’s behest and in furtherance of contractual covenants (express or implied) are potentially recoverable.” Posen Construction, supra at *3 citing Miorelli, 703 So.2d at 1051. In applying the Miorelli doctrine, the Posen court expressed:

 

“To be clear, if Posen’s [contractor] claim is predicated on work ‘totally outside the terms of the contract’ it will fail by application of the Miorelli decision. On the other hand, claims for damages caused by additional work performed in furtherance of either express or implied covenants of the written contract  fall within Florida’s implied waiver of sovereign immunity…”

 

If a contractor is suing a state (or a state agency or subdivision) for additional costs that are not memorialized in a written executed change order, it is important that the contractor is aware of the Miorelli doctrine in order to best craft arguments to potentially recover the additional costs. The reason being is that the contractor can almost be certain that the state will raise the Miorelli doctrine through the motion to dismiss and/or summary judgment stages to establish that the state has sovereign immunity for such claims and damages. The key is that the argument should center on the additional costs being covered by the expansive scope of work set forth in the contractor’s contract with the state versus constituting work that is materially different than what the contractor bargained for.

 

The second doctrine is known as the A.R. Moyer doctrine which refers to a design professional’s duty of care to a general contractor on a construction project (when there is no contractual privity between the contractor and design professional). The A.R. Moyer doctrine is based on the Florida Supreme Court case, A.R. Moyer v. Graham, 285 So.2d 397 (Fla. 1973). In A.R. Moyer, a contractor sued a supervising architect in negligence. The Florida Supreme Court in A.R. Moyer maintained:

 

Each of the [following] conditions would present a cause of action [in negligence against a supervising architect or engineer]: (a) supervising architect or engineer is negligent is preparation of plans and specifications; (b) the supervising architect or engineer negligently causes delays in preparation of corrected plans and specifications; (c) the supervising architect or engineer negligently prepared and negligently supervised corrected plans and specifications; (d) the supervising architect or engineer failed to award an architect’s certificate of completion of the project; (e) the architect or engineer was negligent in exercise of supervision and control of contractor…” Posen Construction, supra, citing A.R. Moyer, 285 So.2d at 402.

 

Stated differently, the design professional must have a supervisory role or element of control (also referred to as a close nexus to the contractor) in order for the design professional to owe a legal duty to the contractor. The Posen court clarified that “supervising architects and engineers are liable for the foreseeable injuries to general contractors proximately caused by their negligent conduct even where there is an absence of contractual privity, whereas nonsupervising engineers and architects—irrespective of when they are hired—will not be.” Posen Construction, supra, at *12.

 

If a contractor is suing a design professional in negligence, it is important for the contractor to understand the A.R. Moyer doctrine and that the required legal element of “duty” is based on the supervisory status of the architect or engineer. This will allow the contractor to best phrase legal theories knowing that the design professional will raise this doctrine at the motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment stages. However, absent this supervisory status or close nexus between the design professional and general contractor, the design professional will not be deemed to owe a legal duty to the contractor.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.