What does a supplier need to do to prove a Miller Act payment bond claim? A supplier must prove the following elements:
“(1) the plaintiff supplied materials in prosecution of the work provided for in the contract; (2) the plaintiff has not been paid; (3) the plaintiff had a good faith belief that the materials were intended for the specified work; and (4) the plaintiff meets the jurisdictional requisites of timely notice and filing [of the Miller Act].” Jems Fabrication, Inc., USA v. Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland, 2014 WL 1689249 (5th Cir. 2014).
As you can see, the burden of proof for a supplier in a Miller Act claim is not overly challenging, especially if the supplier has delivery or shipping tickets establishing that it delivered materials to the specific project and/or that its customer ordered the materials for the specific project. If there is a purchase order with the supplier and its customer for the project that would also help support that the materials were supplied for purposes of that project. And, if the supplier’s customer’s contract / subcontract requires the customer to supply those same materials for the project, that also helps to support that the materials were intended for the prosecution of the work. But, importantly, it is irrelevant whether the supplier actually delivered the materials to the project or that the materials were incorporated into the project. See U.S. f/u/b/o Carlson v. Continental Cas. Co., 414 F.2d 431, 433 (5th Cir. 1969) (affirming summary judgment in favor of supplier where supplier showed it had good faith that the materials were supplied for specific project although supplier did not establish that materials were actually incorporated into project).
But, even though the materials do not necessarily have to be incorporated into the project, the supplier’s claim will still be subject to the standard that the materials were supplied for the prosecution of the work provided for in the contract and that the supplier had a good faith belief that the materials were intended for the specified work. For example, in Erb Lumber Co. v. Gregory Industries, Ltd., 769 F.Supp. 221 (E.D.Mich. 1991), the supplier’s customer opened an account with the supplier for multiple projects. However the supplier’s claim for unpaid materials for the specific federal project at-issue included materials supplied AFTER the project was certified as complete and were likely used for one of its customer’s other projects. For this reason, the court expressed, “Indeed, given that contract work was certified as complete prior to any delivery materials by Erb [supplier], it is impossible for any of the materials to have been provided in prosecution of the contract work….Good faith delivery is not a substitute for supplying materials in prosecution of work provided for in the contract.” Erb Lumber, 769 F.Supp. at 225.
If you are a supplier, it is important to understand your burden of proof and the elements you need to prove in a Miller Act payment bond claim. If you are a surety or prime contractor defending the surety, it is also important to understand the supplier’s burden of proof to appropriately defend the claim and evaluate a potential resolution to the claim if it appears clear the materials supplied were used in the prosecution of the work.
For more information on the preservation of a Miller Act payment bond claim, please see: http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/miller-act-payment-bond-and-third-tier-subs-or-suppliers/.
Please contact David Adelstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.