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.

MILLER ACT TIME

UnknownIf you are a subcontractor or a sub-subcontractor / supplier in direct privity of contract with a subcontractor on a federal project, you NEED to know your Miller Act payment bond rights.  Why?  Because the payment bond is designed to protect YOUR interests as a mechanism to insure non-payment.

 

Sub-subcontractors and suppliers in direct privity of contract with a subcontractor MUST serve the prime contractor within 90 days of their final furnishing date a notice of non-payment stating “with substantial accuracy the amount claimed and the name of the party to whom the material was furnished or supplied or for whom the labor was done or performed [e.g., the subcontractor].”  40 USC 3133(b)(2).  Please do not neglect this all-important initial step in preserving a Miller Act payment bond claim.  The notice should be served from the final furnishing of labor or materials exclusive of punchlist or warranty / corrective work.  (Notably, subcontractors in direct privity of contract with the prime contractor do not need to serve this notice of non-payment on the prime contractor.)

 

 

In U.S. f/u/b/o Butler Supply, Inc. v. Power & Data, LLC, 2014 WL 4913421 (E.D.Miss. 2014), a supplier furnished electrical materials to an electrical subcontractor working on a federal project.  Due to non-payment, the supplier sued the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond.   The prime contractor argued that the supplier is not a valid Miller Act payment bond claimant because it did not have a direct contract with the supplier.  The federal district court dismissed this argument because the electrical subcontractor signed a credit application and corresponding personal guaranty that served as the basis of a direct contract between the supplier and subcontractor. To this point, the federal district court expressed, “[S]eparate order of materials under an open account or credit basis, typically represented in purchase orders or invoices, satisfy the [Miller] Act’s underlying contract requirement.”  Butler Supply, supra, at *3.

 

Next, the prime contractor argued that the supplier did not timely serve its written notice of non-payment within 90-days of final furnishing because the supplier could not prove that the materials were delivered to the job. The federal district court dismissed this argument too since actual delivery or incorporation of materials into a federal project is immaterial with respect to a supplier’s Miller Act rights.  What is material is the “supplier’s good faith belief that the materials were intended for the specified work [project].”  Butler Supply, supra, at *4 (internal quotation and citation omitted).   In this instance, the supplier submitted invoices showing the material furnished, the price of the material, the name and location of the project, and delivery tickets showing the materials were signed by the subcontractor.

 

In Butler Supply, the federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the supplier’s Miller Act claims dismissing the prime contractor’s arguments.  Although this ruling it outside of Florida, the same result should be achieved in a Miller Act suit in Florida.   The key is to (a) establish a direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor and (b) establish your final furnishing date with documentary evidence (since you can expect the prime contractor to challenge the timeliness of the written notice of non-payment).  In Butler Supply, the supplier relied on a credit application (and subsequently submitted invoices), which is a routine document required by suppliers, especially suppliers that furnish material on credit or through an open account.   And, the supplier relied on invoices and delivery tickets reflecting its final furnishing date and that it had a good faith belief the materials furnished would be utilized on the project.

 

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.