CONFLICT BETWEEN A SUBCONTRACTOR’S MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND CLAIM AND A PRIME CONTRACTOR’S CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT CLAIM

Unknown-1The recent opinion in U.S. f/u/b/o Marenalley Construction, LLC v. Zurich American Insurance Co., 2015 WL 1137053 (E.D.Pa. 2015) is a great example as to what could happen when a prime contractor submits a Contract Disputes Act claim to the federal government that includes subcontractor amounts and then a subcontractor simultaneously pursues the same amounts from the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond surety. The question becomes should the subcontractor’s lawsuit against the Miller Act payment surety be dismissed or stayed pending the outcome of the resolution of the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act claim.  The ruling in this case held that the subcontractor’s Miller Act claim could proceed, and would not be dismissed or stayed, pending the outcome of the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act claim.  This was a great ruling for the subcontractor and obviously puts the prime contractor in an uncomfortable position, to say the least, since it becomes hard to dispute a subcontractor’s claim when the merits of that claim have been packaged (or passed through) to the federal government in a certified Contract Disputes Act claim.

 

In this case, both the prime contractor and subcontractor agreed that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) caused additional work that increased the cost of the work.  As a result, the prime contractor submitted a Contract Disputes Act claim to the VA that included claims and amounts from subcontractors.  While the prime contractor’s claim was pending with the VA, a subcontractor sued the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond surety. This was a subcontractor that also had its claims and amounts packaged (or passed through) to the VA in the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act claim.

 

The prime contractor argued that the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond claim should be dismissed or stayed pending the resolution of the Contract Disputes Act claim.  In particular, the prime contractor argued that because the subcontract incorporated a dispute resolution clause (that incorporated the requirements of the Contract Disputes Act), the subcontractor was required to exhaust this administrative process before proceeding with a Miller Act payment bond claim.

 

Dismissal of  Miller Act Payment Bond Claim?

 

The ruling to deny the prime contractor and surety’s motion to dismiss the Miller Act payment bond claim was an easy decision.  To begin with, a Miller Act payment bond claim needs to be instituted within a year from the subcontractor’s last furnishing so if the court dismissed the claim it would potentially be depriving the subcontractor of its rights under the law without any certainty as to if the subcontractor re-filed the lawsuit it would be within the statute of limitations or the statute of limitations would otherwise be tolled.  And, pursuant to the Miller Act, a subcontractor cannot contractually agree to waive its Miller Act rights before the subcontractor performed any work.  A waiver of Miller Act payment bond rights is only enforceable if the waiver is: 1) in writing, 2) signed by the party waiving its payment bond rights, and 3) “executed after the person whose right is waived has furnished labor or material for use in the performance of the contract.  See 40 U.S.C. s. 3133.

 

Stay of Miller Act Payment Bond Claim?

 

The real determination was whether the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond lawsuit should be stayed until the completion of the prime contractor’s dispute resolution with the VA. The court held No!:

 

“The Miller Act entitles Marenalley [subcontractor] to bring suit ninety days after the completion of its work…not when and if Nason [prime contractor] recovers from the VA. Conditioning Marenalley’s right to recover from the [Miller Act] Payment Bond on the completion of Nason’s CDA [Contract Disputes Act] process would be inconsistent with the terms of the Miller Act.

***

Nason and Zurich [surety] protest that they will be prejudiced in the absence of a stay due to the costs of dual litigation and the risk of inconsistent decisions.  The Court is not overly troubled by these arguments.  Ordinarily the fact that a prime contractor has a claim for the same amount pending under the disputes clause of the [incorporated] prime contract, does not affect Miller Act cases.

***

The CDA process will determine the VA’s liability to Nason.  The VA, however, has no jurisdiction over the amount that Nason must pay Marenalley and no interest in how that amount is determined. Thus, a stay would subject Marenalley to a substantial, indefinite delay as Nason’s claim passes through the administrative process and court review, only to be left at the end of that process to begin again here to litigate its rights against Nason.”

 

Marenalley, supra, at *6 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

UnknownHow Does a Prime Contractor Account for this Risk?

 

So, based on this ruling, how does a prime contractor account for this business risk? And, this is a business risk because there may be value to a subcontractor to pursue the Miller Act payment bond claim rather than wait an indefinite period of time for the Contract Disputes Act process to resolve itself and then hope that the prime contractor pays the subcontractor the portion of the subcontractor’s claim that was passed through to the federal government.

 

Well, there is authority that would entitle the prime contractor to a stay of a subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.  But, this authority is predicated on language in the subcontract that any action filed by the subcontractor will be stayed pending the exhaustion of administrative remedies.

 

For example, in U.S. f/u/b/o Trans Coastal Roofing Co. v. David Boland, Inc., 922 F.Supp. 597, 598 (S.D.Fla. 1996), the subcontract contained the following language:

 

“[s]ubcontractor shall first pursue and fully exhaust [the procedures set forth in the standard disputes clause of the primary contract] before commencing any other action against Contractor for any claims it may have arising out of its performance of the Work herein.”

***

“[Contractor shall] prosecute all claims submitted by Subcontractor under the contractual remedial procedure of the Prime Contract on behalf of and to the extent required by the Subcontractor.”

***

 “[Subcontractor] agree[d] to stay an action or claim against [the prime contractor’s Miller Act bond] pending the complete and final resolution of the Prime Contract’s contractual remedial procedure.”

 

Because the subcontractor failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, the court dismissed the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond claim.  Importantly, this case was decided before there were amendments to the Miller Act that now prevents a subcontractor from waiving a Miller Act payment bond claim prior to performing work.  Thus, if this case were decided today, the court likely would have stayed the Miller Act payment bond claim instead of dismissing it unless, of course, it was clear that the statute of limitations for pursuing a Miller Act payment bond claim would be tolled pending the exhaustion of the administrative remedies.

 

Similarly, in U.S. v. Dick/Morganti, 2007 WL 3231717 (N.D.Cal. 2007), the prime contractor and surety moved to stay a subcontractor’s payment bond claim based on the following subcontract language:

 

“If the Owner [GSA] and the Contractor [Dick/Morganti], pursuant to the General Contract or by agreement, submit any dispute, controversy, or claim between them to arbitration or some other dispute resolution procedure specified in the General Contract and such a matter involves or relates to a dispute, controversy, or claim between the Contractor and the Subcontractor, Subcontractor agrees …to stay any action filed by the Subcontractor until the dispute resolution and appeals process between the Contractor and the Owner is exhausted.”

 

The prime contractor argued it “intended” to submit a claim to the federal government [GSA] that will include the subcontractor’s amounts and, as such, the provision should operate to stay the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond claim.  The court agreed provided that the prime contractor did actually submit the claim.

 

Thus, a prime contractor should absolutely incorporate language in a subcontract consistent with the language in these decisions that reflects that any action filed by the subcontractor, including an action against the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond surety, will be stayed pending the complete resolution of any dispute resolution between the prime contractor and federal government that involves or includes the claims and amounts sought by the subcontractor. 

 

And a subcontractor, even if this language is included in the subcontract, should still move forward and timely file any Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.

 

 

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.

 

STAYING MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND LAWSUIT PENDING ARBITRATION

imagesIn a prior posting, I discussed how federal courts have discretion to stay a subcontractor’s lawsuit against a payment bond surety pending an arbitration between the subcontractor and general contractor.  This posting did not pertain to a Miller Act payment bond.  However, low and behold, this same rationale would apply to a subcontractor’s lawsuit against a Miller Act payment bond.

 

In U.S. f/u/b/o John Jamar Construction Services v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co. of America, 2015 WL 757858 (S.D.Tex. 2015), a subcontractor sued the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond.  The prime contractor countered that the subcontractor materially breached the subcontract causing it to terminate the subcontractor for default. 

 

The subcontract contained an arbitration provision and the prime contractor served an arbitration demand on the prime contractor.  The surety was not bound by the arbitration provision (as it was not a party to the subcontract) but moved to stay the Miller Act lawsuit pending the outcome of the arbitration between the prime contrator and subcontractor.  The federal district court agreed with the surety and stayed the litigation because the factual and legal issues between the prime contractor and subcontractor substantially overlapped with the subcontractor’s claims against the Miller Act payment bond surety.

 

Accordingly, if you are a prime contractor and involved in a dispute with a subcontractor where your subcontract contains an arbitration provision–such as in this case where the prime contractor terminated the subcontractor for default–there is little downside in demanding arbitration pursuant to the subcontract.  If the subcontractor initiates a Miller Act lawsuit, there is authority that the lawsuit will be stayed pending the outcome of the arbitration.

 

Conversely, if you are a subcontractor and involved in a dispute with a prime contractor where your subcontract contains an arbitration provision, there is upside in moving forward with the Miller Act lawsuit to ensure the lawsuit is filed within the one-year limitations period.  However, if there is concern the prime contractor will move to demand arbitration under the subcontract (as a means to stay the Miller Act litigation), you may want to consider simultaneously moving to demand arbitration against the prime contractor to preserve your status as the claimant (plaintiff) in the arbitration.

 

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.

 

 

 

CHART SUMMARIZING ENFORCEMENT OF CONSTRUCTION LIEN AND PAYMENT BOND RIGHTS

Previously, I included a chart that summarizes the preliminary notice requirements for construction liens and payment bonds in Florida.  This chart focuses on steps a potential lienor / claimant must undertake to preserve lien or payment bond rights.

 

Now that the lienor / claimant preserved its rights to record a lien or pursue a claim against the payment bond, what are the next steps to undertake if in fact that lienor is owed money?  To follow-up on this preliminary notice chart is a chart that summarizes these next steps of enforcing the lienor’s / claimant’s rights against the real property (in the case of a lien) or the payment bond.

 

Download (PDF, 281KB)

 

 

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.

CHART SUMMARIZING PRELIMINARY NOTICE REQUIREMENTS FOR LIENS AND PAYMENT BONDS

In previous articles, I discussed preliminary notice requirements to properly preserve construction liens and payment bonds on private projects, payment bonds on public projects, and public payments bonds for Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) projects.  Now, how about a chart that assists in summarizing this information:

 

[ws_table id=”1″]

 

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.

RECORDING THE NOTICE OF BOND TO TRANSFER THE CONSTRUCTION LIEN TO THE PAYMENT BOND

imagesIf a contractor furnishes a payment bond for a private project (per Florida Statute s. 713.23), a copy of that bond should be recorded with the Notice of Commencement recorded in the official records of the county where the project is located. A contractor furnishes a payment bond on a private project in order to exempt the owner’s real property from construction liens.

 
There are times, though, where a subcontractor or a supplier will still go ahead and record a lien against the owner’s real property even though there is a payment bond that was recorded with the Notice of Commencement. This is a frustrating scenario because the point of paying for the payment bond and furnishing the bond is to prevent this very scenario from occurring. No worries, however, because Florida’s Lien Law efficiently addresses this scenario by allowing the contractor or owner to record in the official records and serve on the lienor a verified Notice of Bond (attaching a copy of the payment bond) that will operate to transfer the lien to the payment bond. Fla. Stat. s. 713.23(2). A copy of the Notice of Bond form is provided below.

 
Moreover, this Notice of Bond procedure would apply even if the contractor furnished a payment bond, but for whatever reason, that payment bond was not recorded with the Notice of Commencement. When this happens, and it does happen, the subcontractor or supplier may honestly not know that the contractor actually furnished a payment bond and will move forward and record a lien. Again, no worries, because the contractor or owner should implement the same procedure by recording and serving the lienor with a Notice of Bond. Every lien recorded AFTER the execution and delivery of the payment bond will be transferred to the payment bond through the recording of the Notice of Bond (attaching a copy of the payment bond).

 

Now, if the contractor did NOT furnish a payment bond BEFORE the lien was recorded, the contractor could move to transfer the lien to a lien transfer bond pursuant to Florida Statute s. 713.24. This is different than a payment bond. The lien transfer bond is simply a mechanism where a contractor through a statutory procedure procures and records a lien transfer bond that is designed to transfer a specific lien to the security of the bond. (When a contractor procures a lien transfer bond, the bond must be for the principal amount of the lien, plus the greater of $1,000 or 25% of the principal amount to cover potential attorney’s fees and court costs, plus three years worth of interest on the principal amount at the prevailing statutory rate.)

 

 

NOTICE OF BOND

To (Name and Address of Lienor)
You are notified that the claim of lien filed by you on ___, ___, and recorded in Official Records Book ___ at page ___ of the public records of ___ County, Florida, is secured by a bond, a copy being attached.
Signed: (Name of person recording notice)

 

 

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.

MILLER ACT AND TIMELY SERVING NOTICE OF NON-PAYMENT WITHIN 90 DAYS OF LAST FURNISHING

images-1Federal district courts interpreting the Miller Act provide value to those prime contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and sub-subcontractors that work on federal construction projects, even if the decisions and projects are outside of Florida.

 

Remember, the Miller Act requires sub-subcontractors and suppliers in direct contract with a subcontractor but that have no contractual relationship with the prime contractor to serve a notice of non-payment to the prime contractor within 90 days from their last furnishing of labor or materials to the subcontractor.   Failure to provide this notice will result in a very strong defense from the prime contractor and surety that the supplier or sub-subcontractor has NO Miller Act payment bond rights.  Do not…let me repeat, do not…put yourself in this position if you are a supplier or sub-subcontractor on a federal project.  And, if you are a prime contractor or surety defending a Miller Act payment bond claim from a sub-subcontractor or supplier, analyze whether the claimant timely served its notice of non-payment within 90 days from its last furnishing to the subcontractor.

 

For example, in U.S. ex rel. Sun Coast Contracting Services, LLC v. DQSI, LLC, 2014 WL 5431373 (M.D.La. 2014), a sub-subcontractor initiated a Miller Act payment bond claim.  But–and this is a big but–the sub-subcontractor could not dispute the fact that it independently failed to serve a notice of non-payment within 90 days from its last furnishing to the subcontractor that hired it.   Instead, the sub-subcontractor argued that a notice of non-payment from the subcontractor to the prime contractor served as its notice since it included amounts the subcontractor owed to it.  Yet, the letter that the sub-subcontractor relied on never mentioned the sub-subcontractor or the amount the subcontractor owed to the sub-subcontractor.  Therefore, it was easy for the federal district court to conclude that the sub-subcontractor had NO Miller Act payment bond rights:

 

Beyond SCCS’s [subcontractors] letter, whose content did not even allude to the existence of a claim by Plaintiff [sub-subcontractor], Plaintiff has not put forth any assertion that it communicated its claim to DQSI [prime contractor] within ninety days after the date of Plaintiffs last performance on the project. By failing to provide proper notice according to statutory requirements, Plaintiff has no right to sue Defendants DQSI or Western Surety under the Miller Act.

Sun Coast Contracting Services, LLC, supra, at *4.

 

While federal courts liberally construe the method of service of the notice of non-payment from the supplier or sub-subcontractor to the prime contractor, it really should never get to this point as it simply gives the prime contractor and surety a legitimate defense to a Miller Act claim.  If you are a supplier or sub-subcontractor, do NOT deal with this unnecessary headache.  Properly preserve your Miller Act payment bond rights.  On the other hand, if you are a prime contractor or surety, you should absolutely explore whether the Miller Act payment bond claimant properly preserved its payment bond rights and, if not, defend the claim based on this failure.

 

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.

 

MILLER ACT TIME

UnknownIf you are a subcontractor or a sub-subcontractor / supplier in direct privity of contract with a subcontractor on a federal project, you NEED to know your Miller Act payment bond rights.  Why?  Because the payment bond is designed to protect YOUR interests as a mechanism to insure non-payment.

 

Sub-subcontractors and suppliers in direct privity of contract with a subcontractor MUST serve the prime contractor within 90 days of their final furnishing date a notice of non-payment stating “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 [e.g., the subcontractor].”  40 USC 3133(b)(2).  Please do not neglect this all-important initial step in preserving a Miller Act payment bond claim.  The notice should be served from the final furnishing of labor or materials exclusive of punchlist or warranty / corrective work.  (Notably, subcontractors in direct privity of contract with the prime contractor do not need to serve this notice of non-payment on the prime contractor.)

 

 

In U.S. f/u/b/o Butler Supply, Inc. v. Power & Data, LLC, 2014 WL 4913421 (E.D.Miss. 2014), a supplier furnished electrical materials to an electrical subcontractor working on a federal project.  Due to non-payment, the supplier sued the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond.   The prime contractor argued that the supplier is not a valid Miller Act payment bond claimant because it did not have a direct contract with the supplier.  The federal district court dismissed this argument because the electrical subcontractor signed a credit application and corresponding personal guaranty that served as the basis of a direct contract between the supplier and subcontractor. To this point, the federal district court expressed, “[S]eparate order of materials under an open account or credit basis, typically represented in purchase orders or invoices, satisfy the [Miller] Act’s underlying contract requirement.”  Butler Supply, supra, at *3.

 

Next, the prime contractor argued that the supplier did not timely serve its written notice of non-payment within 90-days of final furnishing because the supplier could not prove that the materials were delivered to the job. The federal district court dismissed this argument too since actual delivery or incorporation of materials into a federal project is immaterial with respect to a supplier’s Miller Act rights.  What is material is the “supplier’s good faith belief that the materials were intended for the specified work [project].”  Butler Supply, supra, at *4 (internal quotation and citation omitted).   In this instance, the supplier submitted invoices showing the material furnished, the price of the material, the name and location of the project, and delivery tickets showing the materials were signed by the subcontractor.

 

In Butler Supply, the federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the supplier’s Miller Act claims dismissing the prime contractor’s arguments.  Although this ruling it outside of Florida, the same result should be achieved in a Miller Act suit in Florida.   The key is to (a) establish a direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor and (b) establish your final furnishing date with documentary evidence (since you can expect the prime contractor to challenge the timeliness of the written notice of non-payment).  In Butler Supply, the supplier relied on a credit application (and subsequently submitted invoices), which is a routine document required by suppliers, especially suppliers that furnish material on credit or through an open account.   And, the supplier relied on invoices and delivery tickets reflecting its final furnishing date and that it had a good faith belief the materials furnished would be utilized on 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.

SURETY BONDING – THE NUTS & BOLTS

images-2Surety bonding is necessary in construction, particularly on federal and Florida public projects where the contractor is required to furnish a payment and performance bond.  Even certain owners of large-scale private projects want their contractor to obtain a payment and performance bond.  Understanding the nuts and bolts of surety bonding is valuable for the contractor that wants to increase job opportunities and/or increase their bonding capacity.

 

 

There are three main parties to the surety bond:

 

1. The surety– the entity (typically, a division of an insurance company) that issues the payment or performance bond for the contract price; the surety guarantees obligations on behalf of its principal, whether it is the performance of the contract (performance bond) or the payment to those entities working under the contractor providing labor, services, or materials (payment bond)

 

2. The principal – the entity (contractor) that procured the bond from the surety and who the surety is issuing the bond on behalf of; the principal along with personal and corporate guarantors will execute a General Agreement of Indemnity before the bond is issued outlining the rights and remedies of the principal/guarantors and the surety

 

3. The obligee – the entity (or entities) that can make a claim against the bond and who the bond is ultimately designed to benefit

 

Not every contactor can get a payment and performance bond.  This means that not every contractor can perform public work that requires a bid bond to be furnished with the bid/proposal and then a payment and performance bond upon the award of the contract.  This is because sureties undertake rigorous underwriting to best assess their risk before issuing bonds. And, many contractors, even if bonds are issued, will have a bonding capacity meaning the surety will not issue an unlimited dollar amount for the bond(s) issued or will not issue an unlimited number of project bonds at the same time. Rather, it will issue a bond or bonds totaling the bonding capacity of the contractor.

 

To obtain a bond, a contractor will go to a surety bond agent/broker, commonly referred to as the producer.  The producer represents select sureties.  Certain sureties cater to certain market niches or contractors and the producer tries to fit the contractor with the surety that best fits the needs, strengths, and qualifications of the contractor. The producer will work with the contractor to fill out required forms and review and collect the material and information that will be needed by the surety in the underwriting process. As a contractor, it is important to develop a strong relationship with a producer that understands your construction business and capabilities and can assist you with obtaining bonding capacity.

 

images-3In the underwriting process, the surety will want to determine the financial strength, creditworthiness, and condition of the contractor by analyzing extensive financial documentation along with the contractor’s operational ability to perform a contract based on the contractor’s history, equipment, personnel, etc.  Underwriting needs to obtain and assess financial and operational material to best assess the surety’s risk (based on the surety’s appetite or market) because if the surety has to pay out a claim on the bond it will absolutely be looking to recoup the costs it incurs from the bond principal as well as the guarantors that executed the General Agreement of Indemnity.  Among other things, the surety will run a credit check for the principal and likely the owners/guarantors; will analyze balance sheets, income statements, and other financial information to understand the contractor’s cash flow, working capital, net worth, and profitability history and forecasts; will want to know of judgments and lawsuits; will likely contact references; and will want to specifically understand past projects completed and current projects underway, including the project in which the bond is being requested, from an estimating and accounting standpoint, personnel and management standpoint, insurance standpoint, and possibly a scheduling standpoint.  The surety will do its homework because the very last thing a surety wants to do is pay a claim or expose itself to massive liability with a bond claim from a contractor that failed to pay its subcontractors or abandoned a job without any true recourse to recoup money expended.  The surety will consider the personal and corporate guarantors it requires from a contractual indemnity standpoint per the General Agreement of Indemnity and may require cash collateral or property collateral to be pledged for underwriting approval.   Again, developing the relationship with the producer that understands your business is crucial as the producer will understand the underwriting process and facilitate the transmission of information and material between the contractor and the surety.

 

 

The surety charges a premium for the issuance of the bond.  Payment and performance bonds are often single premium bonds.  Depending on the producer you ask, the premiums typically range from 1-3% of the bond amount.   Naturally, there are contractors that will have to pay in excess of 3% of the bond amount based on the associated credit risk with issuing the bond.

 

Once underwriting runs its course and the contractor is approved for the requested bonds, the producer typically signs the bonds on behalf of the surety.  The producer is given a power-of-attorney to sign bonds as an attorney-in-fact on behalf of the surety.

 

 

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.