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Luke’s practice focuses on construction, business disputes and commercial collections, representing clients in both litigation and arbitration, in the United States and throughout Europe. He has represented domestic and foreign companies, private owners, developers, contractors, subcontractors, distributors, suppliers as well as public entities in a variety of matters.

This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of ConsensusDocs Construction Law. It is republished here with permission.

State and local governments throughout the country continue to issue orders in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Many states have ordered the shutdown of all businesses, with various exceptions such as businesses that are “essential” and/or “life-sustaining.” Each jurisdiction has provided a list and/or guidance on what kinds of businesses must close and what can remain open. Pepper Hamilton continues to monitor these orders and update its “COVID-19 – State Business Impact Tracker” map, an interactive tool that shows shutdown orders by state. The Business Impact Tracker can be accessed at https://covid19.pepperlaw.com/.

Whether construction projects can continue is an ever-changing issue. In some jurisdictions, such as Boston, all construction projects were shut down. In other locations, whether construction can continue may depend on the county, or even city, where the project is located and/or the type of project. However, those supplying labor, materials and/or equipment to construction projects should closely monitor how their projects are being impacted, including whether and when to exercise statutory remedies available, e.g., ‘ lien, stop payment notice and/or bond rights. In many states, the statutory deadlines to assert these rights are triggered by “completion” of a project.
Continue Reading Continuous Cessation of Labor on Construction Projects Can Trigger Statutory Remedy Deadlines

Arco Ingenierosm, S.A. v. CDM Int’l Inc., Civil Action No. 18-12348-PBS, 2019 BL 100779 (D. Mass. Mar. 22, 2019)

In November 2009, Tropical Storm Ida hit El Salvador, causing flooding, landslides, and the destruction of homes, roads, bridges, schools, health clinics, and other infrastructure.  The United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”) provided $25 million in funding to rebuild damaged infrastructure.  USAID retained Defendant CDM International Inc. (“CDM”) to conduct studies and assessment for the construction of eight schools and one health clinic (the “Projects”) and to create preliminary designs and technical specifications for these Projects.  These preliminary designs were intended to constitute at least thirty percent of final designs for the Projects.  Relying on the preliminary designs created by CDM, Plaintiff Arco Ingenieros, S.A. de C.V. (“ARCO”) submitted bids to act as the design-build contractor for the Projects.  USAID awarded the Projects to ARCO.

Continue Reading Contractor’s Third Party Beneficiary Claim Dismissed Against Designer Where Designer’s Contract with Owner Lacked Clear Intent to Benefit the Contractor

Coalview Centralia, LLC v. Transalta Centralia Mining LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185914 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 30, 2018)

This case involves a dispute over Coalview Centralia, LLC’s (“Coalview”) performance of environmental cleanup work at a coal mine and associated power plant near Centralia, Washington.  TransAlta Central Mining (“TCM”) hired Coalview to remediate and restore three waste coal slurry impoundment ponds.  In general terms, Coalview agreed to dredge the ponds, extract the coal fines for use in the power plant, and deliver the remaining slurry for final disposal.  Coalview was to submit monthly invoices – and to be paid – based on the weight of slurry removed or the weight of usable coal recovered, whichever is greater.

The Master Services Agreement (“MSA”) between TCM and Coalview provided, in pertinent part, that: (1) TCM had 30 days to “dispute” an invoice and explain the reasons for its dispute; (2) the parties had a one-year period to correct invoice “inaccuracies”; and (3) “[n]otwithstanding any disputes … contractor and owner shall diligently proceed with performance of this Agreement.”
Continue Reading Federal Court Enjoins Owner From Withholding Payment of Disputed Invoices Based on Contract Provision Requiring Parties to “Diligently Proceed With Performance” Notwithstanding Any Dispute

Randy Kinder Excavating, Inc. v. JA Manning Constr. Co. 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 21878 (8th Cir. Aug. 7, 2018)

This article was published in the February 2019 issue of ConsensusDocs Construction Law Newsletter (Vol. 5, Issue 1).

This dispute arose from a contract to build a pumping station in Arkansas (the “Project”).  In June of 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“COE”) awarded a contract to Randy Kinder Excavating, Inc. (“Kinder”) to serve as the general contractor on the Project.  Kinder entered into a subcontract with J.A. Manning Construction Co. (“Manning”) to engineer, furnish and install a mechanically stabilized earth (“MSE”) wall at the Project.

The Project experienced significant delays which affected the Manning’s initial start date.  By the time Manning could begin constructing the MSE wall, only six days remained until the original completion date of the entire Project.  Unknown to Manning, however, Kinder was telling the COE that weather and other issues were delaying the Project and Kinder represented to the COE that its projected completion date for MSE wall was in the summer of 2012.  At the same time, Kinder was telling Manning that the MSE wall needed to be completed by November of 2011 and repeatedly threatened to assess delay damages against Manning if this did not occur.  In addition, during the construction of the MSE wall, Kinder and/or the COE demanded that Manning install the wall panels 0.75 inches apart with absolutely no variance, despite industry standard allowing a 0.25 inch variance.  On March 7, 2012, Kinder terminated Manning, at which point Manning had constructed 27.5 feet of the 40-foot MSE wall.  The MSE wall was later completed by a replacement contractor, although the wall as-accepted by the COE contained a number of defects that Kinder and the COE told Manning were unacceptable. 
Continue Reading General Contractor’s Unjustified Threats to Assess Delay Damages Against Subcontractor Are a Material Breach of Contract

United Riggers & Erectors, Inc. v. Coast Iron & Steel Co., 2018 Cal. Lexis 3510 (May 14, 2018)

This post was published in the August 16, 2018 issue of eNews published by National Association of Credit Management (NACM).

In 2010, Universal City (“Universal”) hired Coast Iron & Steel Co. (“Coast Iron”) to build a new ride at the Universal Studios Hollywood.  Coast Iron subcontracted the installation of the metalwork to United Riggers & Erectors, Inc. (“United Riggers”).  The initial subcontract between Coast Iron and United Riggers was for $722,742 but was increased by change orders to approximately $1.5 million.  United Riggers completed its work to Coast Iron’s satisfaction.  In August 2012, Universal made its final retention payment to Coast Iron.  However, Coast Iron refused to pay any retention to United Riggers due to disputes over change order requests from United Riggers to increase the subcontract price by approximately $350,000.  United Riggers then filed suit to collect these sums, including prompt payment penalties under California Civil Code Section 8814 for failure to timely pay retention.  Coast Iron ultimately paid all of the $149,602.52 in retention owed to United Riggers during the litigation.  After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Coast Iron.  The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling on the statutory claim for failure to make timely retention payments.  The California Supreme Court affirmed.


Continue Reading Under California’s Prompt Payment Statute, a Direct Contractor May Not Withhold Retention From a Subcontractor Simply Because a Dispute Exists Between the Parties. To Allow Withholding, the Dispute Must Relate Directly to the Specific Retention Amount Due.

Woodrow Wilson Constr. LLC v. Orleans Par. Sch. Bd.,  2018 La. App. LEXIS 762 (April 18, 2018)

The Orleans Parish School Board (“OPSB”) awarded a prime contract to Woodrow Wilson Construction (“WWC”) for the construction of a new elementary school (the “Project”).  On May 23, 2016, WWC submitted its request for payment of final retainage to OPSB.  OPSB withheld payment from WWC, claiming that WWC owed liquidated damages for the delays in completion of the Project, which allegedly exceeded the amount due to WWC.  WWC filed a petition for writ of mandamus pursuant to La. R.S. 38:2191(D) (the “Act”), which provides that “[a]ny public entity failing to make any … any final payment when due as provided in this Section, shall be subject to mandamus to compel the payment of the sums due under the contract …”  The trial court denied the petition and WWC appealed.  The question on appeal was whether OPSB may withhold final payment due under the Act because of alleged delays in the Project, despite the fact that liability for the delays had not yet been adjudicated.

Section A of the Act provides that “[a]ll public entities shall promptly pay all obligations arising under public contracts when the obligations become due and payable under the contract.  All … final payments shall be paid when they respectively become due and payable under the contract.”  Under the prime contract, retainage was due upon the occurrence of six enumerated requirements.  The Court determined that these requirements were all satisfied as of May 23, 2016 and therefore final retainage was due to WWC as of that date.  The Court further found that upon satisfaction of these requirements, the public entity owed a ministerial duty to issue final payment.  By providing the right to mandamus relief in the Act, the legislature intended to eliminate the public entity’s discretion to withhold payment from a contractor.


Continue Reading Under Louisiana Payment Act, Once Contractor Meets Contractual Requirements for Final Payment, Public Entity Has a Duty to Issue Final Payment and Has No Discretion to Withhold Payment Based on a Separate Claim Against Contractor

Hope v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28479 (E.D. Ark. Feb. 22, 2018)

This matter involved a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (the “Motion”) filed by Richard Alan Hope (“Hope”) and his HVAC company, Powers of Arkansas (“Powers”), asking the District Court to prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) from continuing debarment proceedings against them.  In 2012, Federal agents began investigating Hope for fraudulently presenting DAV Construction Company, Inc. as a legitimate service-disabled, veteran-owned small business in order to obtain government construction contracts.  Hope was indicted in 2016 for conspiracy to defraud, among other things.  The VA thereafter suspended Hope and Powers from government contracting based on the indictment.  The indictment was ultimately dismissed after the Court declared a mistrial.  In January of 2018, the VA lifted the suspensions, but issued notices of proposed debarment to Hope and Powers.  While debarment proceedings are pending, a contractor may not be awarded government contracts.
The Court first analyzed jurisdiction.  Absent waiver, sovereign immunity shields the VA from suit.

However, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) waives sovereign immunity to allow judicial review of final agency actions.  The Court held that it lacked jurisdiction here because there was no final agency decision as to the proposed debarment.  Indeed, the VA has established procedures for debarment decisions and the proposal for debarment is only the first step.  The Court found that because the VA’s decision-making process had only just begun, and there had been no final agency action, the APA did not authorize the Court to review the merits of the proposed debarment at this time.


Continue Reading Federal Court Holds That it Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction to Review VA’s Decision to Begin Debarment Proceedings Since That Decision Is Not a Final Agency Action

United States ex rel. Metro Mech., Inc. v. Triangle Constr. Co.,  2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1487 (S.D. Miss. Jan. 4, 2018)

Triangle Construction Company, Inc. (“Triangle”) contracted with Mississippi Portfolio Partners III, LP (“Mississippi Partners”) to serve as the prime contractor on four apartment complex construction projects (the “Projects”) in Mississippi.  Triangle subcontracted the HVAC and plumbing work to Metro Mechanical, Inc. (“Metro”).  After Metro completed its work, Metro filed suit in the Federal District Court under the Miller Act, to collect sums due from Triangle and its payment bond surety.  Triangle moved to dismiss, asserting that the Court was without Miller Act jurisdiction because the projects and contracting parties were private.

The Miller Act requires contractors on “public work[s] of the Federal Government” to obtain payment bonds for the protection of subcontractors and suppliers.  See 40 U.S.C. § 3131.  To that end, the Millers Act also creates a civil action in federal court in favor of any “person that has furnished labor or material in carrying out work provided for” under a Miller Act contract and “that has not paid in full within 90 days.” 40 U.S.C. 3133(b)(1).  The District Court applied two alternative tests to determine whether the Projects were “public works of the Federal Government subject to the Miller Act.”


Continue Reading Federal Court in Mississippi Holds That Although Projects Were Constructed With Federal Funds, They Were Not “A Public Work of the Federal Government” and Therefore the Court Had No Jurisdiction Over a Subcontractor’s Claim Under the Miller Act, Where the United States Was Not a Contracting Party and the Projects Were Not Constructed on Federal Property

United States v. John C. Grimberg Co., Case No. 1:16-cv-991, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173362 (E.D. Virginia, October 19, 2017)

John C. Grimberg (“Prime Contractor”) was awarded a contract (the “Prime Contract”) to design and complete certain improvements at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia (the “Project”).  Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company (“Surety”) issued payment and performance bonds for the Project pursuant to the Miller Act.  The Prime Contractor thereafter entered into a subcontract (the “Subcontract”) with Kitchens-to-Go (“Subcontractor”) to furnish, install, lease and remove a temporary kitchen facility for the Project.  The Subcontract contained a “no-damages-for-delay” clause, which provided that the Prime Contractor shall not be liable for delays beyond its control and that the Subcontractor is “entitled only to reimbursement for damages for delay actually recovered from the Owner.”  The Subcontract also incorporated the dispute resolution procedures in the Prime Contract, which required that all “disputes arising out of Owner acts, omissions or responsibilities” be submitted through an administrative process with the government’s contracting officer under 41 U.S.C. §§7101 et. seq.

The Subcontract originally contemplated a Project duration of approximately 13 months, ending on April 5, 2014, but was ultimately extended until June 27, 2015.  The Subcontractor submitted its Application for Payment to the Prime Contractor, which included $607,221 for extended rental of the kitchen facilities.  Although the Prime Contractor submitted a payment request to US Department of the Navy (“Owner”), for the extended rental and use of Subcontractor’s temporary kitchen facilities, this request was rejected by the Owner.  The Prime Contractor refused to pay Subcontractor’s Application for Payment and the Subcontractor filed a complaint against the Surety under the Miller Act.


Continue Reading Federal District Court in Virginia Holds That Prime Contractor’s Payment Bond Surety Cannot Rely on No-Damages-For-Delay Clause in Subcontract to Limit Liability to Subcontractor Under Miller Act

Aspic Eng’g & Constr. Co. v. ECC Centcom Constructors, LLC, No. 17-cv-00224-YGR, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111767, at *10-12 (N.D. Cal. July 18, 2017)

This matter came before the Court on a motion to vacate a final arbitration award (the “Arbitration Award”) entered in favor of Aspic Engineering and Construction Company “Aspic”) and against ECC International, LLC and ECC CENTCOM Constructors, LLC (collectively, “ECC”).  ECC entered into two prime contracts with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (“USACE”) in connection with two reconstruction projects for police training facilities in Afghanistan (the “Projects”).  These prime contracts incorporated, among other things, Federal Acquisition Regulations (“FAR”) Sections 49.206 and 52.249-2, which allowed USACE to terminate the Projects for convenience.  ECC subcontracted portions of the work on the Projects to Aspic.  The subcontracts between ECC and Aspic likewise incorporated several FAR sections.  Although Aspic is an Afghan engineering and contracting firm, it had experience in contracting with the U.S. government and a familiarity with the U.S. Government contract requirements, including FAR clauses.  After ECC and Aspic had partially performed work on the Projects, USACE issued a notice of termination for convenience, which ended the Projects in their entirety.

Aspic filed a demand for arbitration, seeking to recover its lost profits on the Projects.


Continue Reading Arbitration Award Ruling That, Because of Cultural Differences, a Local Afghan Subcontractor Is Not Bound by the F.A.R. Provisions Incorporated Into the Subcontracts Is Vacated as Contrary to the Subcontract Terms