DELAY, DELAY AND MORE DELAY! EXCUSABLE OR NON-EXCUSABLE?

imagesThe word “delay” is an all too familiar word utilized during construction because it is not remotely uncommon for a construction project to experience delays.  While contractors never want a delay to actually happen because time is money, delays unfortunately do happen as construction schedules are not written in stone.

 

There are two types of delay: (1) non-excusable delay (or inexcusable delay) and (2) excusable delay.

 

Non-excusable delay is the type of delay that contractors never want to hear.  This is the delay solely caused by them and may trigger the owner’s assessment of liquidated damages.  Not only this, but this type of delay will not entitle the contractor to additional time or compensation.  Why? Because again, the delay was caused by the contractor, hence the reason why it is the type of delay a contractor never wants to hear!

 

Excusable delay is not the fault of the contractor and is the type delay that will entitle the contractor to additional time, additional compensation, or both.  Excusable delay is further broken down into (a) compensable, excusable delay (entitling the contractor to additional compensation and time) and (b) non-compensable, excusable delay (entitling the contractor to additional time, but not additional compensation).

 

Excusable, compensable delay is a delay solely caused by the owner or its consultants and is not caused by the contractor.  This is the good type of delay in the sense that it should entitle the contractor to additional time to substantially complete the project and, based upon the contract, additional compensation in the form of extended general conditions.  This type of delay could be the result of owner-directed changes, differing site conditions, design revisions, suspension of performance, i.e., actions that are outside of the contractor’s control but within the owner and its agents’ control.

 

Excusable, non-compensable delay, on the other hand, is typically your force majeure delay including unusually severe weather conditions, fire, or labor strikes—these are the types of delay that are beyond any parties’ control in the construction process, which is why the contractor would be entitled to additional time, but not additional money.

 

The contractor claiming excusable delay has the burden of proving the delaySee R.P. Wallace, Inc. v. U.S., 63 Fed.Cl. 402, 409 (Fed.Cir. 2004) (“The contractor must prove that the excusable event proximately caused a delay to the overall completion of the contract, i.e., that the delay affected activities on the critical path.”).  For this reason, it is important that the contractor well-document the cause of the delay including how the delay impacted its critical path, and provide timely notice under the contract regarding the event causing the delay.

 

Now, construction contracts contain may contain a “no damage for delay” clause that is designed to prevent the contractor from being entitled to extended general conditions for excusable, compensable delay.  Basically, if there is an excusable delay, the contractor’s sole and exclusive remedy is an extension of time and not extended general conditions.  The “no damage for delay” provision is enforceable in many jurisdictions.  While there are certain recognized exceptions to the application of an enforceable “no damage for delay” provision (e.g., fraud, active interference), a contractor agreeing to such a provision certainly cannot operate on the premise that it will argue around it in the event of an excusable, compensable delay.  Rather, the contractor needs to operate on the premise that it is assuming a certain risk that a delay could be caused by the owner or the owner’s agents and the contractor’s sole remedy for the delay is more time to substantially complete the project.

 

The objective for any contractor is to understand what the legal implications and consequences are for delays on a construction project, whether an excusable delay or non-excusable delay.  Some tidbits for contractors to absolutely consider on the front-end and prior to the execution of the contract include:

 

  • Does the contract define excusable delay that would entitle the contractor to additional time and/or money?  For instance, in government contracting, the prime contract may incorporate Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.249.10 and 52.249.14 regarding excusable delay, as set forth below.
  • Is there a “no-damage-for-delay” provision in the contract?
  • What are the notice provisions to ensure the contractor is timely providing notice for the cause of the delaying event? Notice should always be given even if the full impact of the delay is unknown. Many contracts contain onerous language that if notice is not given with “x” number of days after the delaying event, the contractor waives any and all claims for delay.  Watch out for this!
  • Does the contractor have appropriate language in its subcontracts that will enable it to flow-down damages associated with non-excusable delay (the owner’s assessment of liquidated damages and the contractor’s own extended general conditions)?
  • Does the contractor have an experienced scheduling consultant or scheduler that can capture the delaying event to show the event impacted the critical path?

 

 

52.249-10    Default (Fixed–Price Construction) (APR 1984)

(a) If the Contractor refuses or fails to prosecute the work or any separable part, with the diligence that will insure its completion within the time specified in this contract including any extension, or fails to complete the work within this time, the Government may, by written notice to the Contractor, terminate the right to proceed with the work (or the separable part of the work) that has been delayed. In this event, the Government may take over the work and complete it by contract or otherwise, and may take possession of and use any materials, appliances, and plant on the work site necessary for completing the work. The Contractor and its sureties shall be liable for any damage to the Government resulting from the Contractor’s refusal or failure to complete the work within the specified time, whether or not the Contractor’s right to proceed with the work is terminated. This liability includes any increased costs incurred by the Government in completing the work.

(b) The Contractor’s right to proceed shall not be terminated nor the Contractor charged with damages under this clause, if–

(1) The delay in completing the work arises from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor. Examples of such causes include (i) acts of God or of the public enemy, (ii) acts of the Government in either its sovereign or contractual capacity, (iii) acts of another Contractor in the performance of a contract with the Government, (iv) fires, (v) floods, (vi) epidemics, (vii) quarantine restrictions, (viii) strikes, (ix) freight embargoes, (x) unusually severe weather, or (xi) delays of subcontractors or suppliers at any tier arising from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of both the Contractor and the subcontractors or suppliers; and

(2) The Contractor, within 10 days from the beginning of any delay (unless extended by the Contracting Officer), notifies the Contracting Officer in writing of the causes of delay. The Contracting Officer shall ascertain the facts and the extent of delay. If, in the judgment of the Contracting Officer, the findings of fact warrant such action, the time for completing the work shall be extended. The findings of the Contracting Officer shall be final and conclusive on the parties, but subject to appeal under the Disputes clause.

(c) If, after termination of the Contractor’s right to proceed, it is determined that the Contractor was not in default, or that the delay was excusable, the rights and obligations of the parties will be the same as if the termination had been issued for the convenience of the Government.

(d) The rights and remedies of the Government in this clause are in addition to any other rights and remedies provided by law or under this contract.

See also F.A.R. 52.249-14 (regarding bolded language).

 

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.

CONVERTING THE DREADFUL TERMINATION FOR DEFAULT INTO A TERMINATION FOR CONVENIENCE

images-1Contractors, whether prime contractors or subcontractors, terminated for default (also known as termination for cause) want to convert that termination for default into a termination for convenience.   The termination for default ultimately means the contractor materially breached the contract and would be liable for any cost overrun associated with completing their contractual scope of work.  On the other hand, if the termination for default is converted into a termination for convenience, the contractor would be entitled to get paid for the work performed through the termination along with reasonable profit on the work performed and, depending on the contract, reasonable anticipatory profit on the work NOT performed.  A huge difference and the fundamental reason contractors terminated for default should aim to convert that termination for default into a termination for convenience!

 

Under the Federal Acquisition Regulations, contractors terminated for convenience may recover reasonable profit on work performed, but NOT profit for work not performed.  (See F.A.R. s. 52.249-2 and 49.202)

 

But, under the standard AIA A201 General Conditions, if an owner terminates a general contractor for convenience, “the Contractor shall be entitled to receive payment for Work executed, and costs incurred by reason of such termination, along with reasonable overhead and profit on the Work not executed.”  (See AIA A201, para. 14.4.3)

 

Yet, under the ConsensusDocs 200, “If the Owner terminates this Agreement for Convenience, the Constructor shall be paid: (a) for the Work performed to date including Overhead and profit; and (b) for all demobilization costs and costs incurred as a result of the termination but not including Overhead or profit on Work not performed.” (See Consensus Docs, 200, para. 11.4.2)

 

As reflected above, a contractual provision will dictate the costs recoverable when there is a termination for convenience.  The AIA A201 General Conditions is favorable to a contractor by providing for reasonable overhead and profit on the work not executed.  Whether reasonable  profit on work not performed is recoverable, the objective should always be converting that termination for default into one for convenience so that at least the contractor can recover for work performed and profit on the work performed along with other associated termination costs that the contract may provide.

 

When a party is terminated for default, the key issues that will arise will typically be: (a) whether the termination for default was proper, i.e., whether the terminating party procedurally complied with the termination for default provision in the contract, (b) whether the cause or default was material and rose to the level of constituting a default termination, and (c) converting the termination for default into a termination for convenience and the recoverable costs pursuant to the termination for convenience provision in the contract.  Again, a termination for default will likely mean that the terminated party owes the terminating party money associated with the overrun for completing their scope of work.  A termination for convenience, on the other hand, will likely mean that the terminated party is owed money for work it performed irrespective of any overrun experienced by the terminating party.

 

 

imagesA recent ruling in U.S.A. f/u/b/o Ragghianti Foundations III, LLC v. Peter R. Brown Construction, Inc., 2014 WL 4791999 (M.D.Fla. 2014), illustrates a dispute between a prime contractor and a subcontractor on a federal project after the prime contractor default terminated the subcontractor.   The prime contractor hired a subcontractor to construct the foundation, slab on grade, and site concrete.  As the subcontractor was pouring the slab on grade concrete, it was determined that there were deficiencies in the concrete.  The prime contractor sent the subcontractor notice under the subcontract regarding the deficiencies and that the subcontractor needed to provide an action plan prior to future concrete placement. Although the subcontractor responded with a plan including when it was going to demolish the defective portion of the slab, it failed to live up to its own recovery schedule.  Accordingly, the prime contractor terminated the subcontractor for default and incurred costs well in excess of the subcontractor’s original subcontract amount to complete the subcontractor’s scope of work.  The subcontractor filed suit against the prime contractor and its Miller Act surety and the prime contractor counter-claimed against the subcontractor.

 

 

There were numerous interesting issues raised in this case.  This article will only touch upon a couple of the legal issues. The first issue was whether the prime contractor properly terminated the subcontractor for default pursuant to the subcontract; if not, the termination should be deemed a termination for convenience.  The Court found that the termination was procedurally proper, but declined to determine whether the termination was wrongful, perhaps because the Court determined that once the termination for default was properly implemented pursuant to the subcontract there was no reason to delve into any further analysis.  In other words, once the prime contractor procedurally, properly terminated the subcontractor for default pursuant to the subcontract, it appeared irrelevant whether the cause forming the basis of the default was material.   This implication is certainly beneficial for the prime contractor and it is uncertain why the Court did not entertain the argument as to whether the procedurally proper termination was wrongful.   This determination would seem important because if the termination was wrongful, the terminating contractor would be responsible for its own cost overrun in addition to the costs incurred by the terminated subcontractor.  Although, in this case, by the Court finding that the termination for default was procedurally proper, the Court seemed to recognize that there was cause supporting the implementation of the termination for default; otherwise, the termination for default would not have been procedurally proper.

 

The next issue discussed in this case pertained to recoverable delay-type damages under the Miller Act.  The Court expressed:

 

A Miller Act plaintiff is entitled to recover under the bond the out-of-pocket labor and expenses attributable to delays. 

***

[A] damage claim against a surety that does not flow directly and immediately from actual performance [of its agreement] is barred by the Miller Act….A subcontractor cannot recover on a Miller Act payment bond for the cost of labor and materials provided after the termination of work under a government construction project, and cannot recover profits on out-of-pocket expenditures attributable to delay.

Ragghianti Foundations, supra, at *18, 19 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

What does this mean?  This means that a subcontractor is not entitled to recover against a Miller Act surety:  (a) anticipated lost profits on work not performed, (b) delay-related costs that do not flow directly and immediately from actual performance under the subcontract, (c) profit on delay-related costs, and (d) costs incurred after the termination of the work.  These are all categories of damages that are applicable to a terminated subcontractor that it will NOT be able to recover against a Miller Act surety.  This is important because if a subcontractor is looking to capitalize on its damages for converting a termination for default into one of convenience, it may want to sue the terminating contractor so that it is not leaving any damages on the table by only suing the Miller Act 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.

 

 

HOME OFFICE OVERHEAD (EICHLEAY) AND GOVERNMENT-CAUSED STANDBY

images-1JMR Construction Corp. v. United States, 2014 WL 3418445 (Fed.Cl. 2014) is a good federal government contracting case discussing a prime contractor’s challenging burden to support unabsorbed home office overhead damages caused by a government-caused delay.  The United States Court of Federal Claims described unabsorbed home office overhead damages and the required elements (under the Eichleay methodology) for a prime contractor to prove these damages:

 

The term “home office overhead” refers to the general administration costs of running a business, such as accounting and payroll services, general insurance, salaries of upper-level management, heat, electricity, taxes, and depreciation. These are indirect costs, expended for the benefit of the whole business, [and thus] by their nature cannot be attributed or charged to any particular contract.

***

Contractors typically recoup these indirect costs by allocating them to individual contracts in proportion to those contracts’ direct costs. But, in the event of a government-caused delay or suspension of work, the stream of direct costs against which to assess a percentage [of home office overhead] is decreased. The resulting shortfall is termed unabsorbed home office overhead.

***

The Circuit has held that the so-called Eichleay formula is the sole method through which contractors are able to recover unabsorbed home office overhead. The Eichleay formula requires that contractors satisfy several strict prerequisites. First, the contractor must demonstrate that there was a government-caused delay not excused by a concurrent contractor-caused delay. Second, the contractor must show that it incurred additional overhead expenses, either because the contract’s performance period was extended or because the contractor would have finished prior to the un-extended performance period’s close. Third, the contractor must establish that it was required to remain on standby for the duration of the delay. [Standby does not require the prime contractor to prove that it was completely idle but that its work was significantly slowed such that it was performing minor tasks.]

***

In order to establish standby, contractors must demonstrate three things. First, the contractor must show that the government caused delay was not only substantial but was of an indefinite duration. Second, the contractor must demonstrate that, during the delay, it was required to return to work at full speed and immediately [once the suspension period is over.  If the prime contractor is given a reasonable period of time to remobilize after the suspension is lifted, it will not be able to satisfy this requirement]. Third, the contractor must show a suspension of most if not all of the contract work. If the contracting officer has issued a written stop work order proving these elements the contractor can utilize that order to provide direct evidence of standby. Otherwise, these elements can be proven through indirect evidence.

***

If the contractor can make a prima facie showing of the standby elements, the burden of production shifts to the government to show either that it was not impractical for the contractor to obtain replacement work during the delay, or that the contractor’s inability to obtain or perform replacement work was caused by a factor other than the government’s delay.

JMR Construction, supra, at *5-7 (internal quotations and citations omitted); see also P.J. Dick, Inc. v. Principi, 324 F.3d 1364 (Fed.Cir. 2003) (finding that contractor could not support claim for unabsorbed home office overhead as it could not support it was on standby).

 

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals summarized these requirements by the following questions:

 

In short, a court evaluating a contractor’s claim for Eichleay damages should ask the following questions: (1) was there a government-caused delay that was not concurrent with another delay caused by some other source; (2) did the contractor demonstrate that it incurred additional overhead…; (3) did the government CO [contracting officer] issue a suspension or other order expressly putting the contractor on standby; (4) if not, can the contractor prove there was a delay of indefinite duration during which it could not bill substantial amounts of work on the contract and at the end of which it was required to be able to return to work on the contract at full speed and immediately; (5) can the government satisfy its burden of production showing that it was not impractical for the contractor to take on replacement work (i.e., a new contract) and thereby mitigate its damages; and (6) if the government meets its burden of production, can the contractor satisfy its burden of persuasion that it was impractical for it to obtain sufficient replacement work. Only where the above exacting requirements can be satisfied will a contractor be entitled to Eichleay damages.

P.J. Dick, Inc. v. Principi, 324 F.3d 1364, 1373 (Fed.Cir. 2003).

 

In JMR Construction, the prime contractor was hired to build an aircraft maintenance facility.  The prime contractor sued the government pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act for government-caused delays. The period of delay the prime contractor was seeking to recover damages for was January 16, 2009 (day after the government occupied the facility) through September 4, 2009 (completion).

 

 

The government took occupancy of the facility on January 15, 2009.  The prime contractor continued to perform work after this date, although its workforce slowed down.   On February 3, 2009, the prime contractor demobilized its jobsite trailer and was finishing the balance of its work including the manufacturing and installation of a permanent power converter and the installation of ceiling lights in one of the rooms.  Temporary stopgap measures had been implemented to address these electrical issues that likely allowed the government to utilize the facility.

 

The government moved for summary judgment as to the prime contractor’s entitlement to unabsorbed home office overhead damages. The Court broke the prime contractor’s unabsorbed home office overhead claim into two discrete periods: (1) January 16, 2009 (day after the government took occupancy) to February 3, 2009 (when the contractor demobilized jobsite trailer) and (2) February 4, 2009 to September 4, 2009 (period when the permanent power and room lighting were being installed).  Because the contracting officer never issued a standby notice, the prime contractor had the burden to prove by indirect evidence the factors (referenced above) supporting its entitlement to unabsorbed home office overhead.

 

First Period: 1/16/09-2/3/09

 

The Court did not grant summary judgment during this period because there was a disputed issue of fact as to materiality of the work the prime contractor was performing during this time period.  The prime contractor contended the work it was performing was minor whereas the government contended the work was material. If the work is deemed material (or more than just minor tasks) the prime contractor’s unabsorbed home office overhead claim will fail since it was never on standby or suspended.  If it was minor, the prime contractor would still need to prove the elements of standby. Although the Court declined to grant summary judgment based on this disputed factual issue, it seems from the Court’s ruling during the second time period (below) that the prime contractor will have difficulty proving the elements of standby.

 

Second Period: 2/4/09-9/4/09

 

The Court granted summary judgment on the prime contractor’s claim for unabsorbed home office overhead during this period because the prime contractor could NOT prove the elements of standby. In particular, the prime contractor could not prove it was required to resume work at full speed and immediately once the “suspension period” was over.  The prime contractor did not appear to maintain any personnel or equipment on site during this period that eliminated any argument that it was required to return to work with any degree of urgency once the suspension was lifted.  The prime contractor also utilized a subcontractor to perform the incomplete electrical work, and the use of subcontractors can limit a prime contractor’s ability to prove standby since it was only monitoring the work and not actually required to return to work at all.  And last, temporary stopgap measures were implemented relating to the lighting that negated the time sensitivity of the remaining work meaning there was no urgency for the contractor to resume work immediately.

 

Eichleay-formulaFinally, even assuming the prime contractor could support its entitlement to unabsorbed home office overhead, the Court did not go into any discussion regarding the Eichleay formula–the specific formula utilized to determine the allocable unabsorbed home office overhead associated with a government-caused delay.  The objective of the Eichleay formula is to obtain a daily rate for the home office overhead allocated to the specific contract and multiply the daily rate by the number of delay days to determine the contractor’s unabsorbed home office overhead caused by the government’s delay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 – CONSIDERATIONS INVOLVING SUBCONTRACTOR WHEN GOVERNMENT ASSESSES LIQUIDATED DAMAGES

imagesPrime contractors and subcontractors that work on federal construction projects often find themselves in the garden variety payment dispute dealing with (1) entitlement and liability for additional work and  (2) project delays, especially when the government assesses liquidated damages. These issues can put the prime contractor in the undesirable position because it may not have been paid for the additional work items and the government may be assessing liquidated damages against the prime contractor for the delays.

 

The case of U.S. ex rel. W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor, Inc. v. Walbridge Aldinger Co., 2013 WL 5859456 (11th Cir. 2013), illustrates this garden variety construction payment dispute scenario between a subcontractor and prime contractor on a delayed federal project. This case involves a subcontractor asserting a Miller Act payment bond claim (pursuant to 40 U.S.C. s. 3133) against the prime contractor’s surety for unpaid retainage and additional work items, as well as a breach of contract claim against the prime contractor for the same amounts. The prime contractor argued that it was entitled to withhold payment from the subcontractor due to delays to the completion date of the project that the subcontractor was responsible for causing. In particular, the prime contractor was being assessed sizable liquidated damages from the government (Navy) and although it was appealing the liquidated damages exposure through the Contract Disputes Act, it wanted to offset monies that were owed to the subcontractor based on its potential liquidated damages exposure. The prime contractor relied on subcontract provisions that contained that “time is of the essence” as to the subcontractor’s performance; that it was entitled to withhold sums from the subcontractor for its breach of contract; and that the subcontractor may be liable for liquidated damages and other damages for causing delays in the progress of the project.

 

At the trial court level, the district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the subcontractor finding that the subcontractor was entitled to payment for the retainage and additional work. Attorneys‘ fees were also granted to the subcontractor.

 

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit first discussed the purpose of the Miller Act and what a party needs to do to assert a Miller Act claim:

 

The MIller Act protects subcontractors on federal projects by requiring contractors to post a bond to ensure payment to their subcontractors. To establish a Miller claim, W.W. Gay [subcontractor] must show (1) that it supplied labor and materials for work in the particular contract at issue; (2) that it is unpaid; (3) that it had a good faith belief that the materials were for the specified work; and (4) that jurisdictional requisites are met.” Walbridge Aldinger, 2013 WL at *1 (internal citations omitted).

 

Irrespective of favorable contractual provisions, the Eleventh Circuit held that the prime contractor “has failed to produce more than a ‘scintilla of evidence’ that W.W. Gay’s alleged delays resulted in the liquidated damages assessed against it by the Navy.” Walbridge Aldinger, 2013 WL at *2.  Although the prime contractor tried to rely on deposition testimony that correspondence was sent to the subcontractor regarding the delays, this was not proof that the subcontractor actually caused delays to the project. This is especially true because the prime contractor was also arguing that the Navy caused delays to the project, i.e., the likely reason it was appealing the liquidated damages assessment.

 

The Eleventh Circuit further analyzed the issue of whether the subcontractor was entitled to monies for additional work pertaining to re-routing an underground storm pipe. The Court found that the record reflected that when the subcontractor learned of the issue regarding the planned location of the storm pipe it notified the prime contractor and the prime contractor directed the subcontractor to install the pipe in the planned location. The prime contractor then waited six weeks before sending a request for information to the government and the government responded telling the prime contractor to re-route the pipe. The prime contractor then directed the subcontractor to re-route the pipe (through the constructive change directive provision or CCD provision in the subcontract). The subcontractor then notified the prime contractor that it expects to get paid for this work and the prime contractor indicated it would pay. The government, however, only paid for a fraction of the additional work item. For this reason, the prime contractor argued that even though it directed the extra work it was only responsible for paying the subcontractor the amount allowed by “applicable provisions” of the prime contract (agreement with the government). In support of this, the prime contractor relied on the following language in its subcontract:

 

Contractor may, without invalidating the Subcontract or any bond given hereunder, order extra and/or additional work, deletions, or other modifications to the Work, such changes to be effective only upon written order of Contractor. Any adjustment to the Subcontract Price or the time for completion of the Work shall be made in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Agreement between Owner and Contractor and the lump sum or unit prices set forth in Exhibit E or, in the absence of such provisions on an agreed, equitable basis. Notwithstanding any inability to agree upon any adjustment or the basis for an adjustment, Subcontractor shall, if directed by Contractor, nevertheless proceed in accordance with the order, and the Subcontract shall be adjusted as reasonably determined by the Contractor with any dispute to be resolved after the completion of the Work. If requested by the Contractor, the Subcontractor shall perform extra work on a time and material basis, and the Subcontract price shall be adjusted based on time records and materials checked by the Contractor on a daily basis.”

 

Yet, the prime contractor never advised what “applicable provisions” of the prime contract supported its argument. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit maintained that the subcontractor should be entitled to be paid for its work on a time and materials basis based on time sheets per the very provision the prime contractor relied upon. Notably, the Eleventh Circuit minimized the significance of the contractual language by stating:

 

“Even assuming that the interpretation of the contract raises issues of material fact, Walbridge is still liable, as the district court found, under the duty of good faith and fair dealing implied in all contracts. Walbridge ordered W.W. Gay to install the storm pipe despite the problem that W.W. Gay had promptly called to Walbridge’s attention; Walbridge then waited six weeks to ask the Navy for advice; and after W.W. Gay had already finished installing the pipe, Walbridge ordered W.W. Gay to reroute the pipe. W.W. Gay understandably insisted that it receive full compensation for its work, and Walbridge accepted, or at least manipulatively encouraged, this expectation. Moreover, the only reason that the Navy did not pay for W.W. Gay’s work is because of Walbridge’s initial error in judgment. Thus, Walbridge cannot now invoke the Navy’s refusal to pay to avoid its obligations to W.W. Gay.” Walbridge Aldinger, 2013 WL at *5.

 

 

CONSIDERATIONS:

Unknown

  • It’s hard to play both sides of the fence. In this case, the prime contractor wanted to play both sides by arguing on one hand that the Navy (government) caused delays it was assessing liquidated damages for and on the other side arguing that the subcontractor caused delays. It takes more than “conjecture” or argument to establish an actual delay. If a party argues delay, it needs to prove the delay (to the critical path that contributed to the overall delay to the project’s schedule) and not just that it “may” have caused delay or that it “could” have caused the delay based on the outcome of the dispute with the government over the assessment of liquidated damages. If the prime contractor wants to employ this tactic, it should include a provision that would allow it and its surety to withhold sums for any potential delay, although unsupportable, if the government assesses liquidated damages until the government’s assessment of liquidated has been resolved and that all claims between the parties regarding such sums shall be stayed pending the resolution. Naturally, such a clause needs to be ironed out with much more specificity and thoroughly considered because there are pros and cons to the provision including whether such a provision would be enforceable against a Miller Act surety (considering suits against the surety must be filed within a year from the subcontractor’s final furnishing). Otherwise, playing both sides can be challenging unless the prime contractor is taking the position with supportable schedule analysis that the subcontractor actually caused delays to the critical path.

 

  • The entitlement to additional work items is a common dispute between subcontractors and prime contractors. Thus, it is important to ensure that there are good notice provisions in the subcontract and that the subcontract clearly specifies what a subcontractor needs to do to be entitled to additional work. In this case, the subcontractor did send notice and was directed to proceed with the work and maintained time sheets verifying its additional work amounts. Too often subcontractors do not keep track of such amounts on a time and materials basis as specified in the subcontract and/or fail to submit timely notice.

 

  • The Eleventh Circuit’s discussion of the implied obligation of good faith and fair dealing is an interesting discussion. The reason being is that it creates an argument that a subcontractor could be entitled to additional work items even if it did not truly comply with contractual provisions, especially if the subcontractor was directed to perform the work pursuant to a construction change directive or another provision.

 

For more information on the a Miller Act payment bond, please see https://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/522/ and https://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/an-argument-to-recover-attorneys-fees-against-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.

 

 

WHAT IS SUBSTANTIAL COMPLETION?

 

 

AIA_G704_Certificate_of_Substantial_CompletionThe term “substantial completion” is in most construction contracts. And, it should be. This date marks the date the owner expects to be able to use its project for its intended purpose and, if it cannot, the contractor will (likely) be assessed liquidated damages for the delay to the substantial completion date. The owner’s contractual ability to assess liquidated damages serves to motivate the contractor to substantially complete the project by the agreed date and to reimburse the owner for delay-related damages that cannot be ascertained with a reasonable degree of certainty at the time of the contract.

 

 

A.   How is Substantial Completion Defined

 

 

Under the general conditions of the AIA (American Institute of Architects A201 Document 2007), substantial completion is the stage in the progress of the Work when the Work or designated portion thereof is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents so that the Owner can occupy or utilize the Work for its intended use.” (AIA Document A201 s. 9.8.1)   Under the AIA, the architect is required to conduct inspections to determine the date of substantial completion and certifies this date.

 

 

The general conditions of the EJCDC (Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee C-700 Document 2007) defines substantial completion similarly as:

 

 

The time and date at which the Work has progressed to the point where, in the opinion of Engineer, the Work is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the Contract Documents, so that the Work can be occupied and/or utilized for the purposes for which it is intended….Substantial Completion cannot occur before the Project is issued a Certificate of Occupancy (or Completion, if applicable) by the governing building department that allows Owner to utilize the entire Project for the purposes for which it is intended.” (EJCDC Document C-700 s. 1.01.46)
Whether it is an AIA, EJCDC, or other industry form document, substantial completion is routinely defined as that point in time when the owner can utilize its project for the purposes for which it is intended.

 

 

A leading case in Florida discussing substantial completion is J.M. Beeson Co. v. Sartori, 553 So.2d 180 (Fla. 4th DCA 1989). This case involved an owner assessing liquidated damages against its contractor. The contractor was hired to construct a shopping center that required substantial completion within 300 days of commencement. The contract provided that substantial completion occurred when “construction is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents, so the owner can occupy or utilize the work or designation portion thereof for the use for which it is intended.” J.M Beeson, 553 So.2d at 181. Although two anchor tenants in the shopping center received Certificates of Occupancy within the 300 days, another tenant did not. The owner took the position that substantial completion had not been achieved, irrespective of the Certificates of Occupancy, because items such as landscaping were not completed. The Fourth District dismissed the owner’s position finding:

 

 

“[W]hen the owner can put tenants in possession for fixturing and can begin to collect rents, the owner begins to utilize the work for its intended purpose. When the owner was able to occupy and fixture the constructed space, the construction was substantially completed.”  J.M. Beeson, 553 at 182-83 (internal citations omitted).

 

 

The Fourth District indicated that the substantial completion date occurred no later than the date the shopping center was able to obtain certificates of occupancy for the tenants.  Notably, if the contractor in J.M. Beeson was simply required to build shell retail space where the tenants were responsible for their own tenant improvements, the substantial completion would likely occur when an applicable certificate of completion was issued for the shell space pursuant to the shell permit that would entitle the tenants to begin their individual improvements. See, e.g., Hausman v. Bayrock Investment Co., 530 So.2d 938 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988) (finding that test for substantial completion for property tax purposes is the date property is put to use for which it is intended; in this case, since contactor was building shell retail space, substantial completion occurred when shells were completed).

 

 

If an owner is in a position to use its project for its intended purpose (whether for personal use, public use, whatever the project entails), this really should mark the substantial completion date. This is more of an objective date determined by the governing building department through the issuance of a certificate relating to the permit.

 

 

B.  Contract Drafting / Understanding Tips

 

 

I prefer the substantial completion definition in the general conditions of the EJCDC (above) because it references that this point in time should not be earlier than the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy (or applicable Certificate of Completion). Even though most contracts give certain discretion to the design professional to determine and certify the date, the fact remains that the Certificate of Occupancy is realistically the date that determines when an Owner can use its project for its intended purpose since it permits occupancy. I often like to tie the substantial completion date in the contract to the Certificate of Occupancy date or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy date (since the TCO date may be the date that allows occupancy under certain conditions) since this more accurately reflects the date the Owner can use its project for its purpose (or, if it is a project for shell space, the Certificate of Completion date that authorizes the tenant to construct finishes / improvements).  Also, this removes some of the discretion from the design professional and shifts their focus to generating the punchlist and working towards final completion.

 

 

From an owner’s perspective, if it agrees to a mutual waiver of consequential damages in the contract, it must absolutely include a liquidated damages provision tied to the substantial completion date. If it does not want to include a liquidated damages provision, then the owner needs to ensure there is not a mutual waiver of consequential damages provision and, if there is a delay to the substantial completion date, be in a position to prove its actual delay-related damages.

 

 

From a contractor’s perspective, it wants to agree to a substantial completion date where arguably there is float built into its schedule to ensure it has enough time to substantially complete the project. Also, it will want to ensure through flow-down provisions in its subcontracts that it has the ability to flow down assessed liquidated damages to responsible subcontractors that impact its critical path.

 

 

From a subcontractors’ perspective, it needs to understand the contractor’s schedule and how the work is sequenced and ideally have input particularly relating to durations for its activities based on the sequencing of the work. Otherwise, the subcontractor could be putting itself in a position where it will be notified of delays since it is unable to meet its required durations.

 

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.

 

 

ACCELERATION COSTS MONEY

UnknownContractors know or should know the concept of acceleration because acceleration costs money. Acceleration occurs when a contractor expedites its performance due to an excusable delay (a delay not its fault) in order complete its performance earlier than it would have considering the delay.

 

Contractors accelerate by incurring increased labor costs to work overtime and premium time (nights and weekends), adding more manpower, or adding more crews (which also may mean adding more supervision to supervise the additional labor). These added labor costs are typically direct payroll costs (factoring in labor burden) as well as equipment costs associated with operating the equipment (especially if it is owned equipment) for longer hours or renting additional equipment to be utilized by the additional manpower or crews. In addition, acceleration can result in inefficient labor hours because manpower is now working longer hours, new manpower is added and there is a learning curve associated with new manpower that is not familiar with the work, and the labor is potentially working under resequenced conditions and in congested locations with other trades. Thus, just because the contractor takes reasonable efforts to accelerate does not mean that it is incurring efficient / productive labor costs or that its acceleration efforts are substantially improving the completion date of the project.

 

There are two types of acceleration claims. The first type is the straightforward direct acceleration claim when the government/owner directs the contractor to accelerate its performance to finish the job in advance of the completion date. Many times, in this circumstance, the government/owner understands that it will need to compensate the contractor for the acceleration efforts.

 

Constructive acceleration is the other type of acceleration claim and the type more likely to lead to a dispute because the dispute centers around both entitlement and quantum. Constructive acceleration occurs where the contractor seeks additional time to complete the project due to what it claims are excusable delays, but the government/owner is unwilling to grant the contractor the additional time. To prove construction acceleration, the contractor needs to prove:

 

  1. there was a delay that was not its fault (an excusable delay) that impacted the completion date;
  2. the contractor notified the government/owner of the delay and requested additional time to complete its performance;
  3. the government/owner expressly directed the contractor to overcome the delay and complete the project in a shorter amount of time than the contractor was entitled to factoring in the delay or implicitly directed the contractor to overcome the delay through the refusal to grant additional time; and
  4. the contractor did in fact incur costs in accelerating its performance.

See Armour of America v. U.S., 96 Fed.Cl. 726, 757 (Fed.Cl. 2011) (“To prove a constructive acceleration claim, and entitlement to an equitable adjustment, which Armour [contractor] did not attempt to do during the proceedings before the court, a contractor must show (1) that the contractor encountered a delay that was excusable; (2) that the contractor requested from the government an extension of time due to the delay; (3) that the government denied the contractor’s request for an extension of time; (4) that the government demanded completion of the contract in a shorter amount of time than the contractor was entitled to, given the excusable delay; and (5) that the contractor was required to expend additional resources to adhere to the schedule on which the government insisted.”). See also Fraser Const. Co. v. U.S., 384 F.3d 1354 (Fed.Cl. 2004).

 

 

What is important to remember is not only will the contractor need to prove the excusable delay that impacted its schedule, but it will need to prove it notified the government/owner of the delay and requested additional time to perform which was denied. After proving all of this, the contractor will still need to establish that it actually accelerated its performance and incurred costs in doing so.

 

As a basic example, assume a project was to be completed December 31, 2014. This marked the date the owner needed to use the project for its intended purpose. However, due to excusable delays (assume many owner-directed change orders and/or design-related issues), this completion date is postponed a year to December 31, 2015. The contractor notified the owner of the delays and impacts to its schedule and requested an extension of time to complete the project; but, for whatever reason, the owner refused to grant additional time and implicitly demanded that the contractor complete the project on schedule. The contractor, as the result of the owner’s refusal to grant additional time, accelerated its performance to finish the project earlier than December 31, 2015 and to avoid the consequence of the owner assessing liquidated damages (i.e., the contractor accelerated to mitigate the impact of the delay). Based on the contractor and its subcontractor’s efforts, the project was completed on May 30, 2015–5 months after the original completion date, but 7 months before the contractor should have been complete considering the excusable delays. In this basic example, the contractor’s acceleration efforts mitigated the overall delay by approximately 7 months (the difference between May 30, 2015 and December 31, 2015) even though the contractor finished 5 months later than the original schedule. The contractor will need to prove the costs associated with these acceleration efforts.

 

It is good practice for contractors to work with attorneys and experts to preserve the acceleration claim and prove the excusable delays through a critical path schedule analysis and the costs incurred in accelerating performance.

 

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.

RECOVERING DELAY RELATED DAMAGES FROM PUBLIC PAYMENT BOND

imagesOne of the advantages to subcontractors of public payment bonds issued under the Federal Miller Act (or even the Little Miller Act) is that there is an argument for the recovery of unexecuted change orders and, and as it particularly pertains to this article, impact-related costs (whether delay or inefficiency / lost productivity). This should not be overlooked although language in the governing subcontract, etc. could dilute these arguments. However, having the argument and opportunity to recover impact-related costs from a payment bond is a huge upside.

 

If a subcontractor is owed money for inefficiency or delay, etc., and there is a public payment bond in place, it should not automatically forego pursuing these claims against the bond. Unlike a lien where these types of costs / damages are not lienable and could render an otherwise valid lien fraudulent in Florida, these are damages that could be pursued against a public payment bond. The subcontractor should carefully craft its argument in furtherance of maximizing its best chance to recover these types of damages.

 

For example, in the opinion of Fisk Elec. Co. v. Travelers Cas. and Sur. Co., 2009 WL 196032 (S.D.Fla. 2009), a subcontractor sought inefficiency / lost productivity damages against a payment bond surety that appeared to be issued under Florida Statute s. 255.05 (also known as Florida’s Little Miller Act). The payment bond surety moved to dismiss the subcontractor’s complaint arguing that these types of damages are not recoverable under the bond. The Southern District, relying on federal cases interpreting the Federal Miller Act, found that a subcontractor can pursue such damages against the payment bond for its out-of-pocket unreimbursed expenses. See, e.g, U.S. f/u/b/o Pertun Const. Co. v. Harvesters Group, Inc., 918 F.2d 915, 918 (11th Cir. 1990) (finding that subcontractor could recover under Federal Miller Act bond for out-of-pocket expenses resulting from prime contractor’s delay).

 

To maximize the recoverability for impact-related costs, the costs should be supportable costs that the subcontractor actually incurred in the performance of its contract work. Organizing the back-up supporting these costs and theory of the impact is critical and the subcontractor looking to pursue these costs from a public payment bond should consult counsel to best position its arguments to support recovery.  On the other hand, the prime contractor should ensure that its subcontract has contractual provisions that will make it challenging and provide hurdles for the subcontractor to recover such damages.

 

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.

 

SUPPORTING CONSTRUCTION DEFECT DAMAGES WITH AN ESTIMATE

33758031One of the issues in construction defect disputes is whether the owner can prove damages with an estimate, which is often the case. Recently, in Kritikos v. John T. Anderson d/b/a Anderson Builders, et al., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D931a (Fla. 4th DCA 2013), the Fourth District Court of Appeals confirmed that an estimate as to the costs to repair construction defects can support a plaintiff’s (owner) damages. In other words, the plaintiff does not actually have to incur the costs to repair in order to be entitled to recover damages to correct a construction defect.

 
In this case, the contractor recorded a construction lien. The owner asserted, as a defense, that it is entitled to set-off the amount of the lien due to construction defects and delay-related damages. (The owner in this case ended up terminating the contractor when the project was substantially over budget and behind schedule.) It was the owner’s position that the defective work was subject to a design change so the measure of damages needed to be based on an estimate of what it would cost to complete the work (i.e., repair the defects) according to the original design / contract. The owner’s argument, as supported by the Fourth District, was based on precedent discussing an owner’s measure of damages when there is a construction defect, particularly the Florida Supreme Court decision of Grossman Holding Limited v. Hourihan, 414 So.2d 1037 (Fla. 1982) and the Second District Court of Appeals’ decision of Temple Beth Shalom & Jewish Center, Inc. v. Thyne Construction Corp., 399 So.2d 525 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981).  Both the cases of Grossman and Temple Beth Shalom maintain that the measure of damages when dealing with construction defects / unfinished construction contract is the reasonable cost to complete / repair per the original design / contract provided this does not result in economic waste. Kritikos, supra.

 
The key is that whether using an estimate or actual costs to support damages from a construction defect, the measure of damages is the reasonable cost to complete per the original design / contract (versus a subsequent and better design to repair the defects) provided that the repair costs do not amount to economic waste.

 
Interestingly, this case also discussed the owner’s set-off for delay damages. It is uncertain in this case whether the owner utilized any expert to establish delay damages, which is often and properly the case, or how the owner specifically presented the delay damages (as there is no discussion that there was a liquidated damages provision in the contract). The Fourth District simply stated: “Delay damages were properly presented to the jury. By their very nature, delay damages may not be subject to exact calculation, making the owner’s opinion of the value of his loss of use of his property admissible and relevant.” Kritikos, supra. Based on this limited statement, it would seem that these damages are not referring to liquidated damages or delays to the critical path of a construction schedule, but rather an owner (without any expert testimony) testifying as to “loss of use damages,” i.e., an owner testifying that due to the circumstances of the case, he/she was damaged by being not being able to utilize his residence. But, it is uncertain what the owner did to support these damages.

 

 

For more information on loss of use damages, please see: https://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/the-difference-between-lost-profit-and-loss-of-use-damages/

 

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.