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.

CONSTRUCTION LIEN NEEDS TO BE RECORDED WITHIN 90 DAYS FROM LIENOR’S FINAL FURNISHING

shutterstock_239963452A lienor needs to record its construction lien within 90 days of its final furnishing dateThis final furnishing date excludes punchlist, warranty, or the lienor’s own corrective work.   A lien recorded outside of ths 90-day window will be deemed invalid.

 

The opinion in In re: Jennerwein, 309 B.R. 385 (M.D. Fla. 2004) provides a good discussion of this 90-day window.  This matter dealt with a debtor / owner’s bankruptcy where the owner was contesting the validity of a construction lien by its pool contractor.  The owner contended that the lienor’s lien was recorded outside of this 90-day window thus rendering the lien invalid.  The bankruptcy court was determining the validity of the lien.

 

In this matter, the owner hired a swimming pool contractor to construct a pool.  On October 25, 2002, the pool contractor installed pavers around the pool.  After this was performed, the pool contractor realized the owner was unable to obtain the financing to pay for the pool.  As a result, the pool contractor ceased doing any more improvements.  But, neither the pool contractor nor the owner terminated the contract.  Then, on November 27, 2002, the pool contractor sent a supervisor to the property to inspect the pool (work-in-place), the pool equipment, the installed pavers, made a list of the unfinished work, and remove any debris.  On January 27, 2003, the pool contractor recorded its lien.

  

The issue is that if the last day the pool contractor did work was on October 25, 2002 which is when it installed the pavers (the final furnishing date), then the lien it recorded on January 27, 2003 was not timely.  The lien was recorded more than 90 days from October 25, 2002.  However, if the last day the pool contractor did work was on November 27, 2002 when it sent a supervisor to inspect the work and remove debris, then the lien was timely as it was recorded within the 90-day window.

 

In Florida, the test to determine whether labor, services, or materials were furnished is whether the work was: (i) performed in good faith; (ii) within a reasonable time; (iii) in pursuance of the terms of the contract; and, (iv) whether the work was necessary to a “finished job.”… The application of this fairly straight- forward four step test is fact driven, and the facts of each construction project vary widely.

In re: Jennerwein, 309 B.R. at 388.

 

The Bankruptcy Court applied this four step test to determine whether the pool contractor’s inspection / visit on November 27, 2002 constituted its final furnishing date.  Based on the facts, the Court held that November 27, 2002 did constitute a final furnishing date meaning the lien was valid.   Although the pool contractor’s visit on this day was limited, the contract was still in effect (i.e., it was not terminated).  The pool contractor was operating in good faith and the supervisor was conducting his normal job duties by checking on the status of the work. This visit was also deemed to occur within a reasonable time after the pavers were installed. Although the project remained idle after the pavers were installed, this was because the owner was trying to find financing to pay for the work.  Further, the supervisor’s inspection was performed in pursuance of its work and the contract.  Without a list as to the work that remained to be completed, the contractor would not have a schedule of work and materials needed to finish its job.

 

This factual-based finding is favorable to a lienor.  Between the October 25, 2002 date the pavers were installed and the November 27, 2002 date the supervisor visited the property, there was no work.  The pool contractor stopped work because it was not getting paid and it obviously did not want to perform more work knowing that work was not going to get paid for.  However, neither party formally terminated the contract.  The supervisor’s visit was nothing more than confirming the work it performed versus the work it did not perform and remove any debris, etc., that remained on the job.  In other words, the pool contractor was leaving based on the non-payment.  However, the Court deemed the visit to be in good faith and pursuant to the contract allowing this date to be deemed a final furnishing date.  That is a favorable finding when, in reality, the last date the lienor physically improved the property was a month earlier when the pavers were installed.

 

The final furnishing date, as you can tell, will be a fact-based determination.  And, the four step test will be applied to determine the merits of the final furnishing date.  However, I always try to operate conservatively; it is always safer to record the lien sooner than later to take away any close-call argument that the lien should be invalid because it was recorded outside of the 90-day window.

 

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.

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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).

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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. 

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

FINAL FURNISHING DATE IS A QUESTION OF FACT

images-1Construction liens need to be recorded within 90 days from the lienor’s final furnishing date on the project.  This date is exclusive of punchlist or warranty work. The final furnishing date needs to be proven at trial to establish that the construction lien was timely recorded.  If there is an evidentiary dispute as the final furnishing date (the contractor claims the date was “x” to establish the lien was timely and the owner claims the date was “y” to establish the lien was untimely), then the date is a question of fact to be determined by the jury. 

 

For instance, in Best Drywall Services, Inc. v. Blasczyk, 2016 WL 6246701 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016), a contractor and owner entered into an oral agreement for a residential renovation project.  The contractor recorded a construction lien after its final two invoices went unpaid.  During trial, the contractor offered conflicting evidence as to when its final furnishing date on the project was.  Numerous dates were offered in the record including dates that were more than 90 days prior to the date the contractor recorded its lien, meaning the lien was arguably untimely.  As a result, the trial judge entered a directed verdict in favor of the owner and against the contractor on the contractor’s lien claim finding the lien was untimely recorded. 

 

On appeal, the Second District reversed the directed verdict against the contractor on its construction lien expressing that the conflicting evidence on different final furnishing dates was sufficient to create an issue of fact for the jury to determine the timeliness of the contractor’s lien–“If there are conflicts in the evidence or different reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence, the issue is factual and should be submitted to the jury.”  Best Drywall Services, Inc. supra quoting Simz v. Cristinzio, 898 So.2d 1004, 1005 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005). 

 

The final furnishing date is an important part of any construction lien claim to establish the timeliness of the lien.  Make sure this final furnishing date can be supported by reasonable competent evidence (testimonial evidence supported by daily reports, payroll records, pay apps, inspections, etc.). 

 

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.