Under the Miller Act, a claim against a Miller Act payment bond must be commenced “no later than one year after the date on which the last of the labor was performed or material was supplied by the person bringing the action.” 40 U.S.C. s. 3133(b)(4). Stated another way, a claimant must file its lawsuit against the Miller Act payment bond within one year from its final furnishing on the project.
Filing a lawsuit too late, i.e., outside of the one-year statute of limitations, will be fatal to a Miller Act payment bond claim. This was the outcome in Diamond Services Corp. v. Travelers Casualty & Surety Company of America, 2022 WL 4990416 (5th Cir. 2022) where a claimant filed a Miller Act payment bond lawsuit four days late. That four days proved to be fatal to its Miller Act payment bond claim and lawsuit. Do not let this happen to you!
In Diamond Services Corp., the claimant submitted a claim to the Miller Act payment bond surety. The surety issued a claim form to the claimant that requested additional information. The claimant returned the surety’s claim form. The surety denied the claim a year and a couple of days after the claimant’s final furnishing. The claimant immediately filed its payment bond lawsuit four days after the year expired. The claimant argued that the surety should be equitably estopped from asserting the statute of limitations in light of the surety’s letter requesting additional information. (The claimant was basically arguing that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled.) The trial court dismissed the Miller Act payment bond claim finding it was barred by the one-year statute of limitations and that equitable estoppel did not apply.
On appeal, the Fifth Circuit maintained that a party must show it was misled to its detriment when relying on equitable estoppel. The Fifth Circuit held the surety’s letter with its claim form and requesting additional information “made no representations that [the claimant] would be paid or that [the surety] would engage in claim negotiations with [the claimant], and explicitly reserved ‘all rights and defenses…include[ing], without limitation, defenses that may be available under any applicable notice and suit limitation provisions.’” Diamond Services Corp., supra. Hence, it was not reasonable for the claimant to rely on this letter in electing not to timely bring suit within the one-year statute of limitations.
Sureties, as a matter of course, will respond to its receipt of a claim requesting additional information. That letter may accompany the surety’s preferred claim form. Let’s be clear here. The completion of the claim form and furnishing of additional information is not a statutory requirement to pursue a Miller Act payment bond claim (and it’s not a statutory requirement to many statutory bonds). Whether the claim form is submitted, or whether additional information is furnished, does not equate to a surety paying a claim. It just does not. For this reason, there should NEVER be an instance where a claimant forbears its rights to timely sue thinking a surety will pay the claim based on the submission of a claim form or additional information.
Timely file your Miller Act payment bond lawsuit within the one-year statute of limitations. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is true whether you submit a claim form or additional information or you do not.
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