CONTRACTORS SHOULD NOT FORGET TO DELIVER CONTRACTOR’S FINAL PAYMENT AFFIDAVIT

shutterstock_46898038If you are a contractor and entered into a contract with an owner, then you need to serve the owner with a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit at least 5 days before filing a lien foreclosure lawsuit.  Fla. Stat. s. 713.06(3)(d).    Many times, when I am preparing a lien for a contractor, I like to work with the contractor on the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit at the same time as the lien to (for lack of a better phrase) kill two birds with one stone.  This way, both the lien and Contractors’ Final Payment Affidavit can be served on the owner at the same time and the contractor has perfected its right to foreclose on the lien when it is ready to do so.

 

As Florida Statute s. 713.06(3)(d) states:

 

The contractor shall have no lien or right of action against the owner for labor, services, or materials furnished under the direct contract while in default for not giving the owner the affidavit; however, the negligent inclusion or omission of any information in the affidavit which has not prejudiced the owner does not constitute a default that operates to defeat an otherwise valid lien. The contractor shall execute the affidavit and deliver it to the owner at least 5 days before instituting an action as a prerequisite to the institution of any action to enforce his or her lien under this chapter, even if the final payment has not become due because the contract is terminated for a reason other than completion and regardless of whether the contractor has any lienors working under him or her or not.

Failing to serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit can be hugely detrimental to an otherwise valid lien.  Without serving the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit, the lien foreclosure lawsuit is not proper and should be dismissed.

 

For example, in Puya v. Superior Pools, Spas & Waterfalls, Inc., 902 So.2d 973 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), a swimming pool contractor hired by a homeowner filed a lien foreclosure lawsuit and received a foreclosure judgment in its favor.  There was one huge problem.  The contractor never served a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit 5 days before filing the lawsuit.   The Fourth District reversed the foreclosure judgment because the contractor’s failure to serve the Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit deprived the contractor of the right to foreclose on the lien:  “Where a contractor fails to timely furnish a final payment affidavit, the owner is generally entitled to dismissal of the contractor’s foreclosure lawsuit.”  Puya, 902 So.2d at 974.  See also Nichols v. Michael D. Eicholtz, Enterprise, 750 So.2d 719 (Fla. 5th DCA 2000) (affirming trial court’s dismissal of lien foreclosure action where contractor failed to properly provide contractor’s final payment affidavit).

 

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.

 

FLORIDA’S LIEN LAW AND SUBSTANTIAL COMPLIANCE VS. STRICT COMPLIANCE

comp photoThere are literally some (or, perhaps, many!) disputes that will make you say “hmm!”   The “hmm” is a euphemism for “what is a party thinking?!?”  The case of Trump Endeavor 12 LLC v. Fernich, Inc., 42 Fla. L.Weekly D830a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) is one of these cases because a party (the owner) is banking its defense on a technical “all-or-nothing” argument pertaining to whether a lienor (a supplier) substantially complied with Florida’s Lien Law because a supplier’s Notice to Owner identified the wrong general contractor.    This is a challenging argument because the owner has to prove how they were adversely affected / prejudiced by the lack of substantial compliance, which is not an easy burden.

 

This case concerns the Trump National Doral Miami project.  The project consisted of a lodge project and a separate clubhouse project, both of which had different general contractors.  On the lodge project, the general contractor hired a painter which, in turn, procured paint from a supplier (the lienor).  The supplier visited the project and obtained the Notice of Commencement from the owner so that it could perfect its lien rights.  The owner furnished the supplier the Notice of Commencement for the clubhouse project that had a different general contractor.  Relying on this Notice of Commencement, the supplier served a Notice to Owner. The Notice to Owner was timely serviced however it identified the wrong contractor – it identified the general contractor for the clubhouse project instead of the lodge project. Although the supplier later learned there was a different general contractor on the lodge project, it did not remedy the issue by serving a Notice to Owner on the correct contractor.  Indeed, the contractor for the lodge project learned of the Notice to Owner furnished by the supplier and that the supplier was furnishing paint to the painting subcontractor for purposes of that project.

 

The supplier was owed approximately $32,000 and recorded a lien against the lodge project.  The owner countered that the supplier did not have lien rights because its Notice to Owner incorrectly identified the wrong contractor.  The supplier argued that it substantially complied with the Notice to Owner requirements and there was no prejudice to the owner as the result of it identifying the wrong contractor.  The court sided with the contractor.

 

The court held that if the supplier substantially complied with the Notice to Owner requirements then such errors do not prevent its enforcement against a person who has not been adversely affected (prejudiced) by the error.  Based on the facts, the supplier substantially complied with the Notice to Owner requirements and the owner could not establish how it was remotely prejudiced by the error.

 

Banking on certain technical arguments is literally banking on an “all-or-nothing” argument because if you lose that argument, then you lose the dispute and are likely liable for the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees.  Here, the owner relied on a technical argument regarding the fact that the supplier failed to identify the correct general contractor on the Notice to Owner even though it knew the supplier was furnishing paint on the project.  Why did the owner bank its entire case on such a technical position for an approximate $32,000 lien, especially when the owner could not prove how it was prejudiced by the supplier’s omission of the correct contractor?  While there is strict compliance with the time requirements under Florida’s Lien Law, a party needs to substantial comply with other requirements. Substantial compliance will then shift the burden to the other party to prove how it was prejudiced by the substantial compliance versus strict compliance.  This can be a heavy burden.  Probably not worth banking an entire defense on this technical argument, particularly for a $32,000 lien.

 

Obviously, strict compliance is always best to avoid dealing with these technical arguments.  For this reason, there is always value consulting with an attorney regarding perfecting and preserving your lien rights.

 

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.

 

 

PRESERVING YOUR RIGHTS TO SECURE PAYMENT ON CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS (WITH EXAMPLES)

shutterstock_330137966All participants across the construction industry should understand what efforts they should take to maximize and collateralize payment.  No one wants to work for free and, certainly, no one in the construction industry wants to work without ensuring there is some mechanism to recover payment in the event they remain unpaid.   Being proactive and knowledgeable can go a long way when it comes to recovering your money.

 

Your Contract – It starts with the contract.  You should understand those risks that are allocated to you and those that are allocated to another party.  And, you should understand the contractual mechanism to resolve claims and disputes and whether your contract has a prevailing party attorney’s fees provision. In addition to contractual rights, there are tools for you to maximize your collection efforts.

 

Construction Liens – Construction liens apply to private projects, not public projects.  This is a very valuable tool as they allow you to collateralize nonpayment against real property.  It is really important you know what you need to do to preserve your construction lien rights.  Construction liens are a creature of statute and the failure to properly preserve and perfect your construction lien rights can be fatal to your lien claim.  

 

Example 1.   I am a general contractor on a private condominium project.  I am owed $1,000,000 from the developer.    As the general contractor, I can record a construction lien within 90 days from my final furnishing on the project exclusive of punchlist and warranty work.   (This is good for one year from recording unless the developer takes steps to shorten the limitations period to foreclose the lien.)  I serve a copy of the lien on the developer (and others that may be listed in the Notice of Commencement) within 15 days of the recording of the lien.  At least 5 days before filing suit to foreclose on the lien, I need to serve a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit on the developer.

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Example 2.  I am a subcontractor on a private condominium project.  I am owed $1,000,000 from the general contractor.   Since I am not in privity with the owner/developer, I need to serve a Notice to Owner within 45 days of my initial furnishing on the owner and general contractor (and others listed in the Notice of Commencement).  I need to record my construction lien within 90 days from my final furnishing and furnish a copy on the owner within 15 days from the recording of the lien.  Also, since I am not in privity with the owner/developer, I do not need to serve a Contractor’s Final Payment Affidavit.  I need to sue on the lien within 1 year from the recording of the lien (unless efforts are taken to shorten the limitation period).

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Payment Bonds (Private Projects) – There can be statutory payment bonds on private projects.   The Notice of Commencement will attach a copy of the payment bond, if one exists.  If one is not referenced and attached, then that means the claimant has lien rights.  It is really important you know what you need to do to preserve your payment bond rights on private projects – they are not necessarily the same as preserving payment bond rights on public projects.   Preserving your bond rights allows you to pursue your claim for nonpayment against a surety bond.

 

Example 3.  I am a subcontractor on a private condominium project. I am owed $1,000,000 from the general contractor.  I know from the Notice of Commencement that the general contractor furnished an unconditional payment bond.  Since I am in privity with the general contractor, I do not need to serve a Notice of Intent to look to the Bond on the contractor.   But, within 90 days of final furnishing, I need to serve the general contractor and payment bond surety with a Notice of Non-Payment.  I then need to sue on the payment bond within 1 year from my final furnishing.

  

Payment Bonds (Public Projects)—There are statutory payment bonds on Florida public projects and Federal projects.  There are different procedures to preserve rights depending on the type of public project and it is important to know what steps you need to take to preserve your rights.  Preserving your bond rights allows you to pursue your claim for nonpayment against a surety bond.

  

Example 4.  I am a subcontractor on a Florida school public project. I am owed $1,000,000 from the general contractor.  I know that since I am in privity with the general contractor, I do not need to serve a Notice of Intent to look to the Bond on the contractor.  I also know since I am in privity with the general contractor, I do not need to serve a Notice of Non-Payment on the general contractor and surety.  (Note, this is different than if this were a private project).   I need to sue on the payment bond within 1 year from my final furnishing. 

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Example 5.  I am a supplier to a subcontractor on a Florida school public project.  I am owed $1,000,000 from the subcontractor. Since I am not in privity with the general contractor, I need to serve a Notice of Intent to look to the Bond within 45 days of my initial furnishing.  Also, since I am not in privity with the general contractor, I need to serve a Notice of Non-Payment on the general contractor and surety within 90 days of my final furnishing.  I need to sue on the payment bond within 1 year from my final furnishing.

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Example 6.  I am a sub-subcontractor on an FDOT public transportation project.  I am owed $1,000,000 from the subcontractor.  Since I am not in privity of contract with the general contractor, I need to serve a Notice of Intent to look to the Bond on the general contractor within 90 days of my initial furnishing. (Note, this is different than other public projects.)   Also, since I am not in privity with the general contractor, I need to serve a Notice of Non-Payment within 90 days of my final furnishing on the general contractor and surety. I then need to sue on the payment bond within 365 days of the final acceptance of the contract and work by the FDOT.  (Note, this is different than other public projects.)

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Example 7.  I am a subcontractor to a prime contractor on a federal project.  I am owed $1,000,000 from the prime contractor.   Since this is a federal project, there is no preliminary notice requirement.  (Note, this is different than other public projects.)  Since I am in privity with the general contractor, I do not need to serve a Notice of Non-payment on the prime contractor within 90 days of my final furnishing. I need to sue on the payment bond within 1 year from my final furnishing.

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Example 8.  I am a supplier to a subcontractor on a federal project.  I am owed $1,000,000 from the subcontractor.  Since this is a federal project, there is no preliminary notice requirement.   Also, since I am not in privity with the prime contractor, I need to serve a Notice of Non-Payment only on the prime contractor within 90 days of my final furnishing.  (Note, this is different than other public projects.)  I need to sue on the payment bond within 1 year from my final furnishing.

 

 

As reflected from the examples, preserving and perfecting construction lien and payment bond rights is nuanced and depends on the type of project.   Know your rights.  Be proactive when it comes to preserving and perfecting your rights.  And, make sure to utilize the services of a construction attorney that can help you maximize your collection efforts correctly

 

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.

SIGNIFICANT ISSUES TEST APPLIES TO FRAUDULENT LIEN CLAIMS TO DETERMINE ATTORNEY’S FEES

imagesConstruction lienors need to appreciate on the frontend that recovering statutory attorney’s fees in a construction lien action is NOT automatic—far from it.  This is because the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees in a construction lien action is determined by the significant issues test,”subjective test with no bright line standards based on who the trial court finds prevailed on the significant issues in the case.  If you want to talk about the subjective and convoluted nature of recovering attorney’s fees in a construction lien action under the significant issues test, a recent opinion by the Fourth District Court of Appeal is unfortunately another nail in the coffin.   

 

In Newman v. Guerra, 2017 WL 33702 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), a contractor recorded a construction lien on a residential renovation project and filed a lien foreclosure lawsuit.  The homeowner countersued the contractor and asserted a fraudulent lien claim pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.31.  An evidentiary hearing was held on whether the lien was a fraudulent lien and the trial court held that the lien was fraudulent (therefore unenforceable) because it included amounts that were not lienable under the law.  The remaining claims including both parties’ breach of contract claims proceeded to trial.  There was no attorney’s fees provision in the contract.  At the conclusion of the trial, the court found that the contractor was entitled a monetary judgment on its breach of contract claim. 

 

Question:  If the owner prevailed in the contractor’s construction lien claim and established that the lien was in fact fraudulent, is the owner entitled to his statutory attorney’s fees? 

 

While equity may suggest “yes” as the answer, the answer is not necessarily.  This is because of the significant issues test where the court is going to look at the outcome of the entire litigation to determine the party that prevailed on the significant issues in the entire case.   Since the contractor ultimately recovered a money judgment, the court held the owner was not the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees under the significant issues test.  The contractor was not either, but this is beside the point since the owner established the lien was fraudulent and the contractor recovered a money judgment under a breach of contract claim that did not provide for attorney’s fees.  Nonetheless, the court maintained:

 

In sum, the trial court properly applied the “significant issues” test…in denying the homeowner’s claim for attorney’s fees under section 713.31 [fraudulent lien statute]. Even if a party prevails on a fraudulent lien claim, the party must be the prevailing party in the case as a whole to be entitled to attorney’s fees under section 713.31.

Newman, supra, at *4.

 

 

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.