When an opinion in a case starts with, “Unlike some motions, not even the most ingenious lawyers could make this one complicated,” you know you are in for an interesting read. This was how the opinion started in U.S. f/u/b/o Hambric Steel and Fabrication, Inc. v. Leebcor Services, LLC, 2022 WL 345636 (M.D. GA. 2022), which concerns a Miller Act payment bond dispute between a subcontractor and prime contractor on a federal construction project.
As demonstrated below, the moral of this case is in fact simple. Read what you sign BEFORE you sign! No ifs, ands, or buts. Failure to do so will garner very little sympathy.
This case dealt with a prime contractor arguing that the subcontractor pulled the wool over its eyes by surreptitiously altering the final negotiated redlined contract between the parties. In particular, the prime contractor claimed that the dispute resolution provision was supposed to include a Virginia venue provision. However, the subcontractor “fraudulently” changed this provision to make it a Georgia venue provision after the final contract had been agreed to during the negotiation. Yet, it is undisputed that the executed contract between the parties included a Georgia venue provision.
The Miller Act contains a statutory venue requirement; however, this requirement can be modified by a venue provision / forum selection clause in the subcontract. Here the prime contractor wanted venue to be in Virginia even though the executed subcontract contained a Georgia venue provision. The BIG problem for the prime contractor:
[The prime contractor] has not pointed to any evidence that it was prevented from reading the revisions to the contract draft related to the forum selection clause. Through the exercise of reasonable diligence, [the prime contractor] certainly could have discovered the change. It possessed the revised draft, had ample time to review it, and chose to sign it. While [the subcontractor] may have edited the forum selection clause in a manner different than other revisions made during the negotiation process, nothing prevented [the prime contractor] from reading the final revised draft in its entirety before signing it. Choosing not to do so for the sake of convenience does not excuse it from being bound by the contract that it signed. Moreover, [the subcontractor’s] failure to affirmatively and specifically highlight the changes for [the prime contractor] does not amount to fraud. The revision was clearly set out in the final draft document and could have been noticed through reasonable diligence. Signing a contract that is different than the one the party thought it had negotiated is not a sufficient basis, standing alone, to reform the fully executed written agreement.
Leebcor Services, supra, at *2
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