Subcontracts often have venue provisions. However, these are often overlooked until a dispute arises. In many instances, the venue provision requires disputes to be brought in a court in a different venue than where the project is located. This could have the adverse effect of exposing a subcontractor, in particular, to disputes in multiple forums. The recent case of East Coast Metal Decks, Inc. v. Boran Craig Barber Engel Construction Co., Inc., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1061a (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), explains the undesirable dynamics of venue provisions.
In East Coast Metal Decks, the general contractor hired the subcontractor on two public projects in Brevard County and Sarasota County. The general contractor, however, sued the subcontractor in Collier County due to a venue provision in the subcontract. The subcontractor brought the general contractor’s payment bond surety into the fold and then tried to transfer the venue to Brevard County because the subcontractor was being sued by material suppliers in that County. The trial court denied the transfer of venue because of the Collier County venue provision in the subcontract.
On appeal, the Second District affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Second District found that (i) the parties were bound by the subcontract venue provision as there was not a compelling reason not to enforce the provision and (ii) because the payment bond was a public payment issued under Florida Statute s. 255.05, venue for a claim against the bond did not have to lie in Brevard County (where the project was located).
What does this case mean? Well, it means that the subcontractor needs to litigate with the suppliers in Brevard County and litigate with the general contractor in Collier County even though the disputes are related. Most likely, the suppliers sued the subcontractor because they were not paid and the general contractor did not pay the subcontractor due to the facts related to the general contractor’s claim against the subcontractor in Collier County.
Litigation in different counties over a related dispute can become expensive and undesirable. It is important to understand and consider the impact of venue provisions in contracts. Sometimes, it makes sense to argue the compelling reasons why the venue provision should not be enforced. However, courts do favor venue provisions because that is what parties negotiated and agreed to on the front-end. Other times, it makes sense to resolve the smaller lawsuits or lawsuits where the facts may not be in your favor (such as a subcontractor’s lawsuit with a supplier) to focus on the lawsuit with more upside (the subcontractor’s lawsuit with the general contractor or payment bond surety).
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