A recent Miller Act payment bond decision out of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. f/u/b/o Civil Construction, LLC v. Hirani Engineering & Land Surveying, PC, 58 F.4th 1250 (D.C. Circ. 2023), dealt with the issue of whether a subcontractor’s superintendent constitutes recoverable “labor” within the meaning of the Miller Act and compensable as a cost under the Miller Act that typically views labor as on-site physical labor.
The issue is that the Miller Act covers “[e]very person that has furnished labor or material in carrying out work provided for in a contract.” Civil Construction, supra, at 1253 quoting 40 U.S.C. s. 3133(b)(1). The Miller Act does not define labor. The subcontractor claimed labor includes actual superintending at the job site. The surety disagreed that a superintendent’s presence on a job site constitutes labor as the superintendent has to actually perform physical labor on the job site to constitute compensable labor under the Miller Act.
The subcontractor argued its subcontract and the government’s quality control standards required detailed daily reports that verified manpower, equipment, and work performed at the job site. It further claimed its superintendent had to continuously supervise and inspect construction activities on-site: “[the] superintendent had to be on-site to account for, among other things, hours worked by crew members, usage and standby hours for each piece of equipment, materials delivered, weather throughout the day, and all work performed. These on-site responsibilities reflected the government’s quality control standards, under which the superintendent as ‘the most senior site manager at the project, is responsible for the overall construction activities at the site…includ[ing] all quality, workmanship, and production of crews and equipment.” Civil Construction, supra, at 1253-54.
The DC Circuit Court of Appeals, importantly, looked at how other appellate courts analyzed this issue:
Other courts have taken into account the nature of a superintendent’s oversight responsibilities in concluding that a superintendent’s cost was compensable “labor.” Referencing the trend in other courts, the Eighth Circuit concluded that “the on-site supervisory work of a project manager falls within the purview of the Miller Act if such a superintendent did some physical labor at the job site or might have been called upon to do some on-site manual work in the regular course of his job.” That is,“only 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.’ ” The Eighth Circuit acknowledged that the term labor generally includes physical rather than professional work but distinguished those professionals who superintend on-site as performing labor.
Civil Construction, supra, at 1254 (internal citations omitted).
Based on this, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, reviewing this issue for the first time, held: “Given that the construction work at issue had to be supervised and inspected for conformance with the subcontract and other requirements, such as government quality control standards, the superintendent’s on-site supervisory work constitutes “labor” within the meaning of the Miller Act.” Civil Construction, supra, at 1254.
If confronted with this issue as to the recovery of an analogous labor cost under a Miller Act payment bond claim, do exactly what the subcontractor did which is to tie the actual superintending, i.e., supervision, to the requirement of the subcontract itself including incorporated documents.
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