THE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT IS LATE – ALLOCATION OF DELAY

images-1The construction project is late.  Very late.  The owner is upset and notifies the contractor that it is assessing liquidated damages.   The contractor, in turn, claims that the project is late because of excusable, compensable delays and, perhaps, excusable, noncompensable delays.  This is a common and unfortunate story between an owner and contractor on any late construction project.  Now the fun begins regarding the allocation of the delay!

 

Through previous articles, I discussed that in this scenario the burden really falls on the contractor to establish that the liquidated damages were improperly assessed against it and, thus, it is entitled to additional time and/or extended general conditions as a result of excusable delays.   Naturally, this requires the contractor to develop a critical path analysis (time impact analysis) allocating the impacts / delays (and the reasons for the impacts/ delays) to the project completion date. The reason the burden really falls on the contractor is because the owner’s burden is relatively easy – the project was not complete on time pursuant to the contract and any approved changed orders. 

 

In a recent opinion, East Coast Repair & Fabrication, LLC v. U.S., 2016 WL 4224961 (E.D.Va. 2016), the court contained a very detailed and sound discussion regarding this common story between an owner and contractor.   Although this is a case involving a ship repair company overhauling and repairing a Navy  (government) vessel, the court’s discussion would apply to any late construction project and the allocation of delay to a late project.   Please take the time to read the Court’s discussion below as it lays the framework for the allocation or apportionment of delay. 

 

In the context of litigating liquidated damages assessed by the government in a construction contract, the government first must meet its initial burden of showing that “the contract performance requirements were not substantially completed by the contract completion date and that the period for which the assessment was made was proper.” Once the government has met that burden, the burden then shifts to the contractor “to show that any delays were excusable and that it should be relieved of all or part of the assessment.

In order for the contractor to carry its burden it must “demonstrate that the excusable event caused a delay to the overall completion of the contract, i.e., that the delay affected activities on the critical path” because the contractor “is entitled to only so much time extension as the excusable cause actually delayed” completion of the contract.

***

Having considered the somewhat conflicting positions taken on this issue in prior federal cases, this Court finds that the better legal interpretation regarding the proper treatment of “sequential delays” (where one party causes a delay followed by a separate-in-time delay caused by the other), is that “apportionment” should be permitted when the evidence provides a reliable basis on which to determine which party is responsible for which delay. Stated differently, the fact that the Government was solely responsible for some delays in this case…does not preclude the Government as a matter of law from recovering some amount of liquidated damages as a result of subsequent, and conceptually distinct, delays deemed to be solely the fault of ECR/Técnico [Contractor and its subcontractor].

 

As to performance delays deemed to be “concurrent,” (both parties causing a delay at the same time), the established law reveals that ECR [Contractor] is permitted to seek an extension of the project completion date for such delay, as long as the delay caused by the Government would have disrupted the “critical path” in the absence of the delay caused by the contractor. However, while ECR may seek an extension of the performance period for a concurrent delay, ECR is precluded by law from obtaining a monetary award to compensate it for “delay damages” for such delays, with the appropriate relief being only the extension of the project completion date (which, in effect, results in a day-for-day reduction of the Government’s liquidated damages claim). 

East Coast Repair & Fabrication, supra, at *13-14 (internal quotations omitted).

 

 

 

 

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.

LIQUIDATED DAMAGES IN CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS – WHO BEARS THE BURDEN?

imagesLiquidated damages are in many, many construction contracts.   They are designed to capture an owner’s damages if a project, or portion thereof, is not substantially completed by an agreed date.  The liquidated damages provision contemplates that the contractor will be liable for a daily rate of “x” for each day of delay beyond the substantial completion date (or any agreed change to this date).   Sometimes there is a cap on the contractor’s liquidated damages exposure (say, capped at the contractor’s fee) and sometimes there is no cap.   On private projects, the liquidated damages provision is a negotiated provision.  Typically, on public projects, the liquidated damages provision is not negotiated, but is known upfront and the contractor can try to account for that risk in any bid or proposal.

 

Assume a project is completed 100 days beyond the agreed-upon substantial completion date.  The contract provides for liquidated damages of $2,000 per day with no cap.  This means the contractor has liquidated damages exposure in the amount of $200,000.  The question, however, is who bears the burden relating to the 100-day delay that triggers the application of the liquidated damages provision. Understanding this burden is important, especially if you are the contractor looking to challenge this assessment and, perhaps, support a claim for extended general conditions / overhead.

 

The owner’s initial burden is typically an easy burden—known as the burden of persuasion.  The owner really just needs to produce evidence that the project was not substantially completed by the agreed-upon date.  Once the owner does this, the burden shifts to the contractor to prove that the owner prevented performance, there was excusable delay such as concurrent delay, or the owner caused the delay or a portion of the delay (e.g., design-changes, late change orders, etc.).   The contractor will want to do this to not only establish it is not liable for a majority or all of the assessed liquidated damages, but that the owner is liable for the contractor’s extended general conditions / overhead associated with delay.  Once the contractor does this, the burden of proof then shifts back to the owner since the owner carries the overall burden relating to its assessment of liquidated damages. 

 

This sentiment was conveyed In the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeal’s decision in In re Idela Const. Co., ASBCA No. 45070, 2001 WL 640978 (ASBCA 2001) (internal quotations and citations omitted):

 

In order to assess liquidated damages the Government [owner] must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the contractor is in default, that it did not prevent performance or contribute to the delay, and that the appellant was the sole cause of the days of delay. The Government has established that substantial completion did not occur until 109 days after the adjusted contract completion date.

 

In order to defeat the Government’s claim for liquidated damages, the appellant [contractor] must come forward with evidence to show that the Government prevented performance or contributed to the delay or that the delay was excusable. Because liquidated damages is a Government claim, the Government continues to have the overall burden of proof, and if the responsibility for days of delay is unclear, or if both parties contribute to the delay, for the Government [t]o recover liquidated damages the Government must prove a clear apportionment of the delay attributable to each party.

  

See also Sauer, Inc. v.  Danzig, 224 F.3d 1340, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2000) “(As a general rule, a party asserting that liquidated damages were improperly assessed bears the burden of showing the extent of the excusable delay to which it is entitled.); A.G. Cullen Const., Inc. v.  State System of Higher Educ., 898 A.2d 1145, 1162 (Pa. 2006) quoting PCL Constr. Servs., Inc. v. U.S., 53 Fed. Cl. 479, 484 (2002) (“As to the applicable burden of proof in a liquidated damages claim, the government has “the ultimate burden of persuasion as well the initial burden of going forward to show that the contract was not completed by the agreed contract completion date and that liquidated damages were due and owing.”).

 

 

Remember, a liquidated damages provision is a common provision in construction contracts.  Make sure you appreciate how this clause is triggered, the application of the clause, and who carries what burden when its comes to assessing and challenging liquidated damages.

 

 

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.

 

CALCULATING EXTENDED GENERAL CONDITIONS (FIELD OVERHEAD) ASSOCIATED WITH A DELAY

Extended General ConditionsYou are a general contractor.  The project has been delayed 200 calendar days.  You contend the owner and the owner’s consultants caused delays to the critical path.  You submit a claim for extended general conditions / extended field overhead associated with the 200 day critical path delay.   How do you calculate the costs associated with this 200 days of compensable delay?  Calculate a daily rate! 

 

 

The most frequently used method [to calculate extended general conditions] is to compute a daily rate by dividing the total general conditions costs on the project by the total days of contract performance and then multiplying the result by the number of days of compensable delay. An alternative method would be to determine the actual costs curing the actual delay period.

The Clark Construction Group, Inc., GAOCAB No. 2003-1, 2004 WL 5462234 (November 23, 2004) (internal citations omitted). 

 

Construction contractors may carry field office costs, such as project supervision and administration, as direct costs to the job where the costs are specifically identifiable with that one project. In a compensable delay situation where project supervision and administration are carried as direct costs, an equitable adjustment for extended field supervision and administration is calculated as a direct cost item. Field overhead which is charged, for example, to a G&A expense pool as indirect costs should not be commingled in the direct cost calculation. Where it is impracticable to derive actual cost data during the delay period, one recognized measure of the direct costs for extended labor supervision and administration is to compute a daily rate by dividing total labor supervision and administration costs on the project by the total days of contract performance and then multiplying the result by the number of days of compensable delay. To the extent that the contractor already has recovered some field supervision costs during the delay period as part of another equitable adjustment under the contract, those amounts must be deducted from the amount of recoverable extended field supervision costs. 

MCI Constructors, Inc., DCCAB No. D-924, 1996 WL 331212 (June 4, 1996) (internal citations omitted).

 

For example, in the appeal of MCI Constructors, the board of contract appeals determined that a contractor incurred a total of direct time-related general conditions in the amount of $303,624.80.  The total contract period was 802 days, which resulted in a daily rate of $378.58.   The board multiplied this daily rate by 252 days of delay to yield extended general conditions of $95,402.   The board then reduced this amount by duplicative overhead markup included in other change orders.

 

In another example, in the appeal of The Clark Construction Group, the contractor had an original budget for general conditions in the amount of $2,540, 727.  However, shortly after contract award, the contractor realized that it underbid general conditions by $344,527.  In actuality and as the result of a delay, the contractor incurred $2,910,673 in general conditions costs through the substantial completion date.  But, because the contractor originally underbid this amount, its actual general conditions costs ($2,910,673) were adjusted downward by the underbid amount ($344,527) to total general conditions of $2,566,146.  (The reason the general conditions were adjusted downward due to the underbid amount is to put the contractor in its original position in determining its delay costs versus giving the contractor the benefit of a windfall when it originally underbid the amount.)   Then, the general conditions of $2,566,146 were divided by the duration of the project (1,066 days) to come up with a general conditions daily rate of $2,407.27.  This daily rate was multiplied by the number of days of delay to determine the contractor’s extended general conditions associated with the delay.

 

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.