QUICK NOTE: CONTRACTOR’S STATUTORY BASIS TO RECOVER ATTORNEY’S FEES AGAINST PERFORMANCE BOND

On October 1, 2019, a modification to existing law (Florida Statute s. 627.756) will take place that allows general contractors to have a statutory basis to recover attorney’s fees against its subcontractor’s performance bond.     (Obviously, the subcontractor will need to be properly defaulted pursuant to the terms of the performance bond and incorporated subcontract.)  Now, while some manuscript subcontractor performance bonds already give the general contractor a contractual right to recover attorney’s fees against the performance bond, this right will also exist by statute for performance bonds issued on or after October 1, 2019.  This modification is good news for contractors that require certain subcontractors to obtain a performance and payment bond (as opposed to enrolling the subcontractor in a subcontractor default insurance program).  Irrespective of this modification, it is still good practice for a contractor requiring a subcontractor to provide a performance and payment bond to also ensure a contractual right exists to recover attorney’s fees under a bond claim.  However, with this modification, a contractor defaulting a bonded subcontractor will also seek to recoup its attorney’s fees against the performance bond under this statute.   Good news for contractors.  Perhaps, not so good news for sureties and subcontractors required to indemnify their sureties.  

 

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.

 

 

INDEMNIFICATION PROVISIONS DO NOT CREATE RECIPROCAL ATTORNEY’S FEES PROVISIONS

shutterstock_121868692In a good, recent decision, the Eleventh Circuit in International Fidelity Insurance Co. v. Americabe-Moriarity, JV, 2018 WL 5306683 (11th Cir. 2018), held that Florida Statute s. 57.105(7) cannot be used to shift attorney’s fees in a contractual indemnification clause in a dispute between a general contractor and subcontractor’s performance bond surety, when the dispute does not involve an actual indemnification claim stemming from a third-party.

 

In this case, a prime contractor terminated a subcontractor and looked to the subcontractor’s performance bond surety to pay for the completion work.  The subcontractor had a standard AIA A312 performance bond that requires the prime contractor to comply with the terms of the bond, as well as the incorporated subcontract, in order to trigger the surety’s obligations under the bond.  The surety filed an action for declaratory relief against the prime contractor arguing that the prime contractor breached the terms of the performance bond through non-compliance thereby discharging the surety’s obligations.  The trial court agreed and the surety moved for attorney’s fees. 

 

The surety’s argument for attorney’s fees was threefold: (1) the indemnification provision requiring the subcontractor to indemnify the prime contractor required the subcontractor to indemnify the prime contractor for, among other things, attorney’s fees; (2) Florida Statute s. 57.105(7) provides that one-sided contractual attorney’s fees provisions must apply to both parties (and treated reciprocally), hence the inclusion of attorney’s fees in the indemnification provision means that the surety should be entitled to attorney’s fees; and (3) since the subcontract was incorporated into the performance bond, the surety should be entitled to attorney’s fees since it steps in the shoes of the subcontractor under principles of surety law.

 

Surprisingly, the trial court agreed with the surety.  However, thankfully, the Eleventh Circuit held that the indemnity provision in the subcontract was an indemnity clause that applies only to third-party claims and not suits between the general contractor and subcontractor.  Thus, the requirement of reciprocity for attorney’s fees provisions pursuant to Florida Statute s. 57.105 does not apply.  The Eleventh Circuit, however, did not enter a ruling as to whether even if s. 57.105 did apply such that attorney’s fees must be reciprocal in an indemnification clause, whether such rationale would allow the performance bond surety to recover attorney’s fees under principles of surety law. 

 

This decision is useful for a few reasons:

 

(1)  If a contractor, subcontractor, etc. is trying to create an argument for attorney’s fees based on an indemnification clause, this decision is helpful to put that issue to bed since the indemnification provision applies in the context of third-party claims, and is not related to independent claims between the contracting parties;

(2) A party looking to take advantage of a performance bond must, and I mean, must, make sure to properly comply with the terms of the bond.  Certain sureties will raise any argument to avoid obligations under a performance bond hoping that the beneficiary of the bond undertakes an act that allows the surety to discharge its obligations; and

(3) General (prime) contractors should explore subcontractor default insurance, which is a first-party insurance policy, as an alternative to performance bonds to avoid the issues associated with delays and other arguments a surety may raise in furtherance of avoiding obligations under the 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.

 

FIVE-YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON PERFORMANCE-TYPE SURETY BONDS

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The statute of limitations on a claim against a performance-type bond is 5 years from the breach of the bond, i.e., the bond-principal’s default (based on the same statute of limitations that governs written contracts / obligations).  See Fla. Stat. s. 95.11(2)(b).   This 5-year statute of limitations is NOT extended and does NOT commence when the surety denies the claim.  It commences upon the default of the bond-principal, which would be the act constituting the breach of the bond.  This does not mean that the statute of limitations starts when a latent defect is discovered. This is not the case.  In dealing with a completed project, the five-year statute of limitations would run when the obligee (beneficiary of the bond) accepted the work.  See Federal Insurance Co. v. Southwest Florida Retirement Center, Inc., 707 So.2d 1119, 1121-22 (Fla. 1998). 

 

This 5-year statute of limitations on performance-type surety bonds has recently been explained by the Second District in Lexicon Ins. Co. v. City of Cape Coral, Florida, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2521a (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), a case where a developer planned on developing a single-family subdivision. 

 

In 2005, the developer commenced the subdivision improvements.    Pursuant to a City ordinance governing commercial and residential development of 446.09 acres, the developer was required to provide a surety bond to the City “in an amount of the estimated cost to complete all required site improvements, as determined by the City.”   The developer provided the City two surety bonds totaling $7.7 Million representing the estimated cost to complete the remaining subdivision work.  The surety bonds stated:

 

NOW, THEREFORE, THE CONDITION OF THIS OBLIGATION IS SUCH, that if the said Principal [DEVELOPER] shall construct, or have constructed, the improvements herein described, and shall save the Obligee [CITY] harmless from any loss, cost or damage by reason of its failure to complete said work, then this obligation shall be null and void, otherwise to remain in full force and effect, and the Surety, upon receipt of a resolution of the Obligee indicating that the improvements have not been installed or completed, will complete the improvements or pay to the Obligee such amount up to the Principal amount of this bond which will allow the Obligee to complete the improvements.

 

 

In March 2007, construction of the subdivision improvements ceased due to nonpayment by the developer. 

  

In 2010, the City contacted the developer’s surety claiming it wants to have the outstanding subdivision work completed.  The surety sent a letter to the City requesting information so that it could review the City’s claim.  The City did not provide the requested information because the City was considering selling the project.

 

In 2012, a buyer purchased the project from the City for $6.2 Million.

 

In 2012, the City sued the surety bonds and assigned its claim to the new buyer.  The surety argued that the five-year statute of limitations expired on the surety bonds before the City filed suit in 2012.  The trial court rejected this argument and after a bench trial judgment was entered against the surety.

 

On appeal, Second District reversed the trial court’s judgment against the surety and remanded for the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the surety holding that the claims against the surety bond are barred as a matter of law by the 5-year statute of limitations.  

 

The surety bond here, no different than a performance bond, required the developer (bond principal) to construct and complete the subdivision improvements. When the developer failed to do so (defaulted under the bond), the City’s rights under the bond accrued.  Here, construction ceased in 2007; thus, the City’s rights against the bond accrued in 2007 when the developer stopped the development of the subdivision improvements.

 

The surety bonds the developer provided the City are analogous to obligations in a performance bond.  These are analogous to performance-based obligations in a warranty bond.  These surety bonds with performance based obligations will be governed by the five-year statute of limitations governing written contracts / obligations.  The statute of limitations will accrue when the bond-principal defaults and otherwise breaches the terms of the bond.

 

If you are dealing with issues relating to a performance-type surety bond, it is important that you consult with counsel to make sure your rights are preserved.  There are many considerations with the statute of limitations being one of those considerations.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

SURETIES DO NOT ISSUE BONDS RISK-FREE TO THE BOND-PRINCIPAL

shutterstock_4091836If your construction company is bonded, then you have signed a General Agreement of Indemnity with your surety / bonding company.  Stated another way, if a surety issued an obligee on behalf of your construction company, as the bond-principal, a payment or performance bond, then you have signed a General Agreement of Indemnity with your surety.  

 

The General Agreement of Indemnity is NOT to be taken lightly.  Without the General Agreement of Indemnity, the surety is NOT issuing the bonds you need to work on a certain project.  A bond is not insurance and sureties do not issue the bonds under a risk-free premise. Oh no!  If a surety has to pay-out claims under a bond, the surety will be looking to recoup that loss from the indemnitors that executed the General Agreement of Indemnity.

 

The General Agreement of Indemnity will generally require not only the construction company, but individuals (both husband and wife) and, potentially, other affiliated companies to indemnify the surety in the event a claim is made against a bond (the indemnitors).  Thus, there will be multiple indemnitors the surety will look towards if they perceive risk under the bond.  If you take the General Agreement of Indemnity lightly, then you could find yourself, for lack of a better expression, up “s#*#*t’s creek without a paddle!”  This is no joke.

 

In a recent example, Great American Ins. Co. v. Brewer, 2017 WL 3537577 (M.D.Fla. 2017), a subcontractor furnished a general contractor with a performance bond.   The subcontractor was defaulted and then terminated and a claim was made against the subcontractor’s performance bond.  The surety, to mitigate its exposure, entered into a settlement agreement with the general contractor.

 

Before the surety entered into a settlement agreement with the general contractor, it demanded that the subcontractor (bond-principal) and other listed indemnitors post $1.5M in collateral pursuant to the General Agreement of Indemnity.  The subcontractor (and the other indemnitors) refused.   After the surety entered into the settlement agreement with the general contractor, it demanded that the subcontractor (and the other indemnitors) post approximately $2.8M in collateral representing amounts covered in the settlement and additional amounts constituting the surety’s exposure to the general contractor.  The subcontractor (and other indemnitors) again refused. 

 

The subcontractor’s refusal was predicated on the argument that it was improperly defaulted and terminated.  And this argument is where the subcontractor’s problem lies.  The subcontractor’s belief is largely irrelevant if the surety operates in good faith (and proving bad faith in this context is very, very challenging).    But, in order to even argue that the surety did not act in good faith, the subcontractor (and its indemnitors) would need to post collateral per the terms of the General Agreement of Indemnity.

 

In Florida, a construction performance bond surety like Plaintiff is “entitled to reimbursement pursuant to an indemnity contract for any payments made by it in a good faith belief that it was required to pay, regardless of whether any liability actually existed.”  Further, where—as here—an indemnity agreement gives the surety discretion to settle a claim brought under a bond, “the only defense to indemnity for [such a] settlement is bad faith on the part of the surety.”

 

 

A bad faith defense is not available to indemnities like Defendants who do not post collateral in accordance with a demand under an indemnification agreement.  When a bad faith defense is available, it requires proof of “an improper motive or dishonest purpose on the part of the surety.” Standing alone, evidence of a surety’s “lack of diligence,” negligence, and even “gross negligence,” is not evidence of bad faith.

 

Great American Ins. Co, supra, at *7 (internal citations omitted).

 

 

Importantly, disagreeing with a surety’s investigation is not evidence of bad faith by the surety. Great American Ins. Co, supra, at *8.  It requires, as stated, a truly improper motive or dishonest purpose — very, very difficult to prove.

 

General Agreements of Indemnity tend to have the same fundamental provisions.  Before you refuse a demand made by your surety, consider the ramifications. 

 

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.

HURDLES WITH TRIGGERING A SUBCONTRACTOR PERFORMANCE BOND

shutterstock_523359034There have been a couple of decisions as of late, particularly in federal court, that have gone in favor of a performance bond surety and against a general contractor’s claim against a subcontractor’s performance bond.   These decisions have been so unfavorable that they may be swaying certain internal decisions to move to subcontractor default insurance with, perhaps, subcontractors that pose less risk.    From the general contractor’s perspective, if they have to stop the management of the job and progress to jump through hoops to trigger the performance bond’s obligations, rightfully or wrongfully, the bond may not provide them the value they need.  Performance bonds are an appropriate product in many instances, but there should be more consistency regarding the actual trigger of a subcontractor’s performance bond obligations.  Project teams need to absolutely understand what efforts they need to take, and how they need to take such efforts, in order to properly trigger a performance bond’s obligations.  This is a must (and I have presented many seminars on this very issue).  Or, the general contractor should move away from the traditional AIA /standard performance bond form, which is the direction I always go when I am involved in the drafting of a performance bond.

 

To discuss the consternation with triggering subcontractor performance bond obligations, one just has to look at the recent decision in International Fidelity Ins. Co. v. Americabe-Moriarty JV, 2017 WL 766912 (11th Cir. 2017).   This appellate decision dealt with the fundamental issue of whether the contractor properly triggered a subcontractor’s performance bond.  The appellate court found that it did not.  This meant that the general contractor breached the terms of the performance bond, discharging the bond’s obligations, and the surety was off the hook for any subcontractor default.   This is clearly not what the general contractor intended when it wanted its subcontractor to be bonded. 

 

In this case, the subcontract provided that if the subcontractor failed to cure a default after a three-day notice to cure period, the general contractor was at liberty to terminate the subcontract upon an additional three day notice to the subcontractor, which it could  then take possession of materials and employ others to complete the work.

 

The performance bond incorporated the subcontract.  (Every performance bond will incorporate the applicable contract.)  The performance bond further contained the following routine language applicable to standard-form bonds:

 

§ 3 If there is no Owner Default under the Construction Contract, the Surety’s obligation under this Bond shall arise after

.1 the Owner first provides notice to the Contractor and the Surety that the Owner is considering declaring a Contractor Default. Such notice shall indicate whether the Owner is requesting a conference among the Owner, Contractor and Surety to discuss the Contractor’s performance….

.2 the Owner declares a Contractor Default, terminates the Construction Contract and notifies the Surety; and

.3 the Owner has agreed to pay the Balance of the Contract Price in accordance with the terms of the Construction Contract to the Surety or to a contractor selected to perform the Construction Contract.

§ 5 When the Owner has satisfied the conditions of Section 3, the Surety shall promptly and at the Surety’s expense take one of the following actions:

§ 5.1 Arrange for the Contractor, with the consent of the Owner, to perform and complete the Construction Contract;

§ 5.2 Undertake to perform and complete the Construction Contract itself, through its agents or independent contractors;

§ 5.3 Obtain bids or negotiated proposals from qualified contractors acceptable to the Owner for a contract for performance and completion of the Construction Contract …; or

§ 5.4 Waive its right to perform and complete, arrange for completion, or obtain a new contractor and with reasonable promptness under the circumstances:

.1 After investigation, determine the amount for which it may be liable to the Owner and, as soon as practicable after the amount is determined, make payment to the Owner; or

.2 Deny liability in whole or in part and notify the Owner, citing the reasons for denial.

§ 6 If the Surety does not proceed as provided in Section 5 with reasonable promptness, the Surety shall be deemed to be in default on this Bond seven days after receipt of an additional written notice from the Owner to the Surety demanding that the Surety perform its obligations under this Bond, and the Owner shall be entitled to enforce any remedy available to the Owner.

 

On August 17, 2015, the general contractor issued a notice of default to the subcontractor and surety.  This was sent per the subcontract and section 3 of the bond.  On August 20, 2015, the surety responded that it needed more information and directed the contractor not to take any steps without the written consent of the surety.  A conference call was held on September 2, 2015.  Thereafter, on September 21, 2015, the contractor sent the subcontractor and surety a letter terminating the subcontractor and notifying the surety that it will pay the surety the balance of the subcontract amount consistent with section 3 of the bond.  On October 1, 2015, the contractor sent the surety the additional notice required by section 6 of the bond, which started the 7-day clock. 

 

However—and this is a HUGE however per the court—on September 16, 2015 the contractor got a cost proposal from a completion subcontractor relating to completing the defaulted subcontractor’s scope.  The completion subcontractor sent a schedule reflecting a start state of September 21, 2015.  By September 23, 2015, the completion subcontractor had begun certain work at the project.

 

Thus, after the surety got the October 1, 2015 letter, it sent the contractor a letter on October 8, 2015 advising the contractor that its actions engaging a completion subcontractor discharged its obligations on the bond.  The contractor responded that the surety was in default of the bond by not acting with reasonable promptness per section 5 of the bond.    This lawsuit was then initiated. 

 

As mentioned, the Eleventh Circuit held that the contractor breached the terms of the performance bond discharging the surety’s obligations under the bond.  In other words, the performance bond was never properly triggered: 

 

Here, both the bond and subcontract required Americaribe [contractor] to provide notice to Fidelity [performance bond surety] when terminating CPM [subcontractor]. Americaribe did provide notice on September 21. However, the subcontract required the contractor give three-days notice before undertaking to complete the work. And the bond gave Fidelity time to choose among four options for undertaking the work itself, after Americaribe sent the termination notice. This undefined period of time was then followed by another requirement for Americaribe to provide seven-days notice before Fidelity would be in default. Neither the bond nor the contract allowed Americaribe to immediately hire Dillon to complete the work.

 ***

Before Americaribe sent the termination notice on September 21, Dillon [completion subcontractor] had already sent Americaribe a proposal for completing the work remaining on the subcontract, as well as a schedule with a presumed start date of September 21. Then, on September 22, Americaribe sent vendors of CPM a letter, copying Fidelity, informing them of CPM’s termination and that “[Americaribe] intends to award the subcontract to complete the remaining work … to Dillon.” As of September 23, Dillon had commenced some work required for the project. Thus, the question is whether these actions breached the notice provisions of the bond and subcontract.

***

Americaribe did not comply with the subcontract’s three-day notice requirement. It had already hired Dillon, which began remedying the defaulted work during that three-day period. Neither did Americaribe comply with the bond’s requirements, which expressly afforded Fidelity time to elect among options for completing the defaulted work. Americaribe’s immediate hiring of Dillon to complete the project and the costs Dillon incurred completing CPM’s work thwarted Fidelity’s ability to choose among the options it had for remedying CPM’s default under § 5 of the bond. Therefore, Fidelity is not liable on the bond.

 

This is a very, very harsh outcome.   Although I mentioned this above, it is imperative that the project team understand the steps it needs to take to properly default a subcontractor and trigger the subcontractor’s performance bond.  Not doing so will render the value of the performance bond useless to the general contractor that is relying on the security of that 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.

PROPERLY TRIGGER THE PERFORMANCE BOND

unknownA performance bond is a valuable tool designed to guarantee the performance of the principal of the contract made part of the bond.   But, it is only a valuable tool if the obligee (entity the bond is designed to benefit) understands that it needs to properly trigger the performance bond if it is looking to the bond (surety) to remedy and pay for a contractual default.  If the performance bond is not properly triggered and a suit is brought upon the bond then the obligee could be the one materially breaching the terms of the bond.  This means the obligee has no recourse under the performance bond.  This is a huge downside when the obligee wanted the security of the performance bond, and reimbursed the bond principal for the premium of the bond, in order to address and remediate a default under the underlying contract.

 

A recent example of this downside can be found in the Southern District of Florida’s decision in Arch Ins. Co. v. John Moriarty & Associates of Florida, Inc., 2016 WL 7324144 (S.D.Fla. 2016).  Here, a general contractor sued a subcontractor’s performance bond surety for an approximate $1M cost overrun associated with the performance of the subcontractor’s subcontract (the contract made part of the subcontractor’s performance bond).  The surety moved for summary judgment arguing that the general contractor failed to property trigger the performance bond and, therefore, materially breached the bond.  The trial court granted the summary judgment in favor of the performance bond surety.  Why?

 

The performance bond in this case appeared to be an AIA performance bond (the AIA Document A312 Performance Bond or modified version thereof).   This appears clear from the following finding by the court:

 

Under the bond in this case, Arch’s [performance bond surety] obligations are not triggered unless Moriarty [general contractor-obligee]: (1) first provides notice to R.C. [subcontractor-principal of bond] and Arch that it is “considering declaring a Contractor Default”; (2) “declares a Contractor Default, terminates the Construction Contract and notifies [Arch]”; and (3) “agree[s] to pay the Balance of the Contract Price … to [Arch] or to a contractor selected to perform the Construction Contract.” …Once Moriarty complies with those three conditions precedent, the bond then requires Moriarty to allow Arch to mitigate its damages by arranging for the completion of the subcontract itself. Lastly, before Moriarty may properly make a demand under the bond, it must provide seven days’ notice to Arch.”

 

The general contractor, as commonly done, notified the subcontractor and subcontractor’s surety that it was considering declaring the subcontractor in default, but never (i) formally declared the subcontractor in default, (ii) terminated the subcontractor, or (iii) agreed to pay the subcontract balance to the performance bond surety.  Thus, the general contractor (obligee) never allowed the surety to mitigate damages by arranging completion of the subcontract upon the subcontractor’s (bond principal) default.

 

Remember, in order to preserve a performance bond claim it is important to properly trigger the performance bond and the surety’s role under the bond.  This means dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s when it comes to declaring the bond principal in default under the specific terms of the bond.   Moreover, if you are the obligee, consider preparing the performance bond form so that you can remove some of the underlying notice provisions in the bond to make the bond more favorable to you.

 

 

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.

IS PERFORMANCE BOND LIABLE FOR DELAY DAMAGES?

images-3There is an argument that a performance bond is not liable for delay damages UNLESS the bond specifically allows for the recovery of such damages.  Keep this in mind when requiring a performance bond so that the bond covers the associated risks (and damages) you contemplate when requiring the bond.    This argument is supported by the Florida Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in American Home Assur. Co. v. Larkin General Hosp., Ltd., 593 So.2d 195, 198 (Fla. 1992):

 

The language in the performance bond, construed together with the purpose of the bond, clearly explains that the performance bond merely guaranteed the completion of the construction contract and nothing more. Upon default, the terms of the performance bond required American [performance bond surety] to step in and either complete construction or pay Larkin [obligee] the reasonable costs of completion. Because the terms of the performance bond control the liability of the surety, American’s liability will not be extended beyond the terms of the performance bond. Therefore, American cannot be held liable for delay damages.

 

 

However, the Eleventh Circuit in National Fire Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Fortune Const. Co., 320 F.3d 1260(11th Cir. 2003), also analyzing an issue relating to the recoverability of delay-type damages against a performance bond, did not narrowly interpret the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Larkin General Hospital.  Rather, the Eleventh Circuit stated:

 

Larkin General Hospital could possibly be interpreted to mean that a performance bond surety cannot be held liable for…delay damages, whether liquidated or unliquidated, unless the responsibility for delay damages is specified on the face of the performance bond. However, we do not read the decision that broadly. The “purpose of the bond” must be considered, which requires reference to the contract secured by the bond. Where a provision for liquidated delay damages is clearly delineated in the underlying contract and incorporated by reference into the bond, the surety is on notice of the time element of performance and the contractual consequences of failure to timely perform in accordance with the contract.

***

While it is true that the terms of the bonds in this case do not expressly require the surety to assume responsibility for delay, “[i]t is the general rule of contract law that where a writing expressly refers to and sufficiently describes another document, the other document is to be interpreted as part of the writing.” Even after Larkin General Hospital, Florida courts have continued to utilize the well-established doctrine of incorporation by reference to impose liability on a performance bond surety. The “purpose” of the performance bonds was to insure performance in accordance with the terms of the respective subcontracts, and those terms plainly include adverse direct consequences for delay. Therefore, under the particular facts of this case, the unequivocal delay damages provisions of the subcontracts are properly considered part of the bonds issued by National Fire because of the incorporation by reference.

Fortune Const. Co., supra, at 1275-76 (internal citations omitted).

 

It is uncertain whether a Florida appellate court will agree with the rationale of the Eleventh Circuit in Fortune Const. Co., albeit the rationale making perfect sense.  If the contract incorporated into the performance bond renders the principal of the bond liable to the obligee for delay damages, then the bond should cover delay damages.  On the other hand, Larkin General Hospital is a Florida Supreme Court decision meaning there is a very strong argument that that the performance bond’s liability for delay damages will not be extended beyond the face of the bond.  For this reason, and as mentioned above, it is essential that the face of the performance bond expresses that it covers the obligee’s delay damages or any other damages stemming from the default of the principal. (By way of example, the AIA A132 performance bond expresses on the face of the bond that it covers delay costs stemming from the bond-principal’s default resulting from the surety’s failure to act and contractual liquidated or actual delay damages, if no liquidated damages, caused by the bond-principal.)

 

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.

DRAFTING THE BOND FORM, PARTICULARLY THE PERFORMANCE BOND FORM

imagesOftentimes, when it comes to payment and performance bonds (in particular), the bond forms are drafted by the obligee.  For example, an owner (as the obligee) may draft the bond forms that it wants its general contractor’s surety to execute.  And, a general contractor (as the obligee) may draft the bond forms that it wants its subcontractors’ sureties to execute.   As an obligee, it is always beneficial to draft the bond form (particularly the performance bond) that you want the surety to execute.  The bond is to benefit you—the obligee—so having a hand in creating conditions to trigger the application of the bond is important, specifically when it comes to triggering a performance bond upon the bond-principal’s default.

 

What if the surety executes a bond form prepared by the obligee and there is an ambiguity in the bond?  Should the ambiguity be interpreted against the obligee as the drafter of the bond?

 

This issue was addressed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in The School Bd. Of Broward County v. Great American Ins. Co., 807 So.2d 750 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002) where the School Board owner prepared the performance bond form.  The surety argued there was an ambiguity with the bond form and wanted the ambiguity to be interpreted against the School Board as the drafter of the bond.  The court rejected this argument explaining:

 

Florida’s policy is to construe any ambiguity in a bond in favor of granting the broadest possible coverage to those intended to be benefitted by protection of the bond [e.g., the obligee]. This policy recognizes that the purpose of a bond is to protect a party to a contract; the burden is on the surety, who is in the business, to include the appropriate language in its bonds if it seeks to narrow its obligations after default.

The School Board of Broward County, 807 So.2d at 752 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

 

To reiterate, it is always beneficial as the obligee to prepare the bond forms (particularly the performance bond) that you want the surety to execute since the bond is designed to benefit you. Work with counsel to ensure the bond form provides you the broadest or best coverage based on the anticipated risks.    

 

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.

 

SURETY BONDING – THE NUTS & BOLTS

images-2Surety bonding is necessary in construction, particularly on federal and Florida public projects where the contractor is required to furnish a payment and performance bond.  Even certain owners of large-scale private projects want their contractor to obtain a payment and performance bond.  Understanding the nuts and bolts of surety bonding is valuable for the contractor that wants to increase job opportunities and/or increase their bonding capacity.

 

 

There are three main parties to the surety bond:

 

1. The surety– the entity (typically, a division of an insurance company) that issues the payment or performance bond for the contract price; the surety guarantees obligations on behalf of its principal, whether it is the performance of the contract (performance bond) or the payment to those entities working under the contractor providing labor, services, or materials (payment bond)

 

2. The principal – the entity (contractor) that procured the bond from the surety and who the surety is issuing the bond on behalf of; the principal along with personal and corporate guarantors will execute a General Agreement of Indemnity before the bond is issued outlining the rights and remedies of the principal/guarantors and the surety

 

3. The obligee – the entity (or entities) that can make a claim against the bond and who the bond is ultimately designed to benefit

 

Not every contactor can get a payment and performance bond.  This means that not every contractor can perform public work that requires a bid bond to be furnished with the bid/proposal and then a payment and performance bond upon the award of the contract.  This is because sureties undertake rigorous underwriting to best assess their risk before issuing bonds. And, many contractors, even if bonds are issued, will have a bonding capacity meaning the surety will not issue an unlimited dollar amount for the bond(s) issued or will not issue an unlimited number of project bonds at the same time. Rather, it will issue a bond or bonds totaling the bonding capacity of the contractor.

 

To obtain a bond, a contractor will go to a surety bond agent/broker, commonly referred to as the producer.  The producer represents select sureties.  Certain sureties cater to certain market niches or contractors and the producer tries to fit the contractor with the surety that best fits the needs, strengths, and qualifications of the contractor. The producer will work with the contractor to fill out required forms and review and collect the material and information that will be needed by the surety in the underwriting process. As a contractor, it is important to develop a strong relationship with a producer that understands your construction business and capabilities and can assist you with obtaining bonding capacity.

 

images-3In the underwriting process, the surety will want to determine the financial strength, creditworthiness, and condition of the contractor by analyzing extensive financial documentation along with the contractor’s operational ability to perform a contract based on the contractor’s history, equipment, personnel, etc.  Underwriting needs to obtain and assess financial and operational material to best assess the surety’s risk (based on the surety’s appetite or market) because if the surety has to pay out a claim on the bond it will absolutely be looking to recoup the costs it incurs from the bond principal as well as the guarantors that executed the General Agreement of Indemnity.  Among other things, the surety will run a credit check for the principal and likely the owners/guarantors; will analyze balance sheets, income statements, and other financial information to understand the contractor’s cash flow, working capital, net worth, and profitability history and forecasts; will want to know of judgments and lawsuits; will likely contact references; and will want to specifically understand past projects completed and current projects underway, including the project in which the bond is being requested, from an estimating and accounting standpoint, personnel and management standpoint, insurance standpoint, and possibly a scheduling standpoint.  The surety will do its homework because the very last thing a surety wants to do is pay a claim or expose itself to massive liability with a bond claim from a contractor that failed to pay its subcontractors or abandoned a job without any true recourse to recoup money expended.  The surety will consider the personal and corporate guarantors it requires from a contractual indemnity standpoint per the General Agreement of Indemnity and may require cash collateral or property collateral to be pledged for underwriting approval.   Again, developing the relationship with the producer that understands your business is crucial as the producer will understand the underwriting process and facilitate the transmission of information and material between the contractor and the surety.

 

 

The surety charges a premium for the issuance of the bond.  Payment and performance bonds are often single premium bonds.  Depending on the producer you ask, the premiums typically range from 1-3% of the bond amount.   Naturally, there are contractors that will have to pay in excess of 3% of the bond amount based on the associated credit risk with issuing the bond.

 

Once underwriting runs its course and the contractor is approved for the requested bonds, the producer typically signs the bonds on behalf of the surety.  The producer is given a power-of-attorney to sign bonds as an attorney-in-fact on behalf of the surety.

 

 

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.

THE ALL MIGHTY GENERAL AGREEMENT OF INDEMNITY WITH THE SURETY

images-2Sureties do not issue bonds (e.g., payment or performance bonds) unless the principal and the principal’s personal guarantors execute a General Agreement of Indemnity (“Indemnity Agreement”).  The Indemnity Agreement routinely requires that the principal / guarantors: (1) defend and indemnify the surety for all losses, liability, claims, attorney’s fees, and expenses that the surety may incur and (2) post collateral security into a reserve account set up by the surety to cover any claim on the bond; the surety may seek an injunction to compel such collateral if the principal / guarantors refuse.  Yes, these are powerful provisions in favor of the surety if a claim is asserted against the principal’s bond (especially a performance bond claim) or if the surety, to offset liability or exposure, pays a claimant on behalf of the principal.  The leverage lies with the surety with respect to the provisions in the Indemnity Agreement and the worst thing a bond principal can do when a claim is asserted against the bond is to outright refuse to work with and cooperate with the surety (based on the powerful provisions in the Indemnity Agreement).

 

 

The opinion in Developers Surety and Indemnity Co. v. Hansel Innovations, Inc., 2014 WL 2968138 (M.D.Fla. 2014), exemplifies what can happen if a bond principal refuses to cooperate with a surety even if the principal has potentially meritorious arguments.  In this case, a surety issued a performance bond to a fire protection subcontractor.  During the course of construction (and, arguably due to the general contractor’s nonpayment), the subcontractor experienced cash flow problems.  The general contractor expressed concerns as to the subcontractor’s financial wherewithal to complete the contract work and made demand on the surety.  The subcontractor requested financial assistance from its performance bond surety and the surety agreed to pay the subcontractor and its vendors in excess of $100,000 provided the subcontractor execute a separate financing and collateral agreement (as the surety expected to recoup its “loan”).  Subsequently, the general contractor advised the surety and subcontractor of performance issues with the subcontractor’s work.  The subcontractor, however, refused to complete its work and address the performance issues unless the surety continued to fund the subcontractor’s work, released the guarantors from personal liability, and pursued claims against the general contractor.  Based on the subcontractor’s stance, the surety retained another subcontractor to complete the work and incurred additional costs.  The surety filed a lawsuit to, among other rights afforded under the Indemnity Agreement, require the subcontractor and guarantors to post $200,000 in collateral security into a reserve account.  The subcontractor and guarantor failed to post collateral upon demand.

 

 

The surety, as it customarily will do, moved for a preliminary injunction in accordance with the Indemnity Agreement for the court to order the subcontractor and guarantors to post collateral.   One of the requirements for a court to order a preliminary injunction is for the surety to establish that it is substantially likely to succeed on the merits.  This is not a challenging hurdle for a surety given the powerful provisions in the Indemnity Agreement. (Please see the following articles for more information on a surety’s right to demand collateral security and the requirements for a preliminary injunction in federal court: http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/a-suretys-right-to-demand-collateral-security/ and http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/a-suretys-right-to-demand-collateral-security/.)

 

 

The subcontractor argued that bad faith or unclean hands, evidenced by an improper motive, extinguished the surety’s substantial likelihood that it would succeed on its claim.  The subcontractor argued this because it did not want to post collateral.  In support of bad faith, the subcontractor contended that when the general contractor raised performance issues the subcontractor was 99% done with its work with the remaining work simply commissioning the fire sprinkler system and completing as-built drawings.  It further argued that the general contractor placed it in a dire financial position because the general contractor did not pay it for over one year and did not pay it for change order work that was performed at the general contractor’s direction.  (Not an uncommon subcontractor argument!)  The subcontractor also stated that it only signed the financing and collateral agreement because the surety assured it that the surety would assist the subcontractor in collection efforts against the general contractor if the subcontractor signed the agreement and continued with the work.  Then, the surety discontinued funding the subcontractor at the eleventh hour to help the subcontractor complete the work while contemporaneously failing to assist the subcontractor in collecting any money from the general contractor.  The Magistrate, though, was not persuaded by the subcontractor’s bad faith argument taking the position that it cannot be bad faith for the subcontractor to be induced into completing its work on a project it was hired to complete.

 

 

The subcontractor may have very strong arguments that it was truly placed in a cash flow crunch because the general contractor refused to pay for contract work plus additional work.  Thus, the subcontractor was forced to finance a job that it was never in a financial position to finance.  Then, when it agreed to complete its work with the surety’s assistance, it did so with the understanding that the surety would assist the subcontractor in recovering monies that the subcontractor should have been paid all along for contract and change order work that would also be used to reimburse the surety.  But, as shown in this case, truly establishing bad faith is very, very difficult and should not be sugarcoated with the sentiment that the provisions in the Indemnity Agreement do not have any teeth, because they do!

 

 

Keep in mind that a performance bond guarantees performance under a contract.  Once a bond is furnished, it is rarely advisable to abandon a job or refuse to perform because it puts the surety in a compromising position where it will likely need to complete the subcontractor’s performance in order to mitigate its exposure and liability.  Here, the subcontractor’s surety was willing to finance the subcontractor’s work until the subcontractor was virtually complete.  All the subcontractor had to do was complete its work when it was 99% complete and work with and cooperate with the surety since the best course of action in the long run may have been for these entities to work together to recover monies that the general contractor owed the subcontractor and/or figure out how the subcontractor would reimburse the surety.  However, based on what the surety may have construed as an obstinate position by the subcontractor, the surety incurred additional expenses and elected to pursue its options against the subcontractor and guarantors under the all mighty Indemnity Agreement.

 

 

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.