SERVING NOTICE OF NONPAYMENT UNDER MILLER ACT

Under the federal Miller Act, if a claimant is NOT in privity with the prime contractor, it needs to serve a “notice of nonpayment” within 90 days of its final furnishing.   In this manner, 40 U.S.C. 3133 (b)(2) states:

 

A person having a direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor but no contractual relationship, express or implied, with the contractor furnishing the payment bond may bring a civil action on the payment bond on giving written notice to the contractor within 90 days from the date on which the person did or performed the last of the labor or furnished or supplied the last of the material for which the claim is made. The action must state with substantial accuracy the amount claimed and the name of the party to whom the material was furnished or supplied or for whom the labor was done or performed. The notice shall be served–

(A) by any means that provides written, third-party verification of delivery to the contractor at any place the contractor maintains an office or conducts business or at the contractor’s residence; or

(B) in any manner in which the United States marshal of the district in which the public improvement is situated by law may serve summons.

Although the bolded language states that, “The action must state with substantial accuracy the amount claimed and the name of the party to whom the material was furnished or supplied or for whom the labor was done…,” courts have found that this requirement also applies to the notice of nonpayment.  See Prince Payne Enterprises, Inc. f/u/b/o Prince Payne Enterprises, Inc. v. Tigua Enterprises, Inc., 2019 WL 5394197, *4 (D. South Carolina 2019).

However, there is a certain liberality regarding the format of the notice as long as it states with substantial accuracy the amount claimed and the name of the party to whom the work was done.

For instance, in Prince Payne Enterprises, a sub-subcontractor—not in privity with the prime contractor—filed a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.  To support that it provided a notice of nonpayment to the prime contractor, the sub-subcontractor attached a hodgepodge of documentation, none of which was applicable, to its complaint, as well as alleged that it demanded payment from the prime contractor within 90 days of its final furnishing date on the project.  The prime contractor moved to dismiss the Miller Act payment bond claim based on the inapplicability of the hodgepodge of documentation which included letters that came after the 90 days expired.  But, based on the allegation that the sub-subcontractor demanded payment on the prime contractor, the Court held:

While the dates and contents of the attached exhibits may not meet the notice requirements of the Miller Act, the court must accept the allegation that Prince Payne [sub-subcontractor] demanded payment from Tigua [prime contractor] within ninety days of last performing work as true. Discovery may reveal that this is not true or that none of the communications satisfy the Miller Act’s notice requirements; however, at this early stage of litigation, the court finds that Prince Payne’s proposed amended complaint sufficiently alleges a viable cause of action for a violation of the Miller Act.

Prince Payne Enterprises, supra, at *4.

This sub-subcontractor is likely in trouble supporting that it served a notice of nonpayment within 90 days of its final furnishing date.  However, it lived to see another day by surviving a motion to dismiss.  Summary judgment will be different.  This could have been avoided had the sub-subcontractor appreciated that to preserve a Miller Act payment bond claim, it MUST serve a notice of nonpayment within 90 days of its final furnishing.  Rights preservation is everything!

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.

 

GOOD-TO-KNOW POINTS REGARDING (I) MILLER ACT PAYMENT BONDS AND (II) PAYMENT BOND SURETY COMPELLING ARBITRATION

Every now and then I come across an opinion that addresses good-to-know legal issues as a corollary of strategic litigation decisions that are questionable and/or creative.  An opinion out of the United States District Court of New Mexico, Rock Roofing, LLC v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America, 2019 WL 4418918 (D. New Mexico 2019), is such an opinion.

In Rock Roofing, an owner hired a contractor to construct apartments. The contractor furnished a payment bond.  The contractor, in the performance of its work, hired a roofing subcontractor.  A dispute arose under the subcontract and the roofer recorded a construction lien against the project. The contractor, per New Mexico law, obtained a bond to release the roofer’s construction lien from the project (real property).  The roofer then filed a lawsuit in federal court against the payment bond surety claiming it is entitled to: (1)  collect on the contractor’s Miller Act payment bond (?!?) and (2) foreclose its construction lien against the lien release bond furnished per New Mexico law.

Count I – Miller Act Payment Bond

Claiming the payment bond issued by the contractor is a Miller Act payment bond is a head scratcher. This claim was dismissed with prejudice upon the surety’s motion to dismiss. This was an easy call.

A Miller Act payment bond is a bond a prime contractor gives to the United States (US) for a public project. Here, the contractor entered into a contract with a private developer for a private apartment project. There was nothing to suggest that the private developer was, in fact, the US government or an agent of the US government.  There was also nothing to suggest that the apartment project was, in fact, a public project.  The roofer alleged that it believed the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provided funding for the project. The Court found this allegation as a big so-what: “The Court finds this allegation insufficient to demonstrate either the payment bond was furnished to the [US] Government as required by the [Miller Act], or that the apartment complex was a public building or public work as required by the [Miller Act].” Rock Roofing, LLC, 2019 WL at *3.

Count II – Foreclosure of Construction Lien Against Lien Release Bond

The surety moved to compel the roofer’s foreclosure claim against the lien release bond to arbitration pursuant to the contractor’s subcontract with the roofer.  The roofer countered that arbitration was inappropriate since the surety was not a party to the subcontract.

The Court (relying on a Florida district court opinion I was intimately involved with) found that the doctrine of equitable estoppel applied to compel the roofer to arbitration because the roofer’s claim for payment was based on its subcontract that contains the arbitration provision. “Because [the roofer’s] claim on the payment bond depends on its subcontract with [the contractor], the arbitration clause in the subcontract must precede [the roofer’s] right to bring suit as provided by the payment bond.Rock Roofing LLC at *7.

 

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.

 

STATUTORY CHANGE TO NOTICES OF NONPAYMENT TO PRESERVE RIGHTS UNDER PAYMENT BOND

Mark this on your calendar – beginning on October 1, 2019 subcontractors and suppliers (e.g., claimants/lienors) serving a notice of nonpayment to preserve rights under a payment bond must now do so under oath. But, that is not all. The notice of nonpayment form will now require the claimant to attest, as follows, in the new notice of nonpayment form:

Notice of Nonpayment

To: (Name of Contractor and address)
(Name of Surety and address)

The undersigned notifies you that:

1. The lienor has furnished_______ (describe labor, services, or materials) for the improvement of the real property identified as_______ (property description). The corresponding amount unpaid to date is $______, of which, $______ is unpaid retainage.
2. The lienor has been paid to date the amount of $____ for previously furnishing________ (describe labor, services, or materials) for this improvement.
3. The lienor expects to furnish________ (describe labor, services, or materials) for this improvement in the future (if known), and the corresponding amount expected to become due is $_____ (if known).

I declare that I have read the foregoing Notice of Nonpayment and that the facts stated in it are true to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Dated on _______

(signature and address of lienor)

The foregoing instrument was sworn to (or affirmed) and subscribed before me this___ days of ____, _____, by __________(signatory)

(Signature of Notary Public-State of Florida)

(Print, Type, or Stamp Commissioned Name of Notary Public)

Personally Known OR Produced Identification

Type of Identification Produced____

It will be imperative to work with counsel when putting together a notice of nonpayment. The reason being is that the added language in the statute will give the contractor a built-in “fraud” defense upon receipt of any notice of nonpayment. Fraudulent notices of nonpayment will now be asserted defensively as a matter of course akin to the fraudulent lien defense when a construction lien is recorded.  This is supported by new statutory language to Florida Statute sections 713.23 (dealing payment bonds on private projects) an 255.05 (dealing with payment bonds on public projects except FDOT projects) relative to notices of nonpayment that goes into effect on October 1, 2019:

The negligent inclusion or omission of any information in the notice of nonpayment that has not prejudiced the contractor or surety does not constitute a default that operates to defeat an otherwise valid bond claim. A claimant who serves a fraudulent notice of nonpayment forfeits his or her rights under the bond. A notice of nonpayment is fraudulent if the claimant has willfully exaggerated the amount unpaid, willfully included a claim for work not performed or materials not furnished for the subject improvement, or prepared the notice with such willful and gross negligence as to amount to a willful exaggeration. However, a minor mistake or error in a notice of nonpayment, or a good faith dispute as to the amount unpaid, does not constitute a willful exaggeration that operates to defeat an otherwise valid claim against the bond. The service of a fraudulent notice of nonpayment is a complete defense to the claimant’s claim against the bond.

Again, it is imperative to work with counsel when putting together a notice of nonpayment!

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.

PROVIDING “LABOR” UNDER THE MILLER ACT

shutterstock_611517449A recent opinion out of the Northern District of California discusses the “labor” required to support a Miller Act payment bond claim on a federal construction project.   It is a good case that discusses the type of labor required  to support a Miller Act payment bond claim.

 

In Prime Mechanical Service, Inc. v. Federal Solutions Group, Inc., 2018 WL 619930 (N.D.Cal. 2018), a prime contractor was awarded a contract to design and install a new HVAC system.  The prime contractor subcontracted the work to a mechanical contractor. The mechanical contractor with its sub-designer prepared and submitted a new HVAC design to the prime contractor and provided 4-5 onsite services to determine the location and layout for the new HVAC equipment, perform field measurements, obtain security passes, and plan site access and crane locations.  The mechanical contractor submitted an invoice to the prime contractor and the invoice remained unpaid for more than 90 days, which the prime contractor refused to pay.  The mechanical contractor than filed a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.

 

The prime contractor and surety argued that the mechanical contractor had no valid Miller Act payment bond claim because it was seeking professional services and not the labor covered by the Miller Act.   The trial court agreed. 

 

As used in the Miller Act, the term “labor” primarily encompasses services involving “manual labor,” or “physical toil.”  Although “work by a professional, such as an architect or engineer” generally does not constitute “labor” within the meaning of the Miller Act, some courts have found “certain professional supervisory work is covered by the Miller Act, namely, skilled professional work which involves actual superintending, supervision, or inspection at the job site.”

 

Prime Mechanical Service, Inc., 2018 WL at *3 (internal citations omitted). 

 

The mechanical contractor attempted to argue that it was onsite and the onsite services it performed should constitute “labor.”   However, the onsite services the mechanical contractor identified were clerical or administrative-type services which did NOT involve “the physical toil or manual work necessary to bring them within the scope of the Miller Act.”  Prime Contractor Mechanical Service, Inc., 2018 WL at *3.  

 

In this case, the mechanical contractor gave it a worthy go to support a Miller Act payment bond claim. But, because the services it performed did not rise up the type of “labor” covered by the Miller Act, it was out of luck.   Had these services been coupled with actual  manual labor at the site connected to the installation of the new HVAC system, the result would have been much different since the mechanical contractor would have performed “labor” covered by the Miller Act. 

 

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.

REPAIRING ONE’S OWN WORK AND THE ONE YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS TO SUE A MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND

shutterstock_516982177When it comes to Miller Act payment bond claims, repairing one’s own work does NOT extend the one year statute of limitations to file suit on a Miler Act payment bondBelonger Corp., Inc. v. BW Contracting Services, Inc., 2018 WL 704379, *3 (E.D. Wisconsin 2018) (“The courts that have considered this question tend to agree that, once a subcontractor completes its work under the subcontract, repairs or corrections to that work do not fall within the meaning of ‘labor’ or ‘materials’ and, as such, do not extend the Miller Act’s one-year statute of limitations.”).

 

Well, what if the subcontractor was repairing its own work due to an issue caused by another subcontractor? 

 

This was the situation in Belonger Corp. where a plumber was asked to unclog a plumbing line that had concrete in the line (caused by another subcontractor)  months after the plumber had completed its contractual scope of work.  Before the subcontractor did this work, it smartly sent an e-mail stating that it needs an e-mail acknowledgement that this additional work is authorized and a change order will be forthcoming.  The contractor responded, “Yes, please proceed with repair work on a T&M [time and materials] basis….”   Sure enough, the subcontractor unclogged the line and a change order was never issued.

 

The subcontractor filed a Miller Act payment bond claim for unpaid contract work plus change order work, such as unclogging the line.  The subcontractor based its last day for purposes of the statute of limitations on the work associated with unclogging the line and not on the day it completed its contractual scope of work.  If it was determined that the subcontractor’s last day / final furnishing date was when it fully completed its contractual scope of work, its Miller Act payment bond lawsuit would be untimely / barred by the one year statute of limitations to sue on a Miller Act payment bond.  

 

The issue was whether the subcontractor’s remedial work to its own plumbing line extended its final furnishing date.  The trial court found this to be a question of fact because this arguably was change order work that amended the subcontract to include this additional work.  The fact that the subcontractor sent an e-mail before doing this work and the fact that the contractor responded helped the subcontractor create a question of fact that its payment bond claim was not untimely because unclogging its own plumbing line due to an issue caused by another trade subcontractor was additional subcontractual work that extended its final furnishing date.

 

If you are in this situation, the best bet is not to bank on this type of argument.  File your Miller Act payment bond claim within one-year of finishing your contractual work.  With that said, if you don’t, the argument raised by the subcontractor here that repairing its own work due to an issue caused by another subcontractor was additional work that modified the terms of the subcontract and extended its final furnishing date is a creative argument helped by the e-mail this subcontractor smartly sent.

 

For more information on the Miller Act, check out this ebook.

 

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.

QUICK NOTE: NOTICE OF CONTEST OF CLAIM AGAINST PAYMENT BOND

imagesOn private jobs where the general contractor has an unconditional payment bond, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors and suppliers need to serve a notice of nonpayment to preserve payment bond rights.

 

Just like an owner can record a Notice of Contest of Lien to shorten a lienor’s statute of limitations to foreclose the lien to 60 days, a general contractor can record a Notice of Contest of Claim Against Payment Bond.  See Fla. Stat. s. 713.23(e).  When a contractor records a Notice of Contest of Claim Against Payment Bond, the contractor is contesting the notice of nonpayment and shortening the claimant’s period to sue on the payment bond to 60 days from the date of service of the notice.  

 

This tool is used less frequently than the Notice of Contest of Lien; however, it can be a very successful tool for a contractor to use when receiving a notice of nonpayment.

 

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.

VENUE FOR SUING PUBLIC PAYMENT BOND

shutterstock_96191135Public payment bonds (excluding FDOT payment bonds) are governed under Florida statute s. 255.05.  As it pertains to venue—the location to sue a public payment bond–the statute provides in relevant portion:

 

 

(5) In addition to the provisions of chapter 47, any action authorized under this section may be brought in the county in which the public building or public work is being construction or repaired.

 ***

(1)(e) Any provision in a payment bond…which restricts venue of any proceeding relating to such bond…is unenforceable.

 

Now, what happens if a subcontractor sues only a payment bond but its subcontract with the general contractor contains a mandatory venue provision?  For example, what if the general contractor is located in Lee County and the subcontract contains a venue provision for Lee County, the project is located in Collier County, the subcontractor is located in Miami-Dade County, and the surety issues bonds in Miami-Dade County? Does venue have to be in Lee County per the mandatory venue provision?

 

According to the decision in Travelers Casualty and Insurance Co. of America v. Community Asphalt Corp., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1318a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), a claimant can sue a public payment bond anywhere where venue is permitted irrespective of a mandatory venue provision in a subcontract.  In this case, the project was in Collier County and the subcontract contained a mandatory venue provision for Lee County.  However, the subcontractor sued the public payment bond in Miami-Dade County.   The Third District held that the subcontract’s venue provision could not be read into the bond because it would be unenforceable since Florida Statute s. 255.05 renders such language that restricts venue unenforceable

 

The Third District, however, did importantly note that this ruling may likely have been different if the subcontractor also sued the general contractor in the lawsuit.  Because the subcontractor only sued the public payment bond, the venue provision in the subcontract did not apply.

 

Strategically, there are reasons why a payment bond claimant (e.g., subcontractor) does not want to sue the general contractor.  One such reason is venue, as in the instant case.  The subcontractor did not want to sue in Lee County and had a strong argument to sue the public payment bond in Miami-Dade County, a more preferable and convenient venue to it, and was able to do so notwithstanding the venue provision in the subcontract.

 

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.

***

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).

 

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. 

 ***

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.

 ***

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.)

 ***

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.

 ***

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.

MILLER ACT AND “PUBLIC WORK OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT”

UnknownThe Miller Act applies to the “construction, alteration, or repair of any public building or public work of the Federal Government.”  40 U.S.C. s. 3131.   

 

A recent opinion out of the Northern District of Oklahoma sheds light on what the Miller Act means regarding its application to any public work of the Federal Government.    See U.S. v. Bronze Oak, LLC, 2017 WL 190099 (N.D.Ok. 2017).   If the project is not a public works project of the Federal Government, the Miller Act does not apply.

 

In this case, the Department of Transportation entered into an agreement with the Cherokee Nation where the Department would provide lump sum funding and the Nation would use the money to fund transportation projects.   Based on the federal funding, the Nation issued a bid for a transportation project in Mayes County, Oklahoma and the project was awarded to a prime contractor.  The prime contractor provided a payment bond that identified the United States as the obligee (as a Miller Act payment is required to do) and stated that it was issued per the Miller Act.    Thereafter, the Nation and Mayes County, Oklahoma entered into a Memorandum of Understanding where the County would assume responsibility for the construction and maintenance of the project and the Nation would pay the County an agreed amount upon the completion of the project.

 

A subcontractor filed suit claiming the prime contractor owed it money for work performed on the project.  One of the counts asserted was against the payment bond – the subcontractor claimed it was a Miller Act payment bond.  The prime contractor and payment bond surety moved to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that the payment bond is not a Miller Act payment bond, thus, the federal court has no jurisdiction to entertain the lawsuit.  How could this be?  The payment bond itself said it was issued per the Miller Act and identified the United States as the obligee as a Miller Act payment bond is required to do.

 

The underlying issue the Court examined was whether the project was a public works project of the Federal Government.  Again, if it was not, the Miller Act did not apply.  The Court explained:

 

Whether plaintiff may bring a suit under the Miller Act depends on whether the project is a “public work of the Federal Government.” The statute itself gives no guidance in interpreting the phrase. While there is no clear definition or test for classifying a project a “public work of the Federal Government,” courts often look to the following factors: “whether the United States is a contracting party, an obligee to the bond, an initiator or ultimate operator of the project; whether the work is done on property belonging to the United States; or whether the bonds are issued under the Miller Act.” Here, on the one hand, the United States is not a contracting party or an initiator or ultimate operator of the project, and the work was not done on federal land. On the other hand, the United States is obligee of the payment bond, and the bond was issued under the Miller Act. Additionally, the Nation funded the project with money it received from the federal government…and the DOT retained some control over the project by requiring semi-annual reports on, and occasional access to for inspections….

Bronze Oak, LLC, supra, at *2 (internal citations omitted).

 

To the dismay of the subcontractor-claimant, the Court held that the payment bond was NOT a Miller Act payment bond irrespective of what the bond actually said.  This meant that the Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the lawsuit (as there was no other basis that would give the federal court subject matter jurisdiction).  Although the Federal Government had a relationship with the project through its federal funding, that relationship was not strong enough to label the project as a public works project of the Federal Government.

 

The United States is the obligee of the payment bond, but even with federal funding of the project, this is not enough to bring the project under the Miller Act. The project is owned and maintained by the County and is not on federal land. The Nation initiated the project, and the federal government is not a contracting party. Finally, agreements among the contracting parties that federal law will apply does not transform a project that does not fall under the Miller Act into one that does.

Bronze Oak, LLC, supra, at *4. 

  

This was a tough ruling because if the subcontractor filed suit in state court the prime contractor and surety likely would have moved to dismiss that suit at some point in time arguing that the state court had no jurisdiction to entertain a Miller Act payment bond claim.  So, this situation appeared to be a lose-lose to the subcontractor that relied on the terms of the bond in pursuing the bond as a Miller Act payment bond.   

 

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.

QUICK NOTE: SUBCONTRACTOR PAYMENT BOND = COMMON LAW PAYMENT BOND

imagesWhat is a common law payment bond?  A common law payment bond is a bond not required or governed by a statute.  For example, if a prime contractor provides the owner a payment bond, that bond will be a statutory payment bond.  On the other hand, if a subcontractor provides the general contractor with a payment bond, that bond will be a common law payment bond.  Why?  Because there is not a statute that specifically governs the requirements of a  subcontractor’s payment bond given to a general contractor.   The subcontractor’s payment bond is aimed at protecting the general contractor (and the general contractor’s payment bond) in the event the subcontractor fails to pay its own subcontractors and suppliers.  The subcontractor’s payment bond will generally identify that claimants, as defined by the bond, are those subcontractors and suppliers the subcontractor has failed to pay.  This common law payment bond is not recorded in the public records so sometimes it can be challenging for a claimant (anyone unpaid working under the subcontractor that furnished the bond) to obtain a copy of the bond. With that said, an unpaid claimant should consider pursuing a copy of this bond in certain situations, particularly if it may not have preserved a claim against the general contractor’s statutory payment bond.

 

Common law payment bonds have a one-year statute of limitations.  This statute of limitations runs from the later of (i) one year from the claimant’s final furnishing date or (ii) one year from the general contractor’s final furnishing date if the general contractor provided a payment bond on the project.  

 

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.