HOW DOES YOUR CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT TREAT FLOAT

shutterstock_480673663Although there are different types of construction schedule float and more technical definitions, the definition that makes sense to me is that float is the amount of time a particular activity can be delayed without that activity delaying the project’s completion date (substantial completion date).  In looking at a construction schedule, this determination is made from looking at the difference between the early start date for an activity and the late start date for that activity or the difference between the early finish date for that activity and the late finish date for that activity in your CPM schedule (which should be the same amount of time).  This is often referred to as “total float” and is the float that I usually focus on since it may pertain to a delay to the substantial completion date of the project and can trigger either the assessment of liquidated damages and/or the contractor’s extended general conditions, whatever the case may be.

 

Consider this hypothetical discussed in Weaver-Bailey Contractors, Inc. v. U.S., 19 Cl. Ct. 474, 481 (1990) that discusses the concept of total float by using a simple example that may apply to a residential house job:

 

To reiterate, a critical path activity is one which, if allowed to grow in duration at all, will cause the overall time required to complete the project to increase. By contrast, an activity with float time may grow in duration up to a certain point, without an adverse impact on the time required to complete the project. Consider the example of a contractor who committed himself to building a house, beginning on January 1, 1989. The contractor has determined that he will need one year to complete the job. Pouring the foundation is a critical path activity because any increase in the amount of time required to complete the foundation will cause an increase in the amount of time needed to complete the house; work on the walls, floors, roof, and utilities cannot begin until the foundation is complete.

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Suppose that as part of the job, the contractor promised to build a fence along two edges of the property, and that building the fence will take 20 days. No other work depends on the completion of the fence, so delaying work on the fence until December 11, 1989 will not put the contractor in danger of late completion. In other words, building the fence is an activity with a lot of float time. However, float time is never unlimited. If on December 20 the contractor has yet to begin the fence, or if there is more than 11 days’ worth of fencing work to be done as of December 20, then the contractor will not finish the job on time. From the foregoing, one can make the following generalization: regardless of whether an activity is on the critical path of a project, if the time required to complete the activity is greater than the time remaining to complete the project, then project completion will be delayed.

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Consider now the effect on our hypothetical contractor if on December 1, before fencing work had begun, the buyer of the house told the contractor that he would like all four sides of the property to be fenced, thereby doubling the fencing work. Clearly the contractor could not complete the entire project by the end of the year, but through no fault of his own. The time required for the fencing portion of the job is now 40 days, and the contractor has only 31 days left.

  

Many contracts, particularly in the public sector, contain a float-sharing provision that basically says that total float is for the benefit of the project and not for the exclusive benefit of either the owner or the contractor.  There are different ways this can be worded.  Under this float-sharing provision, construction is taken as it occurs such that use of float is typically applied on a first-come first-serve basis provided parties acted in good faith through the use of the float (good faith, obviously, being a relative term).  This obviously can work for or against a party based on when a delay occurs during construction.

 

There are contracts that include language that provide that float is for the exclusive use and benefit of the owner.  Under such a clause, float is not for the benefit of the contractor to account for contractor-caused delays; rather, it is for the sole use of the owner to apply to delays it may cause.  When I am representing the contractor, I warn them of the risk of this language as it takes away from the anticipated uncertainty that exists in construction, which is why schedules are never written in stone.  Further, if an owner can consume all of the float, it shifts, in my opinion, quite a bit of risk to the contractor since the owner can breach certain time commitments or obligations in the contract under the premise that it was consuming available float.  When I am representing the owner, I generally do not include such a provision as I tend to subscribe more to the presumed equity of a float-sharing provision, as such a provision can certainly benefit an owner with delays that occur early on in the job.

 

There is also the sentiment that float-sharing provisions, no different than provisions that give the owner exclusive use of float, are equally unfair.  There is an air of truth to this sentiment because a contractor generates the schedule and controls the means and methods of construction.  In doing so, the contractor, through experience, tries to conservatively, but flexibly, account for certain delays it can reasonably anticipate that perhaps would be consumed by float in the schedule.  The contractor cannot reasonably account for owner-caused delays and, in reality, an owner would not want the contractor to do so because there would be a huge time contingency built into the schedule to account for such unknown delays (e.g., is the permit going to be issued on time, is the designer going to promptly respond to RFIs and submittals, is there going to be change orders, is there going to be a design issue, etc).  The owner would never agree to this because it would simply delay the completion date. 

 

How does your construction contract treat float?  How does it define float?  How does the consumption of float potentially impact your project based on how you scheduled activities through completion of 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.

 

BURDEN OF PROOF CHALLENGING ASSESSMENT OF LIQUIDATED DAMAGES

UnknownA contractor is working on a project that includes a contractual liquidated damages provision.  The liquidated damages provision says the contractor is liable for $2,000 per day in liquidated damages if the contractor does not achieve substantial completion by January 1, 2016, a date extended through agreed-upon change orders.  Substantial completion has not been achieved by this date and is not projected to be achieved until May 1, 2016.  The owner already notified the contractor that it plans to assess liquidated damages and such assessment will be deducted from the contractor’s payment (retainage payment application). 

 

When it comes to liquidated damages, who has the burden of proof: the owner or the contractor? 

 

The owner’s burden is actually quite simple. It is merely a burden of persuasion.  All the owner has to do is establish that the project was not substantially completed in accordance with the contract and any approved extensions of time.  Typically, an easy burden of persuasion.

 

This shifts the burden of proof to the contractor challenging the assessment of liquidated damages to establish that the owner was the cause of delays to the substantial completion date (or other contractual date triggering the enforcement of liquidated damages) (e.g., design errors, change orders, change order directives, permit delays, differing site conditions, etc.).  See, e.g., PCL Const. Services, Inc. v. U.S., 53 Fed.Cl. 479 (2002) (government has initial burden of persuasion showing contract was not completed on time shifting burden of proof to contractor to establish excusable delays); accord K-Con Bldg. Systems, Inc. v. U.S., 97 Fed.Cl. 41 (2011) (contractor failed to establish owner caused delays precluding the owner from assessing liquidated damages); Carrothers Const. Co. v. City of S. Hutchinson, 755, 207 P.3d 231, 241 (Kan. 2009) (“By placing the burden of proof on the party challenging a liquidated damages clause, we promote a public policy favoring settlement and avoidance of litigation, and allowing parties to make, and live by, their own contracts.”); TAL Fin. Corp. v. CSC Consulting, Inc., 844 N.E.2d 1085, 1092 (Mass. 2006) (“The burden of proof regarding the enforceability of a liquidated damages clause, therefore, should rest squarely on the party seeking to set it aside.”).  

 

When you sign a construction contract with a liquidated damages provision, understand the application of this provision if the project is not completed in accordance with the provision.  Make sure to ask for and document extensions of time and excusable delays.  In other words, preserve your rights under any notice provisions in the contract asking for extensions of time or notifying the owner of scheduling impacts.  Also, consult with a scheduling consultant, as may be necessary, to analyze the critical path of the schedule to isolate excusable delay and any concurrent delay establishing that although the project was late there were events or issues that would reduce or fully negate the number of days the owner is assessing liquidated damages for.

 

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.

 

 

WHAT IS SUBSTANTIAL COMPLETION?

 

 

AIA_G704_Certificate_of_Substantial_CompletionThe term “substantial completion” is in most construction contracts. And, it should be. This date marks the date the owner expects to be able to use its project for its intended purpose and, if it cannot, the contractor will (likely) be assessed liquidated damages for the delay to the substantial completion date. The owner’s contractual ability to assess liquidated damages serves to motivate the contractor to substantially complete the project by the agreed date and to reimburse the owner for delay-related damages that cannot be ascertained with a reasonable degree of certainty at the time of the contract.

 

 

A.   How is Substantial Completion Defined

 

 

Under the general conditions of the AIA (American Institute of Architects A201 Document 2007), substantial completion is the stage in the progress of the Work when the Work or designated portion thereof is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents so that the Owner can occupy or utilize the Work for its intended use.” (AIA Document A201 s. 9.8.1)   Under the AIA, the architect is required to conduct inspections to determine the date of substantial completion and certifies this date.

 

 

The general conditions of the EJCDC (Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee C-700 Document 2007) defines substantial completion similarly as:

 

 

The time and date at which the Work has progressed to the point where, in the opinion of Engineer, the Work is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the Contract Documents, so that the Work can be occupied and/or utilized for the purposes for which it is intended….Substantial Completion cannot occur before the Project is issued a Certificate of Occupancy (or Completion, if applicable) by the governing building department that allows Owner to utilize the entire Project for the purposes for which it is intended.” (EJCDC Document C-700 s. 1.01.46)
Whether it is an AIA, EJCDC, or other industry form document, substantial completion is routinely defined as that point in time when the owner can utilize its project for the purposes for which it is intended.

 

 

A leading case in Florida discussing substantial completion is J.M. Beeson Co. v. Sartori, 553 So.2d 180 (Fla. 4th DCA 1989). This case involved an owner assessing liquidated damages against its contractor. The contractor was hired to construct a shopping center that required substantial completion within 300 days of commencement. The contract provided that substantial completion occurred when “construction is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents, so the owner can occupy or utilize the work or designation portion thereof for the use for which it is intended.” J.M Beeson, 553 So.2d at 181. Although two anchor tenants in the shopping center received Certificates of Occupancy within the 300 days, another tenant did not. The owner took the position that substantial completion had not been achieved, irrespective of the Certificates of Occupancy, because items such as landscaping were not completed. The Fourth District dismissed the owner’s position finding:

 

 

“[W]hen the owner can put tenants in possession for fixturing and can begin to collect rents, the owner begins to utilize the work for its intended purpose. When the owner was able to occupy and fixture the constructed space, the construction was substantially completed.”  J.M. Beeson, 553 at 182-83 (internal citations omitted).

 

 

The Fourth District indicated that the substantial completion date occurred no later than the date the shopping center was able to obtain certificates of occupancy for the tenants.  Notably, if the contractor in J.M. Beeson was simply required to build shell retail space where the tenants were responsible for their own tenant improvements, the substantial completion would likely occur when an applicable certificate of completion was issued for the shell space pursuant to the shell permit that would entitle the tenants to begin their individual improvements. See, e.g., Hausman v. Bayrock Investment Co., 530 So.2d 938 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988) (finding that test for substantial completion for property tax purposes is the date property is put to use for which it is intended; in this case, since contactor was building shell retail space, substantial completion occurred when shells were completed).

 

 

If an owner is in a position to use its project for its intended purpose (whether for personal use, public use, whatever the project entails), this really should mark the substantial completion date. This is more of an objective date determined by the governing building department through the issuance of a certificate relating to the permit.

 

 

B.  Contract Drafting / Understanding Tips

 

 

I prefer the substantial completion definition in the general conditions of the EJCDC (above) because it references that this point in time should not be earlier than the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy (or applicable Certificate of Completion). Even though most contracts give certain discretion to the design professional to determine and certify the date, the fact remains that the Certificate of Occupancy is realistically the date that determines when an Owner can use its project for its intended purpose since it permits occupancy. I often like to tie the substantial completion date in the contract to the Certificate of Occupancy date or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy date (since the TCO date may be the date that allows occupancy under certain conditions) since this more accurately reflects the date the Owner can use its project for its purpose (or, if it is a project for shell space, the Certificate of Completion date that authorizes the tenant to construct finishes / improvements).  Also, this removes some of the discretion from the design professional and shifts their focus to generating the punchlist and working towards final completion.

 

 

From an owner’s perspective, if it agrees to a mutual waiver of consequential damages in the contract, it must absolutely include a liquidated damages provision tied to the substantial completion date. If it does not want to include a liquidated damages provision, then the owner needs to ensure there is not a mutual waiver of consequential damages provision and, if there is a delay to the substantial completion date, be in a position to prove its actual delay-related damages.

 

 

From a contractor’s perspective, it wants to agree to a substantial completion date where arguably there is float built into its schedule to ensure it has enough time to substantially complete the project. Also, it will want to ensure through flow-down provisions in its subcontracts that it has the ability to flow down assessed liquidated damages to responsible subcontractors that impact its critical path.

 

 

From a subcontractors’ perspective, it needs to understand the contractor’s schedule and how the work is sequenced and ideally have input particularly relating to durations for its activities based on the sequencing of the work. Otherwise, the subcontractor could be putting itself in a position where it will be notified of delays since it is unable to meet its required durations.

 

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.