QUICK NOTE: MAKE SURE TO TIMELY PERFECT YOUR CONSTRUCTION LIEN AND PAYMENT BOND RIGHTS!

In today’s current climate, you do not want to wait until the last minute to record your construction lien or serve your notice of nonpayment to preserve your payment bond rights.  Operate conservatively and preserve these rights now, not later.   Whether preserving construction lien or payment bond rights, the key date is 90-days from your final furnishing date.  A construction lien must be recorded within 90 days from your final furnishing date.  Likewise, a notice of nonpayment (to preserve payment bond rights on a private project) needs to be served within 90 days from your final furnishing date.

It is important to remember that performing punchlist, warranty, and corrective work does NOT extend your final furnishing date. In other words, do not think you can record a lien or serve your notice of nonpayment within 90 days from completing punchlist or warranty work.  That would be a bad idea.  See, e.g., Delta Fire Sprinklers, Inc. v. Onebeacon Ins. Co., 937 So.2d 695 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006) (performing punchlist items insufficient for extending final furnishing date in order for subcontractor to timely serve its notice of nonpayment).

MAKE SURE TO TIMELY PERFECT YOUR CONSTRUCTION LIEN AND PAYMENT BOND RIGHTS!

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.

 

QUICK NOTE: FRAUDULENT NOTICE OF NONPAYMENT

There is a defense to construction liens raised by owners known as the fraudulent lien defense.  A party can assert a fraudulent lien as an affirmative defense or as an affirmative claim.  This is embodied in Florida Statute s. 713.31.

Recently, with respect to payment bond claims, there is also a defense relating to a party’s fraudulent notice of nonpayment.  This fraudulent notice of nonpayment defense mimics the fraudulent lien defense and provides:

A lienor who serves a fraudulent notice of nonpayment forfeits his or her rights under the bond. A notice of nonpayment is fraudulent if the lienor has willfully exaggerated the amount unpaid, willfully included a claim for work not performed or materials not furnished for the subject improvement, or prepared the notice with such willful and gross negligence as to amount to a willful exaggeration. However, a minor mistake or error in a notice of nonpayment, or a good faith dispute as to the amount unpaid, does not constitute a willful exaggeration that operates to defeat an otherwise valid claim against the bond. The service of a fraudulent notice of nonpayment is a complete defense to the lienor’s claim against the bond.

Fla. Stat. s. 713.23(1)(d); 255.05(2)(a)(2).

It can be expected that any party required to serve a notice of nonpayment will receive as an affirmative defense to a payment bond lawsuit that the notice of nonpayment was fraudulent.  There has not been a case as of yet to apply a standard to this defense so it is presumed that the standard will be fairly consistent with the standard applied to fraudulent liens.  Nonetheless, even if the standard is challenging, this will be an expected defense where notices of nonpayment will be challenged as being fraudulent.    Also, a claimant that is not required to serve a notice of nonpayment to preserve its payment bond rights will not have to deal with this notice of nonpayment defense.

If you need to serve a notice of nonpayment to preserve payment bond rights or, alternatively, are the recipient of a notice of nonpayment, it is prudent to consult with counsel to ensure your rights are appropriately preserved and protected.   When dealing with fraudulent liens, a lienor can rely on advice of counsel if the lien is prepared by counsel.   Presumably, a claimant that serves a notice of nonpayment should be able to rely on advice of counsel too if the notice of nonpayment was prepared by counsel.

 

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.

 

SUIT ON SUBCONTRACTOR’S COMMON LAW PAYMENT BOND

When a subcontractor furnishes a payment bond, is it referred to as a common law payment bond governed by state law.  There is no federal statute (or even state statute in most jurisdictions) governing the requirements of a subcontractor’s payment bond, hence the reason it is oftentimes referred to as a common law payment bond.  This is different than a prime contractor’s payment bond which is generally governed by federal or state-specific statutes.

In an opinion out of the Northern District of North Dakota, U.S. v. Western Surety Company, 2010 WL 609548 (D. North Dakota 2020), the Court discussed a painting sub-subcontractor’s claim against a subcontractor’s common law payment bond on a federal project.    Here, the subcontractor hired the sub-subcontractor and a payment dispute arose.  The subcontractor furnished its own payment bond.   The sub-subcontractor filed a lawsuit against both the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond and the subcontractor’s common law payment bond.  The Miller Act payment bond dispute got resolved and the case proceeded as to the subcontractor’s common law payment bond.

The common law payment bond surety moved for summary judgment claiming the painting sub-subcontractor failed to properly trigger the bond because it failed to provide notice of its claim as required by the terms of the bond.   Since the bond is deemed a contract, the Court looked at principles of North Dakota contract law governing this argument.   The common law bond required a claimant to give written notice within 90 days of its last day of work (which is a common requirement in such bonds).  The surety wanted the Court to construe this language similar to the requirements of the federal Miller Act by requiring the sub-subcontractor to give it notice with substantial accuracy of the claim.  The Court rejected this sentiment, and denied the summary judgment, as the subcontractor’s payment bond made no mention of “substantial accuracy.”   The Court looked at a hodge-podge of communications finding that a reasonable jury could conclude that the painting sub-subcontractor complied with the provisions of the bond.  Additionally, the Court noted that even if the notice was inadequate, the surety failed to establish how it was prejudiced based on North Dakota law that states: “A surety is exonerated…[t]o the extent to which the surety is prejudiced by an omission of the creditor to do anything when required by the surety which it is the creditor’s duty to do.”  U.S., supra, at *6 (internal quotation and citation omitted).

Lastly, the Court discussed how the subcontractor’s common law payment bond mentions the obligee of the bond is the general contractor.  This is how all subcontractor payment bonds are worded.  However, within the bond, there is a definition for “claimants” that allows claimants to sue on the bond.  The Court addressed this to reflect that the painting sub-subcontractor, meeting the definition of claimant in the payment bond, was a third-party beneficiary of the subcontractor’s payment bond and had standing to sue the bond.

This is a good case if you are dealing with a subcontractor’s common law payment bond.  The requirements to sue the bond will be less rigorous than suing a payment bond governed by a statute, such as a Miller Act payment bond.

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.

 

SERVING NOTICE OF NONPAYMENT UNDER MILLER ACT

Under the federal Miller Act, if a claimant is NOT in privity with the prime contractor, it needs to serve a “notice of nonpayment” within 90 days of its final furnishing.   In this manner, 40 U.S.C. 3133 (b)(2) states:

 

A person having a direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor but no contractual relationship, express or implied, with the contractor furnishing the payment bond may bring a civil action on the payment bond on giving written notice to the contractor within 90 days from the date on which the person did or performed the last of the labor or furnished or supplied the last of the material for which the claim is made. The action must state 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. The notice shall be served–

(A) by any means that provides written, third-party verification of delivery to the contractor at any place the contractor maintains an office or conducts business or at the contractor’s residence; or

(B) in any manner in which the United States marshal of the district in which the public improvement is situated by law may serve summons.

Although the bolded language states that, “The action must state 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…,” courts have found that this requirement also applies to the notice of nonpayment.  See Prince Payne Enterprises, Inc. f/u/b/o Prince Payne Enterprises, Inc. v. Tigua Enterprises, Inc., 2019 WL 5394197, *4 (D. South Carolina 2019).

However, there is a certain liberality regarding the format of the notice as long as it states with substantial accuracy the amount claimed and the name of the party to whom the work was done.

For instance, in Prince Payne Enterprises, a sub-subcontractor—not in privity with the prime contractor—filed a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.  To support that it provided a notice of nonpayment to the prime contractor, the sub-subcontractor attached a hodgepodge of documentation, none of which was applicable, to its complaint, as well as alleged that it demanded payment from the prime contractor within 90 days of its final furnishing date on the project.  The prime contractor moved to dismiss the Miller Act payment bond claim based on the inapplicability of the hodgepodge of documentation which included letters that came after the 90 days expired.  But, based on the allegation that the sub-subcontractor demanded payment on the prime contractor, the Court held:

While the dates and contents of the attached exhibits may not meet the notice requirements of the Miller Act, the court must accept the allegation that Prince Payne [sub-subcontractor] demanded payment from Tigua [prime contractor] within ninety days of last performing work as true. Discovery may reveal that this is not true or that none of the communications satisfy the Miller Act’s notice requirements; however, at this early stage of litigation, the court finds that Prince Payne’s proposed amended complaint sufficiently alleges a viable cause of action for a violation of the Miller Act.

Prince Payne Enterprises, supra, at *4.

This sub-subcontractor is likely in trouble supporting that it served a notice of nonpayment within 90 days of its final furnishing date.  However, it lived to see another day by surviving a motion to dismiss.  Summary judgment will be different.  This could have been avoided had the sub-subcontractor appreciated that to preserve a Miller Act payment bond claim, it MUST serve a notice of nonpayment within 90 days of its final furnishing.  Rights preservation is everything!

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.

 

GOOD-TO-KNOW POINTS REGARDING (I) MILLER ACT PAYMENT BONDS AND (II) PAYMENT BOND SURETY COMPELLING ARBITRATION

Every now and then I come across an opinion that addresses good-to-know legal issues as a corollary of strategic litigation decisions that are questionable and/or creative.  An opinion out of the United States District Court of New Mexico, Rock Roofing, LLC v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America, 2019 WL 4418918 (D. New Mexico 2019), is such an opinion.

In Rock Roofing, an owner hired a contractor to construct apartments. The contractor furnished a payment bond.  The contractor, in the performance of its work, hired a roofing subcontractor.  A dispute arose under the subcontract and the roofer recorded a construction lien against the project. The contractor, per New Mexico law, obtained a bond to release the roofer’s construction lien from the project (real property).  The roofer then filed a lawsuit in federal court against the payment bond surety claiming it is entitled to: (1)  collect on the contractor’s Miller Act payment bond (?!?) and (2) foreclose its construction lien against the lien release bond furnished per New Mexico law.

Count I – Miller Act Payment Bond

Claiming the payment bond issued by the contractor is a Miller Act payment bond is a head scratcher. This claim was dismissed with prejudice upon the surety’s motion to dismiss. This was an easy call.

A Miller Act payment bond is a bond a prime contractor gives to the United States (US) for a public project. Here, the contractor entered into a contract with a private developer for a private apartment project. There was nothing to suggest that the private developer was, in fact, the US government or an agent of the US government.  There was also nothing to suggest that the apartment project was, in fact, a public project.  The roofer alleged that it believed the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provided funding for the project. The Court found this allegation as a big so-what: “The Court finds this allegation insufficient to demonstrate either the payment bond was furnished to the [US] Government as required by the [Miller Act], or that the apartment complex was a public building or public work as required by the [Miller Act].” Rock Roofing, LLC, 2019 WL at *3.

Count II – Foreclosure of Construction Lien Against Lien Release Bond

The surety moved to compel the roofer’s foreclosure claim against the lien release bond to arbitration pursuant to the contractor’s subcontract with the roofer.  The roofer countered that arbitration was inappropriate since the surety was not a party to the subcontract.

The Court (relying on a Florida district court opinion I was intimately involved with) found that the doctrine of equitable estoppel applied to compel the roofer to arbitration because the roofer’s claim for payment was based on its subcontract that contains the arbitration provision. “Because [the roofer’s] claim on the payment bond depends on its subcontract with [the contractor], the arbitration clause in the subcontract must precede [the roofer’s] right to bring suit as provided by the payment bond.Rock Roofing LLC at *7.

 

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.

 

STATUTORY CHANGE TO NOTICES OF NONPAYMENT TO PRESERVE RIGHTS UNDER PAYMENT BOND

Mark this on your calendar – beginning on October 1, 2019 subcontractors and suppliers (e.g., claimants/lienors) serving a notice of nonpayment to preserve rights under a payment bond must now do so under oath. But, that is not all. The notice of nonpayment form will now require the claimant to attest, as follows, in the new notice of nonpayment form:

Notice of Nonpayment

To: (Name of Contractor and address)
(Name of Surety and address)

The undersigned notifies you that:

1. The lienor has furnished_______ (describe labor, services, or materials) for the improvement of the real property identified as_______ (property description). The corresponding amount unpaid to date is $______, of which, $______ is unpaid retainage.
2. The lienor has been paid to date the amount of $____ for previously furnishing________ (describe labor, services, or materials) for this improvement.
3. The lienor expects to furnish________ (describe labor, services, or materials) for this improvement in the future (if known), and the corresponding amount expected to become due is $_____ (if known).

I declare that I have read the foregoing Notice of Nonpayment and that the facts stated in it are true to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Dated on _______

(signature and address of lienor)

The foregoing instrument was sworn to (or affirmed) and subscribed before me this___ days of ____, _____, by __________(signatory)

(Signature of Notary Public-State of Florida)

(Print, Type, or Stamp Commissioned Name of Notary Public)

Personally Known OR Produced Identification

Type of Identification Produced____

It will be imperative to work with counsel when putting together a notice of nonpayment. The reason being is that the added language in the statute will give the contractor a built-in “fraud” defense upon receipt of any notice of nonpayment. Fraudulent notices of nonpayment will now be asserted defensively as a matter of course akin to the fraudulent lien defense when a construction lien is recorded.  This is supported by new statutory language to Florida Statute sections 713.23 (dealing payment bonds on private projects) and 255.05 (dealing with payment bonds on public projects except FDOT projects) relative to notices of nonpayment that goes into effect on October 1, 2019:

The negligent inclusion or omission of any information in the notice of nonpayment that has not prejudiced the contractor or surety does not constitute a default that operates to defeat an otherwise valid bond claim. A claimant who serves a fraudulent notice of nonpayment forfeits his or her rights under the bond. A notice of nonpayment is fraudulent if the claimant has willfully exaggerated the amount unpaid, willfully included a claim for work not performed or materials not furnished for the subject improvement, or prepared the notice with such willful and gross negligence as to amount to a willful exaggeration. However, a minor mistake or error in a notice of nonpayment, or a good faith dispute as to the amount unpaid, does not constitute a willful exaggeration that operates to defeat an otherwise valid claim against the bond. The service of a fraudulent notice of nonpayment is a complete defense to the claimant’s claim against the bond.

Again, it is imperative to work with counsel when putting together a notice of nonpayment!

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.

PROVIDING “LABOR” UNDER THE MILLER ACT

shutterstock_611517449A recent opinion out of the Northern District of California discusses the “labor” required to support a Miller Act payment bond claim on a federal construction project.   It is a good case that discusses the type of labor required  to support a Miller Act payment bond claim.

 

In Prime Mechanical Service, Inc. v. Federal Solutions Group, Inc., 2018 WL 619930 (N.D.Cal. 2018), a prime contractor was awarded a contract to design and install a new HVAC system.  The prime contractor subcontracted the work to a mechanical contractor. The mechanical contractor with its sub-designer prepared and submitted a new HVAC design to the prime contractor and provided 4-5 onsite services to determine the location and layout for the new HVAC equipment, perform field measurements, obtain security passes, and plan site access and crane locations.  The mechanical contractor submitted an invoice to the prime contractor and the invoice remained unpaid for more than 90 days, which the prime contractor refused to pay.  The mechanical contractor than filed a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.

 

The prime contractor and surety argued that the mechanical contractor had no valid Miller Act payment bond claim because it was seeking professional services and not the labor covered by the Miller Act.   The trial court agreed. 

 

As used in the Miller Act, the term “labor” primarily encompasses services involving “manual labor,” or “physical toil.”  Although “work by a professional, such as an architect or engineer” generally does not constitute “labor” within the meaning of the Miller Act, some courts have found “certain professional supervisory work is covered by the Miller Act, namely, skilled professional work which involves actual superintending, supervision, or inspection at the job site.”

 

Prime Mechanical Service, Inc., 2018 WL at *3 (internal citations omitted). 

 

The mechanical contractor attempted to argue that it was onsite and the onsite services it performed should constitute “labor.”   However, the onsite services the mechanical contractor identified were clerical or administrative-type services which did NOT involve “the physical toil or manual work necessary to bring them within the scope of the Miller Act.”  Prime Contractor Mechanical Service, Inc., 2018 WL at *3.  

 

In this case, the mechanical contractor gave it a worthy go to support a Miller Act payment bond claim. But, because the services it performed did not rise up the type of “labor” covered by the Miller Act, it was out of luck.   Had these services been coupled with actual  manual labor at the site connected to the installation of the new HVAC system, the result would have been much different since the mechanical contractor would have performed “labor” covered by the Miller Act. 

 

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.

REPAIRING ONE’S OWN WORK AND THE ONE YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS TO SUE A MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND

shutterstock_516982177When it comes to Miller Act payment bond claims, repairing one’s own work does NOT extend the one year statute of limitations to file suit on a Miler Act payment bondBelonger Corp., Inc. v. BW Contracting Services, Inc., 2018 WL 704379, *3 (E.D. Wisconsin 2018) (“The courts that have considered this question tend to agree that, once a subcontractor completes its work under the subcontract, repairs or corrections to that work do not fall within the meaning of ‘labor’ or ‘materials’ and, as such, do not extend the Miller Act’s one-year statute of limitations.”).

 

Well, what if the subcontractor was repairing its own work due to an issue caused by another subcontractor? 

 

This was the situation in Belonger Corp. where a plumber was asked to unclog a plumbing line that had concrete in the line (caused by another subcontractor)  months after the plumber had completed its contractual scope of work.  Before the subcontractor did this work, it smartly sent an e-mail stating that it needs an e-mail acknowledgement that this additional work is authorized and a change order will be forthcoming.  The contractor responded, “Yes, please proceed with repair work on a T&M [time and materials] basis….”   Sure enough, the subcontractor unclogged the line and a change order was never issued.

 

The subcontractor filed a Miller Act payment bond claim for unpaid contract work plus change order work, such as unclogging the line.  The subcontractor based its last day for purposes of the statute of limitations on the work associated with unclogging the line and not on the day it completed its contractual scope of work.  If it was determined that the subcontractor’s last day / final furnishing date was when it fully completed its contractual scope of work, its Miller Act payment bond lawsuit would be untimely / barred by the one year statute of limitations to sue on a Miller Act payment bond.  

 

The issue was whether the subcontractor’s remedial work to its own plumbing line extended its final furnishing date.  The trial court found this to be a question of fact because this arguably was change order work that amended the subcontract to include this additional work.  The fact that the subcontractor sent an e-mail before doing this work and the fact that the contractor responded helped the subcontractor create a question of fact that its payment bond claim was not untimely because unclogging its own plumbing line due to an issue caused by another trade subcontractor was additional subcontractual work that extended its final furnishing date.

 

If you are in this situation, the best bet is not to bank on this type of argument.  File your Miller Act payment bond claim within one-year of finishing your contractual work.  With that said, if you don’t, the argument raised by the subcontractor here that repairing its own work due to an issue caused by another subcontractor was additional work that modified the terms of the subcontract and extended its final furnishing date is a creative argument helped by the e-mail this subcontractor smartly sent.

 

For more information on the Miller Act, check out this ebook.

 

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.

QUICK NOTE: NOTICE OF CONTEST OF CLAIM AGAINST PAYMENT BOND

imagesOn private jobs where the general contractor has an unconditional payment bond, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors and suppliers need to serve a notice of nonpayment to preserve payment bond rights.

 

Just like an owner can record a Notice of Contest of Lien to shorten a lienor’s statute of limitations to foreclose the lien to 60 days, a general contractor can record a Notice of Contest of Claim Against Payment Bond.  See Fla. Stat. s. 713.23(e).  When a contractor records a Notice of Contest of Claim Against Payment Bond, the contractor is contesting the notice of nonpayment and shortening the claimant’s period to sue on the payment bond to 60 days from the date of service of the notice.  

 

This tool is used less frequently than the Notice of Contest of Lien; however, it can be a very successful tool for a contractor to use when receiving a notice of nonpayment.

 

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.

VENUE FOR SUING PUBLIC PAYMENT BOND

shutterstock_96191135Public payment bonds (excluding FDOT payment bonds) are governed under Florida statute s. 255.05.  As it pertains to venue—the location to sue a public payment bond–the statute provides in relevant portion:

 

 

(5) In addition to the provisions of chapter 47, any action authorized under this section may be brought in the county in which the public building or public work is being construction or repaired.

 ***

(1)(e) Any provision in a payment bond…which restricts venue of any proceeding relating to such bond…is unenforceable.

 

Now, what happens if a subcontractor sues only a payment bond but its subcontract with the general contractor contains a mandatory venue provision?  For example, what if the general contractor is located in Lee County and the subcontract contains a venue provision for Lee County, the project is located in Collier County, the subcontractor is located in Miami-Dade County, and the surety issues bonds in Miami-Dade County? Does venue have to be in Lee County per the mandatory venue provision?

 

According to the decision in Travelers Casualty and Insurance Co. of America v. Community Asphalt Corp., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1318a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), a claimant can sue a public payment bond anywhere where venue is permitted irrespective of a mandatory venue provision in a subcontract.  In this case, the project was in Collier County and the subcontract contained a mandatory venue provision for Lee County.  However, the subcontractor sued the public payment bond in Miami-Dade County.   The Third District held that the subcontract’s venue provision could not be read into the bond because it would be unenforceable since Florida Statute s. 255.05 renders such language that restricts venue unenforceable

 

The Third District, however, did importantly note that this ruling may likely have been different if the subcontractor also sued the general contractor in the lawsuit.  Because the subcontractor only sued the public payment bond, the venue provision in the subcontract did not apply.

 

Strategically, there are reasons why a payment bond claimant (e.g., subcontractor) does not want to sue the general contractor.  One such reason is venue, as in the instant case.  The subcontractor did not want to sue in Lee County and had a strong argument to sue the public payment bond in Miami-Dade County, a more preferable and convenient venue to it, and was able to do so notwithstanding the venue provision in the subcontract.

 

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.