Federal district courts interpreting the Miller Act provide value to those prime contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and sub-subcontractors that work on federal construction projects, even if the decisions and projects are outside of Florida.
Remember, the Miller Act requires sub-subcontractors and suppliers in direct contract with a subcontractor but that have no contractual relationship with the prime contractor to serve a notice of non-payment to the prime contractor within 90 days from their last furnishing of labor or materials to the subcontractor. Failure to provide this notice will result in a very strong defense from the prime contractor and surety that the supplier or sub-subcontractor has NO Miller Act payment bond rights. Do not…let me repeat, do not…put yourself in this position if you are a supplier or sub-subcontractor on a federal project. And, if you are a prime contractor or surety defending a Miller Act payment bond claim from a sub-subcontractor or supplier, analyze whether the claimant timely served its notice of non-payment within 90 days from its last furnishing to the subcontractor.
For example, in U.S. ex rel. Sun Coast Contracting Services, LLC v. DQSI, LLC, 2014 WL 5431373 (M.D.La. 2014), a sub-subcontractor initiated a Miller Act payment bond claim. But–and this is a big but–the sub-subcontractor could not dispute the fact that it independently failed to serve a notice of non-payment within 90 days from its last furnishing to the subcontractor that hired it. Instead, the sub-subcontractor argued that a notice of non-payment from the subcontractor to the prime contractor served as its notice since it included amounts the subcontractor owed to it. Yet, the letter that the sub-subcontractor relied on never mentioned the sub-subcontractor or the amount the subcontractor owed to the sub-subcontractor. Therefore, it was easy for the federal district court to conclude that the sub-subcontractor had NO Miller Act payment bond rights:
Beyond SCCS’s [subcontractors] letter, whose content did not even allude to the existence of a claim by Plaintiff [sub-subcontractor], Plaintiff has not put forth any assertion that it communicated its claim to DQSI [prime contractor] within ninety days after the date of Plaintiffs last performance on the project. By failing to provide proper notice according to statutory requirements, Plaintiff has no right to sue Defendants DQSI or Western Surety under the Miller Act.
Sun Coast Contracting Services, LLC, supra, at *4.
While federal courts liberally construe the method of service of the notice of non-payment from the supplier or sub-subcontractor to the prime contractor, it really should never get to this point as it simply gives the prime contractor and surety a legitimate defense to a Miller Act claim. If you are a supplier or sub-subcontractor, do NOT deal with this unnecessary headache. Properly preserve your Miller Act payment bond rights. On the other hand, if you are a prime contractor or surety, you should absolutely explore whether the Miller Act payment bond claimant properly preserved its payment bond rights and, if not, defend the claim based on this failure.
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