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

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

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

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

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

Please contact David Adelstein at or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.



imagesWhat is a common law payment bond?  A common law payment bond is a bond not required or governed by a statute.  For example, if a prime contractor provides the owner a payment bond, that bond will be a statutory payment bond.  On the other hand, if a subcontractor provides the general contractor with a payment bond, that bond will be a common law payment bond.  Why?  Because there is not a statute that specifically governs the requirements of a  subcontractor’s payment bond given to a general contractor.   The subcontractor’s payment bond is aimed at protecting the general contractor (and the general contractor’s payment bond) in the event the subcontractor fails to pay its own subcontractors and suppliers.  The subcontractor’s payment bond will generally identify that claimants, as defined by the bond, are those subcontractors and suppliers the subcontractor has failed to pay.  This common law payment bond is not recorded in the public records so sometimes it can be challenging for a claimant (anyone unpaid working under the subcontractor that furnished the bond) to obtain a copy of the bond. With that said, an unpaid claimant should consider pursuing a copy of this bond in certain situations, particularly if it may not have preserved a claim against the general contractor’s statutory payment bond.


Common law payment bonds have a one-year statute of limitations.  This statute of limitations runs from the later of (i) one year from the claimant’s final furnishing date or (ii) one year from the general contractor’s final furnishing date if the general contractor provided a payment bond on the project.  


Please contact David Adelstein at or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.