FIVE-YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON PERFORMANCE-TYPE SURETY BONDS

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The statute of limitations on a claim against a performance-type bond is 5 years from the breach of the bond, i.e., the bond-principal’s default (based on the same statute of limitations that governs written contracts / obligations).  See Fla. Stat. s. 95.11(2)(b).   This 5-year statute of limitations is NOT extended and does NOT commence when the surety denies the claim.  It commences upon the default of the bond-principal, which would be the act constituting the breach of the bond.  This does not mean that the statute of limitations starts when a latent defect is discovered. This is not the case.  In dealing with a completed project, the five-year statute of limitations would run when the obligee (beneficiary of the bond) accepted the work.  See Federal Insurance Co. v. Southwest Florida Retirement Center, Inc., 707 So.2d 1119, 1121-22 (Fla. 1998). 

 

This 5-year statute of limitations on performance-type surety bonds has recently been explained by the Second District in Lexicon Ins. Co. v. City of Cape Coral, Florida, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2521a (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), a case where a developer planned on developing a single-family subdivision. 

 

In 2005, the developer commenced the subdivision improvements.    Pursuant to a City ordinance governing commercial and residential development of 446.09 acres, the developer was required to provide a surety bond to the City “in an amount of the estimated cost to complete all required site improvements, as determined by the City.”   The developer provided the City two surety bonds totaling $7.7 Million representing the estimated cost to complete the remaining subdivision work.  The surety bonds stated:

 

NOW, THEREFORE, THE CONDITION OF THIS OBLIGATION IS SUCH, that if the said Principal [DEVELOPER] shall construct, or have constructed, the improvements herein described, and shall save the Obligee [CITY] harmless from any loss, cost or damage by reason of its failure to complete said work, then this obligation shall be null and void, otherwise to remain in full force and effect, and the Surety, upon receipt of a resolution of the Obligee indicating that the improvements have not been installed or completed, will complete the improvements or pay to the Obligee such amount up to the Principal amount of this bond which will allow the Obligee to complete the improvements.

 

 

In March 2007, construction of the subdivision improvements ceased due to nonpayment by the developer. 

  

In 2010, the City contacted the developer’s surety claiming it wants to have the outstanding subdivision work completed.  The surety sent a letter to the City requesting information so that it could review the City’s claim.  The City did not provide the requested information because the City was considering selling the project.

 

In 2012, a buyer purchased the project from the City for $6.2 Million.

 

In 2012, the City sued the surety bonds and assigned its claim to the new buyer.  The surety argued that the five-year statute of limitations expired on the surety bonds before the City filed suit in 2012.  The trial court rejected this argument and after a bench trial judgment was entered against the surety.

 

On appeal, Second District reversed the trial court’s judgment against the surety and remanded for the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the surety holding that the claims against the surety bond are barred as a matter of law by the 5-year statute of limitations.  

 

The surety bond here, no different than a performance bond, required the developer (bond principal) to construct and complete the subdivision improvements. When the developer failed to do so (defaulted under the bond), the City’s rights under the bond accrued.  Here, construction ceased in 2007; thus, the City’s rights against the bond accrued in 2007 when the developer stopped the development of the subdivision improvements.

 

The surety bonds the developer provided the City are analogous to obligations in a performance bond.  These are analogous to performance-based obligations in a warranty bond.  These surety bonds with performance based obligations will be governed by the five-year statute of limitations governing written contracts / obligations.  The statute of limitations will accrue when the bond-principal defaults and otherwise breaches the terms of the bond.

 

If you are dealing with issues relating to a performance-type surety bond, it is important that you consult with counsel to make sure your rights are preserved.  There are many considerations with the statute of limitations being one of those considerations.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE OF PROPERTY APPRAISER

shutterstock_431491873A new appellate decision came out discussing the statute of limitations associated with a negligence claim against a property appraiser.   In this case, Llano Financing Group, LLC v. Petit, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2071a (Fla. 1st DCA 2017), the court held that the four year statute of limitations for negligence claims commences when the lender relied on the appraisal to fund the loan.   The statute of limitations does not commence years later when the property is ultimately sold at a loss.  Oh no.  Once the lender receives the appraisal and funds the loan, the statute of limitations for the negligence claim begins.  Applying this rationale in other contexts, the statute of limitations to sue a property appraiser in negligence would commence once an appraisal is received and relied on.   This is best explained by the following hypothetical footnoted by the court:

 

Consider this example: An appraiser negligently appraises a $100,000 house at $150,000. A buyer reasonably relies on that negligent appraisal and buys the $100,000 house for $150,000. The buyer’s damages ($50,000) are easily determined immediately after the sale. Those damages would be the same whether the buyer promptly sold the home at a loss, lived in it forever, or sold it for $200,000 after decades of market appreciation.

Llano Financing Group, supra, n. 3.

 

 

If you feel like you suffered a loss at the hands of a negligent appraisal, make sure you consult counsel.  Based on the court’s decision in this case, the lender’s statute of limitations expired.  Make sure this does not happen to you.

 

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.

OWNERS: DON’T IGNORE THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN FLORIDA STATUTE s. 95.11(3)(c) FOR CONSTRUCTION DEFECTS / DAMAGE

Unknown-1If you are an owner experiencing construction defects or corresponding damage (e.g., water intrusion) please consult with counsel.  Not doing so can result in your lawsuit being forever time-barred by the statute of limitations!  Do NOT let this happen to you; this means that any valid claims you may have associated with the construction defects or corresponding damage are gone.

 

The statute of limitations for construction disputes including construction defect disputes is embodied in Florida Statute s. 95.11(3)(c), set forth at the bottom of this posting.  Please check out this article and this article for more information on the statute of limitations for construction defects. 

 

For example, in Brock v. Garner Window & Door Sales, Inc., 2016 WL 830452 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016), homeowners experienced water intrusion from their windows and sued the company that installed the windows.  The problem, however, was that the homeowners sued the window installer more than four years after the homeowners discovered the defect (the statute of limitations in s. 95.11(3)(c) as set forth below) but less than five years after the discovery of the defect.   The homeowners tried to creatively argue that the five-year statute of limitations governing written contracts should control because the window installer was not a licensed contractor and should not reap the benefit of the shorter four-year statute of limitations. The Fifth District rejected this argument. 

 

Regardless of whether your claims are against a licensed or unlicensed contractor, the four-year statute of limitations in s. 95.11(3)(c) is going to control your construction defect lawsuit.  In the case above, the homeowners waited more than four years after discovering the water intrusion to sue their window installer.  As a result, their counsel had to come up with an argument to try to circumvent the four-year statute of limitations.  Unfortunately, the argument was not successful and the homeowners potentially valid claims were time-barred.  Clearly, this is a situation you want to avoid so that you are not having to defend your valid claims with a statute of limitations defense.

 

 Florida Statute s. 95.11(3)(c)

(3) WITHIN FOUR YEARS.—

***

(c) An action founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property, with the time running from the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest; except that, when the action involves a latent defect, the time runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence. In any event, the action must be commenced within 10 years after the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest.

 

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.

 

 

TIMELY FILE YOUR MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND LAWSUIT

imagesIf you are a subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, or supplier on a federal construction project, please make sure to preserve your Miller Act payment bond rights.  This includes filing suit in a federal district court against the payment bond surety.   The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in Thomas v. Burkhardt, 2016 WL 143351 (11th Cir. 2016) illustrates what can happen if you do not properly pursue your Miller Act payment bond rights.

 

In Thomas, a subcontractor sued a contractor in state court and recovered a judgment against the contractor.  When the subcontractor could not collect on its judgment, it sued the contractor’s Miller Act payment bond surety.  The problem was the subcontractor filed its lawsuit many years after the statute of limitations expired on the Miller Act.  The subcontractor argued the contractor’s surety should be bound by the state court judgment against the contractor (the principal of the payment bond). The Eleventh Circuit said “No!”  The surety was not bound by the state court judgment. Indeed, even if the surety had notice of the subcontractor’s state court suit against the contractor, the Eleventh Circuit still maintained that the surety would not be bound by the state court judgment and would not be estopped from raising the statute of limitations as a defense:

 

[T]he doctrine of estoppel against the surety rests on the principle that a surety with knowledge of a suit against the principal has a “full opportunity to defend” the suit and to protect its rights. But there is no such equitable principle at work here. The surety cannot protect its rights by joining in the defense of the suit. It cannot intervene as defendant any more than it could be named as defendant in the first place.

Thomas, supra, at *3 quoting U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Hendry Corp., 391 F.2d 13, 17 (5th Cir. 1968).

 

The morale is to timely file your Miller Act payment bond claim against the payment bond surety.  There is no reason not to!

 

 

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.

 

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS AND REPOSE FOR INDEMNIFICATION CLAIMS (STEMMING FROM CONSTRUCTION DEFECT)

images-1I have written articles regarding the statute of limitations and statute of repose relating to construction disputes governed under Florida Statute s. 95.11(3)(c):

 

Within Four Years.  An action founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property, with the time running from the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest; except that, when the action involves a latent defect, the time runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence. In any event, the action must be commenced within 10 years after the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest.

 

In the construction defect context, a claimant has four years to sue from the date they knew or reasonably should have known with the exercise of due diligence the defect (e.g, the latent defect).  This is the statute of limitations.  Nonetheless, a claimant must sue no matter what on a latent defect within ten years from the project’s completion (see statute above).  This is the statute of reposeA construction defect lawsuit cannot be initiated after the expiration of the statute of repose.

 

Let’s assume the following dates:

 

            Project completion (start of limitations)                                          2005

            First discovery of water intrusion                                                   2008

            General contractor completes repairs                                            2011

            General contractor sues subcontractor for indemnification            2013

 

In this scenario, the subcontractor may argue that the general contractor’s statute of limitations to sue the subcontractor for the defect and damage is barred by the statute of limitations since the first discovery of water intrusion was in 2008 and the general contractor waited to sue until 2013 (five years later).

 

But, wait…the general contractor is going to sue the subcontractor for indemnification (preferably, contractual indemnification based on the terms of the subcontract). In this scenario, the general contractor is suing after it completed repairs and established its liability to the owner for repairing the defects and damage. 

 

The statute of limitations for an action seeking indemnity does not being running until the litigation against the third-party plaintiff [general contractor] has ended or the liability [against the third-party plaintiff], if any, has been settled or discharged by payment.” Castle Constr. Co. v. Huttig Sash & Door Co., 425 So.2d 573, 575 (Fla. 2d DCA 1982) (finding general contractor’s indemnity claim against subcontractor did not accrue until the owner’s litigation against the general contractor ended or the general contractor’s liability determined).  Stated differently, the statute of limitations for the general contractor’s indemnification claim did not begin to start running until 2011 when its liability to the owner for the defects was discharged / settled.

 

Now, let’s assume the following dates:

 

     Project completion (start of limitations)                                          2005

            First discovery of water intrusion                                                   2008

            General contractor completes repairs                                            2013

            General contractor sues subcontractor for indemnification            2016

 

In this instance, the subcontractor may argue that the statute of repose expired because the general contractor waited until 2016 or eleven years after the statute of limitations started to accrue in 2005.  Guess what?  The subcontractor would be right.  See Dep’t of Transp. V. Echeverri, 736 So.2d 791 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999) (explaining that the statute of repose for construction defect claims still applies to claims for indemnity).  Stated differently, even though the general contractor sued the subcontractor for indemnification within three years of establishing its liability, it was still bound by the ten year statute of repose that started accruing in 2005, meaning such lawsuits were barred after 2015.

 

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.

 

THE DIFFICULTY IN RAISING EQUITABLE TOLLING TO JUSTIFY AN UNTIMELY MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND LAWSUIT

untitledPreviously, I discussed the statute of limitations for a Miller Act payment bond claim and the equitable tolling of the limitations based on a claimant’s late filing of a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.    

 

Another decision came out in U.S. ex rel. Walter Toebe Construction Co. v. The Guarantee Co. of North America, 2014 WL 7211294 (E.D. Mich. 2014), dealing with the exact same subject matter of a claimant raising equitable tolling to overcome filing a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit outside of the statute of limitations.   Understanding the statute of limitations for a Miller Act payment bond claim is vital to a claimant’s rights on a federal construction project because the doctrine of equitable tolling (of the statute of limitations) is not designed to simply allow a careless claimant to untimely file a lawsuit.

 

In this case, a sub-subcontractor was hired to install drilled shafts on a federal project.  The sub-subcontractor was owed approximately $500,000 and demanded arbitration with the subcontractor that hired it and the Miller Act payment bond surety. The surety apparently participated in the arbitration hearing and on the last day of the hearing the arbitrators dismissed the surety from the arbitration pursuant to the surety’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The arbitrators then issued an award in favor of the sub-subcontractor against the subcontractor that was confirmed by a Michigan circuit court.  The subcontractor failed to pay the judgment and the sub-subcontractor demanded that the Miller Act payment bond surety pay the judgment.  The surety (properly) refused stating that the sub-subcontractor failed to file a lawsuit within the one year limitations period set forth in the Miller Act.

 

The sub-subcontractor then filed a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit in federal court and argued that the statute of limitations to file a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit should be equitably tolled in light of the arbitration proceeding and the surety’s participation in the arbitration (until it was dismissed because there was no jurisdiction to bind the surety to an arbitration award).

 

A Miller Act payment bond lawsuit must be brought no later than one year after a claimant’s final / last furnishing of labor or materials.  Here, it was clear that the lawsuit was filed well outside of the one-year statute of limitations.  Appreciating this, the sub-subcontractor argued the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled.

 

“Equitable tolling allows a federal court to toll a statute of limitations when a litigant’s failure to meet a legally-mandated deadline unavoidably arose from circumstances beyond that litigant’s control.  

***

To determine whether equitable tolling is available to a plaintiff, a court considers five factors: (1) the plaintiff’s lack of notice of the filing requirement; (2) the plaintiff’s lack of constructive knowledge of the filing requirement; (3) the plaintiff’s diligence in pursuing her rights; (4) an absence of prejudice to the defendant; and (5) the plaintiff’s reasonableness in remaining ignorant of the particular legal requirement.”

United States ex. rel. Walter Toebe Construction Company, supra, at *3-4 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

Unfortunately for the sub-subcontractor, its failure to file a lawsuit within the one-year limitations period did not fit into any of the equitable tolling factors.   The sub-subcontractor did not suggest, nor could it really, that it did not have notice of the statute of limitations to file a Miller Act claim.  The sub-subcontractor could not argue that it actively took steps to timely file the lawsuit, because it did not. And, the sub-subcontractor could rely on no law to support its argument that the statute of limitations should be tolled pending an arbitration; and, in fact, there is law that states otherwise. 

 

This case has important considerations:

  • It is important for a potential Miller Act payment bond claimant on a federal project to know what it needs to do to preserve payment bond rights including the timely filing of a lawsuit no later than one year from its last furnishing of labor or materials. 

 

  • It is important for a potential Miller Act payment bond claimant to timely file its lawsuit in federal district court to ensure its lawsuit is timely filed.  Even if a claimant wants to arbitrate with the party that hired it, it is still imperative that the claimant timely files the lawsuit to preserve its payment bond rights and avoid any argument that the lawsuit was not timely filed.

 

  •  Equitable tolling is a challenging doctrine, especially in the Miller Act context where claimants have statutory notice of their rights.  Claimants certainly do NOT want to be in a position where they are trying to rely on this doctrine to overcome the late filing of a Miller Act payment bond claim because it is more often than not a losing argument.

 

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.

THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON A MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND CLAIM AND THE DOCTRINE OF EQUITABLE TOLLING

UnknownComplying with the one-year statute of limitations to assert a Miller Act (40 USC s. 3133) payment bond claim is an absolute must! Not complying will likely deprive the claimant of its payment bond rights. A claimant should never want this scenario as, in most instances, it is always better to file a lawsuit and preserve the rights to the payment bond. In a recent non-Florida federal case, U.S.A ex rel. Liberty Mechanical Services, Inc. v. North American Specialty Ins., 2014 WL 695106 (E.D.Pa. 2014), the Court discussed whether the doctrine known as equitable tolling could toll the statute of limitations to file a Miller Act payment bond action so that a late filed payment bond lawsuit was deemed timely filed.

 

In Liberty Mechanical Services, the Department of Veteran Affairs hired a contractor to preform renovation work. The prime contractor hired a mechanical and plumbing subcontractor. The subcontractor completed its work in January 2012 and was owed approximately $53,000. As a result of nonpayment, it obtained a copy of the prime contractor’s payment bond from the Department of Veteran Affairs in September 2012 (nine months from completing its work–there were allegations that it had difficulty obtaining a copy of the bond from the government). The subcontractor then sent a letter to the surety advising that it would not provide close out documents until it was paid in full and that its lawyer will be filing a claim against the bond. The surety responded that it would get the ball rolling regarding the claim while reserving all of its rights. Subsequently, the prime contractor reached out to the subcontractor and advised that it would pay and, therefore, an action against the bond would not be necessary. However, in February 2013, more than a year after the subcontractor completed its work, it still had not received payment from the prime contractor. Then, the surety told the subcontractor that it would not pay because the subcontractor’s claim was now time-barred by the one-year statute of limitations to sue on a Miller Act bond. Accordingly, in June 2013, approximately fifteen months from the subcontractor’s completion date, it filed a Miller Act lawsuit.

 

The Miller Act mandates:

 

“[E]very contractor on a federal government contract exceeding $100,000 to provide ‘[a] payment bond with a surety … for the protection of all persons supplying labor and material in carrying out the work provided for in the contract. Any supplier or sub-contractor who has not been paid in full within 90 days for labor performed or supplies furnished may bring a civil action on the payment bond for the amount unpaid at the time the civil action is brought and may prosecute the action to final execution and judgment for the amount due… The Act requires that suit must be brought no later than one year after the day on which the last of the labor was performed or material was supplied by the person bringing the action.” Liberty Mechanical Services, supra, *3 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

Here, the Miller Act lawsuit was admittedly outside the one-year statute of limitations (more than one year from the subcontractor’s final furnishing date in January 2012); however, the subcontractor argued that the limitations period should be equitably tolled to allow it to move forward with the lawsuit and excuse its late filing.

 

The Third Circuit has explained that the doctrine of equitable tolling can apply to excuse a late filing after the expiration of the statute of limitations under the following circumstances:

 

“(1) where the defendant has actively misled the plaintiff respecting the plaintiff’s cause of action; (2) where the plaintiff in some extraordinary way has been prevented from asserting his or her rights; or (3) where the plaintiff has timely asserted his or her rights mistakenly in the wrong forum.” Liberty Mechanical Services, supra, at *8 quoting Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1387 (3d Cir. 1991).

 

The plaintiff, or late-filer, in applying the circumstances, must show it exercised reasonable diligence in investigating its claim and filing suit on its claim.

 

Notably, Florida district courts have applied equitable tolling under analogous circumstances:

 

(1) the late filing plaintiff has been misled by defendant’s misconduct into allowing the statutory period to expire; (2) the plaintiff was unaware that his/her rights had been violated and therefore of the need to seek redress; or (3) the plaintiff actively pursued his/her judicial remedies but filed a defective pleading during the limitations period, timely filed in an improper forum and has exercised due diligence in all other respects in preserving his legal rights.” Booth v. Carnival Corp., 510 F.Supp.2d 985, 988 (S.D.Fla. 2007) citing Justice v. U.S., 6 F.3d 1474, 1479 (11th Cir. 1993).

 

The subcontractor in Liberty Mechanical Services alleged random facts to support its late filing. It first argued that it took roughly nine months from its final furnishing date to receive a copy of the payment bond from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Yet, this argument failed because the subcontractor still had three months left under the statute of limitations to timely pursue an action on the bond. The subcontractor argued that the prime contractor indicated it would pay so there was no need for the subcontractor to file a bond claim. Yet, this argument failed because nothing prevented the subcontractor from timely preserving its rights and filing a claim. In other words, the prime contractor indicating its intent to pay did not deprive the subcontractor of timely pursuing its rights. And, the subcontractor argued that the surety indicated that it would “get the ball rolling” once it was notified of the claim while reserving all rights. Yet, this argument failed because the surety never represented that it would pay, but, in essence, simply responded that it received and would investigate the claimant’s claim–a common response from a surety.

 

While equitable tolling could possibly work to support the basis for a late filed Miller Act payment bond claim, the plaintiff / claimant must plead and prove: 1) it used due diligence to timely file its claim and 2) the circumstances fit into one of the three limited categories identified above as to why the plaintiff could not have timely filed the lawsuit even exercising due diligence. However, the facts to support equitable tolling should be severe such that equity would require the tolling of the limitations so that a late filed Miller Act lawsuit is excused and deemed timely filed. Otherwise, claimants would simply conjure up excuses to support the late filing and completely water down the intent of the statute of limitations. The key for a claimant is to: 1) know the statute of limitations for a Miller Act payment bond claim, 2) know the final furnishing date, and 3) timely file the payment bond claim – no excuses!

 

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.

THE DRAWBACK OF BEING A THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT IN A CONSTRUCTION DISPUTE

Airconditioning-systemThe Florida Supreme Court just entered an opinion that potentially has huge implications in construction defect disputes. In Caduceus Properties, LLC v. William G. Graney, P.E., 39 Fla. L. Weekly S93a (2014), an owner sued its architect for design defects with its HVAC system. The architect third-partied into the dispute its mechanical engineer (sub-consultant). The architect’s third-party claims were dismissed for failure to comply with a court order and the architect ultimately declared bankruptcy. The owner, AFTER the statute of limitations expired to assert defect claims, amended its complaint to assert direct claims against the mechanical engineer (also, after the mechanical engineer had already been dismissed from the dispute). The issue the Florida Supreme Court analyzed was whether the owner could assert these claims after the expiration of the statute of limitations since the mechanical engineer was previously a third-party defendant in the dispute. Stated differently, did the owner’s claims against the mechanical engineer relate back to the original third party complaint the architect timely asserted against the mechanical engineer such that the claims were timely filed within the statute of limitations? The Florida Supreme Court held the owner could do this: “[A]n amended complaint filed after the statute of limitations has expired, naming a party who had previously been made a third-party defendant as a party defendant, relates back…to the filing of the third party complaint.”

 

Why are the implications huge? In a construction defect case, oftentimes there are third-party defendants.  In this case, it was a sub-consultant of the architect. In many cases, it is the general contractor that asserts third-party claims against subcontractors. Sometimes, a subcontractor moves to dismiss the claims and prevails and/or settles directly with the general contractor. Well, now, based on this ruling, even if the subcontractor is dismissed, as long as a third-party complaint was asserted against it, it could potentially be back-doored into the dispute by the owner / plaintiff. The owner would just assert a claim against the subcontractor, even after the expiration of the statute of limitations, and argue that under the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling its claims against the subcontractor relate back to the initial third-party complaint that the general contractor timely filed against the subcontractor. Ouch! Therefore, now, a third-party defendant may not get the solace they think they deserve from getting dismissed from a lawsuit or settling directly with the party that sued it. So, a subcontractor or third-party defendant that wants to settle is best getting the owner to sign off on the settlement to ensure it does not get back-doored into the very lawsuit it was dismissed from. On the other hand, this gives the owner options to sue third-party defendants brought into the dispute after the expiration of the statute of limitations if there are concerns with the solvency of the defendant it sued (e.g., general contractor or architect that are usually in direct privity of contract with the owner).

 

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.

CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION RIGHTS REGARDING CONSTRUCTION DEFECTS & THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR STATUTORY IMPLIED WARRANTIES

imagesContractors, subcontractors, suppliers, developers, and design professionals that are involved in the design and construction of condominiums need to appreciate three items relating to the construction of condominiums and the rights of condominium associations:

 

(1) The condominium association, upon turnover from the developer to the unit owners, may sue for matters affecting the common elements or matters of common interest concerning most or all of the unit owners (Fla. Stat. s. 718.111)

 

(2) The condominium association’s statute of limitations to assert construction defect claims does not begin to accrue until the developer has turned over control of the association to the unit owners (Fla. Stat. s. 718.124); and

 

(3) The developer, the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers owe certain statutory implied warranties to the unit owners that can be asserted by the association as a class representative (Fla. Stat. s. 718.203). For instance, under Fla. Stat. 718.203(2): “The contractor, and all subcontractors and suppliers, grant to the developer and to the purchaser of each unit implied warranties of fitness as to the work performed or materials supplied by them as follows: (a) For a period of 3 years from the date of completion of construction of a building or improvement, a warranty as to the roof and structural components of the building or improvement and mechanical and plumbing elements serving a building or an improvement, except mechanical elements serving only one unit.”

 

A.  THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR STATUTORY IMPLIED WARRANTY CLAIMS

 

A topic that comes up is the statute of limitations for an association to assert a statutory implied warranty claim since the statutory implied warranties kick in from the completion of the building (i.e., the Certificate of Occupancy) and are of a shorter time period than the four year statute of limitations period from the time the defect was discovered (or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence).

 

This issue was addressed by the Florida Supreme Court in Charley Tropino & Sons, Inc. v. Seawatch at Marathon Condominium, Ass’n, Inc., 658 So.2d 922 (Fla.1994). In this case, three condominium buildings were constructed and the last building received its Certificate of Occupancy in April 1983. The association was turned over from the developer to the unit owners more than two years later in August 1985. The association then asserted a construction defect lawsuit that included claims for breach of statutory warranties against the general contractor, developer, etc., (over defective concrete and metal decking) in May 1988: more than five years from the Certificate of Occupancy of the last building and almost two years from when the association was turned over to the unit owners.

 

The Florida Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the turnover of the association from the developer to the unit owners extended the time for unit owners to assert a breach of statutory implied warranty claim.  (Based on the facts of the case, the question was whether the association in 1988 could assert breach of statutory warranty claims against the developer, general contractor, etc., when the Certificate of Occupancy was issued more than five years earlier for the last building and unit owners obtained control of the association approximately two years earlier.) The Court answered this question “Yes,” maintaining:

 

“[A] condominium association has a statutory right to file suit on behalf of its unit owners for breach of implied warranty of fitness and merchantability for construction defects affecting the common interest. Such a suit must be filed within the general time limits set out in chapter 95, but the commencing of this limitations period shall be tolled until control of the association passes from the developer to the unit owners.”
Charley Tropino, 658 So.2d 925.

 

This means that the statutory implied warranty period is not a statute of limitations. Rather, it is simply the time period in which the life of the warranty applies to cover defects that occur within that time period. However, these claims are then tolled until the association is turned over to the unit owners at which time the association has four years to assert its breach of statutory warranty claims. See Saltponds Condominium Ass’n v. Walbridge Aldinger Co., 979 So.2d 1240 (Fla.3d DCA 2008) (a condominium association was turned over in August 2002 and had until August 2006 to preserve its rights to sue for breach of statutory implied warranty claims).

 

Let’s apply this law to hypotheticals because it is confusing:

 

Hypothetical 1: A Certificate of Occupancy was issued for a condominium tower in March 2005. The condominium association was turned over to the unit owners on April 2008. Due to construction defects, the association filed a lawsuit against the general contractor for structural defects in February 2012 that included breach of statutory warranty claims.

 

Under s. 718.203, as referenced above, the contractor owes to the association an implied warranty for structural components from three years from the completion of the building (defined as the Certificate of Occupancy date). This means that a breach of this implied warranty should have taken place between March 2005 (Certificate of Occupancy date) and March 2008 (three years from that date). But, and this is an important but, the condominium association does not need to file suit on this breach of the implied warranty until April 2012 (four years from the April 2008 date the condominium association was turned over to the unit owners since the statute of limitations is tolled until an association is turned over to the unit owners).

 

Hypothetical 2: An interesting twist to the above hypothetical is if the association did not file its lawsuit until March 2014-nine years from the Certificate of Occupancy date and six years from the turnover date. Under these dates, the association will have to assert that it did not discover the defects until on or after March 2010 in order to fall within the four year statute of limitations. However, by doing this, the condominium association really should NOT have a breach of statutory warranty claim against the general contractor because the life of the warranty would have expired before the breach of that duty was actually discovered.

 

Hypothetical 3: Now, let’s assume the association did not file suit until March 2016 or eleven years from the Certificate of Occupancy date and argues that it did not discover the defects until March 2014. Under this context, the association should not have any claims since the turnover of the association to unit owners has no bearing and does not toll the ten year statute of repose period to file suit (i.e., the last date a lawsuit must be filed-not matter what). See Sabal Chase Homeowners Ass’n, Inc. v. Walt Disney World Co., 726 So.2d 796 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999) (finding that turnover of condominium association to unit owners did not extend the statute of repose).

 

B.  TIDBITS FOR CONTRACTORS CONSTRUCTING CONDOMINIUMS

 

General contractors constructing condominiums need to operate under the presumption that there is a strong likelihood that the association will assert construction defect related claims including breach of statutory warranty claims. Many condominium associations retain engineers at turnover or shortly thereafter to perform a comprehensive analysis of the plans, as-built plans, submittals, and condition of the condominium to determine if there are any design / construction defects. Associations will want to do this to ensure they preserve warranty-related items / claims and provide parties notice of those items sooner than later. Contractors, knowing claims are forthcoming, need to be proactive:

 

  • They will want to hire subcontractors that do not have residential or condominium exclusions in their policies, or an exclusion in a liability policy that excludes coverage for condominium projects.
  • They will want to ensure that they maintain the appropriate liability coverage with completed operations coverage and are identified as an additional insured under subcontractor policies.
  • They may want to account for the presumed claim in their price knowing that certain overhead may be devoted to addressing claims long after completion.
  • I have also seen escrow provisions included in the developer-contractor contract where an escrow account is to be funded and maintained during the statute of repose period to offset claims. I have never been a big fan of this since (i) parties prefer to have the money instead of having that money fund an account for ten years, (ii) it could, perhaps, serve as motivation that there is money to fund claims that are not otherwise insurable claims, and (iii) it could lead to disputes down the road as to the allocation of that money in the event a dispute is initiated and fingers are pointed as to the cause of the defect.
  • If the contractor and the developer are in a dispute over certain defects and a settlement is reached, the settlement should reflect that the developer is entering into this agreement on behalf of the association (assuming it is still in control of the association) and accepts money, etc., for the specific items in consideration for a full and final release for the defects. This way, at a minimum, the contractor could create an argument in the event the association later files suit against the contractor for the same exact defects that the defects were already resolved and accepted by the developer on behalf of the association.

 

For more on condominium statutory warranties, please see http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/florida-condominium-acts-statutory-warranties-difference-between-manufacturer-and-supplier/

 

http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/statutory-implied-warranties-for-condominium-associations/

 

For more on the statute of limitations and statute of repose, please see: http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/watering-down-the-10-year-statute-of-repose-period-for-construction-disputes/

 

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.

 

WATERING DOWN THE 10 YEAR STATUTE OF REPOSE PERIOD FOR CONSTRUCTION DEFECT DISPUTES

platYes, it appears that the Second District Court of Appeals in Clearwater Housing Authority v. Future Capital Holding Corp., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2323a (2nd DCA 2013), just entered an opinion that has watered down the ten year statute of repose for construction disputes. That is right – watered down the statute of repose. This is excellent for owners with construction latent defect disputes, but bad for contractors and design professionals.

 

The statute of limitations for construction disputes is governed by Florida Statute s. 95.11(3)(c):

 

(c) Within Four Years. An action founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property, with the time running from the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest; except that, when the action involves a latent defect, the time runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence. In any event, the action must be commenced within 10 years after the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest.

 

The bolded language above is the ten year statute of repose language, which means that a lawsuit brought after this date is forever barred even if it is otherwise filed within four years from the date an owner discovered a latent defect (the statute of limitations period). In other words, after this repose period, latent defects become moot.

 

However, the Second District in Clearwater Housing Authority gave owner an excellent argument to extend the repose period. In this case, an owner hired a contractor and design professionals for purposes of building an apartment project in Clearwater. The property was then purchased by Clearwater Housing Authority. The Certificate of Occupancy was issued in 2000 and this was when Clearwater Housing Authority took possession of the property. However, a final plat was not submitted by the engineers on the project until 2003.

 

In 2009, Clearwater Housing Authority initiated a dispute for construction defects against various parties. But, in 2011, it amended its complaint to assert a claim against Future Capital Holding Corporation (“Future Capital”). Future Capital did the right thing and moved for summary judgment due to the expiration of the statute of repose. The math was simple. The Certificate of Occupancy occurred in 2000 and it was brought into the lawsuit in 2011, more than 10 years after-the-fact. The trial court agreed and summary judgment was entered in favor of Future Capital.

 

Clearwater Housing Authority creatively argued that the engineer did not submit the final plat until 2003 and this marked the date that triggered the beginning of the repose period; thus, it had until 2013 to assert claims for construction defects. This argument was based on the repose language: “[T]he action must be commenced within 10 years after the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest.” Stated differently, “the [ten year] repose period commences on the latest date that any of the listed entities—the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor—completed or terminated their contract.Clearwater Housing Authority, supra.

 

The Second District reversed the summary judgment based on Clearwater Housing Authority’s argument and because an issue of fact remained as to when the contract was completed.

 

What effect does this have? A huge effect! An owner can sue a contractor or design professional outside of ten years from the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy and argue that the repose period did not run based on the following arguments: (a) the contractor’s contract was not completed until well after the Certificate of Occupancy date because the contractor was doing endless punchlist work or (b) the design professional had not completed its contract because it was required to submit as-built plans (or some relatively minor task) which it did not do until well after the Certificate of Occupancy. Therefore, based on this holding, owners can be very creative as to when contracts were arguably completed to create questions of fact to postpone the repose period, especially if they are concerned with this defense. On the other hand, contractors and design professionals sued for construction defects that otherwise have a statute of repose argument, like Future Capital seemed to have in the Clearwater Housing Authority case, need to appreciate that a creative owner will be able to create a question of fact to preclude the entry of summary judgment.

 

 

 

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.