Two main Florida payment bond statutes are Florida Statute s. 713.23 (payment bonds for private projects) and Florida Statute s. 255.05 (payment bonds for Florida public projects-not federal projects). Both statutes prohibit a payment bond issued after October 1, 2012 from restricting venue. In other words, if the payment bond contains a venue provision after this date, it is not enforceable.
This prohibition is important because there are times where the project is located in a venue that is not where the subcontractor resides and/or is contrary to the venue provision in the subcontract (typically, a venue where the general contractor resides).
It is good practice for the general contractor to include in its subcontract a venue provision that applies to its surety such that the subcontractor must sue the payment bond in the same venue that governs the subcontract. While it is uncertain how the new prohibition from restricting venue in a payment bond will apply in this context, the counter-argument is that the payment bond is not restricting venue, rather the “negotiated” subcontract governs the venue of any and all disputes between the parties including claims against the general contractor’s surety (and the general contractor is indemnifying and defending the surety). Worst case scenario is that the venue provision is deemed inapplicable to the surety. However, courts do not favor splitting causes of action (due to, among other things, the concern for conflicting results over the same facts) and should not favor a subcontractor lawsuit against the general contractor in one venue and a simultaneous subcontractor lawsuit against the general contractor’s payment bond surety in another venue. Indeed, courts have refused to enforce venue provisions in subcontracts in order to avoid splitting of causes of action. See, e.g., Miller & Solomon General Contractors, Inc. v. Brennan’s Glass Co., Inc., 837 So.2d 1182 (2003) (refusing to enforce subcontract venue provision when action as to lien transfer bond was filed in correct venue). Including a venue provision that also covers claims against the payment bond surety is useful in the event the general contractor wants to countersue the subcontractor or simply wants to create an argument that its subcontractor disputes should be confined to its preferred venue versus the subcontractor’s preferred venue.
On the other hand, there are situations where a subcontractor may not want to sue the general contractor and strategically prefers to just sue the payment bond surety. One situation may be the subcontractor knows the general contractor was not paid and the subcontract contains a pay-when-paid provision which would be enforceable as to the general contractor, but not against the payment bond surety. Another situation may be due to the venue provision in the subcontract; the subcontractor prefers to sue in a venue outside of the venue provision in the subcontract and has a better argument around the venue provision if it does not join the general contractor. There is caselaw that supports an argument to sue a payment bond surety in a venue where the subcontractor (lienor) resides that, depending on the dispute, could be appealing to the subcontractor. See, e.g., American Insurance Co. v. Joyner Electric, Inc., 618 So.2d 799 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (finding that action under s. 255.05 public payment bond was proper where lienor / subcontractor resided); Coordinated Constructors v. Florida Fill, Inc., 387 So.2d 1006 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980) (finding that venue was proper under s. 713.23 private payment bond action where lienor / supplier resided).
Venue is a pretty heavily litigated procedural strategic issue. Just like any dispute, venue as to a payment bond claim should not be ignored and should absolutely be considered at the onset of a dispute.
For more information on venue provisions, please see:
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