On April 17, the California Court of Appeal decided Crosno Construction, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty & Surety Company of America,1 effectively narrowing the scope of enforceable “pay-when-paid” provisions in construction subcontracts to the extent the subcontractor seeks recovery against a general contractor’s payment bond surety. Although the Crosno case involved a public works project, the rationale and holding should apply with equal force to private works projects. Basing the bulk of its decision on the Wm. R. Clarke Corp. v. Safeco Insurance Co.2 case, the court found that an open-ended “pay-when-paid” provision in a subcontract is not enforceable against a subcontractor that seeks to recover on a public works payment bond claim. This article discusses the Crosno decision and the implications for contractors on both sides of the contract moving forward.
Continue Reading California Appeals Court Provides Guidance on ‘Pay-When-Paid’ Provisions in Construction Subcontracts

Strickland v. Arch Ins. Co., No. 17-10610, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 504 (11th Cir. Jan. 9, 2018)

Strickland provided sand to a paving company (“Douglas”) for a Georgia Department of Transportation (“GDOT”) road improvement project (the “Project”).  Arch Insurance Company (“Arch”) issued payment and performance bonds on Douglas’s behalf.  In 2007, GDOT declared Douglas in default and removed it from the Project.  In accordance with the performance bond, Arch arranged for a third-party contractor to complete Douglas’s work on the Project. Strickland did not supply sand after Douglas’s removal.
In August 2010, GDOT determined that the Project was substantially complete, and in September 2010, performed final inspection and generated a punch list.  Arch’s contractor completed the punch list by September 2011.  In March 2012, GDOT accepted Project maintenance responsibilities because the Project had been satisfactorily completed as of September 2011.  GDOT made semi-final payment to Arch in July 2012.

In September 2012, Strickland sent a demand for payment on Arch’s payment bond.  Arch acknowledged the claim and asked for additional documentation.  Strickland did not respond.  In 2014, Strickland learned that GDOT was preparing to close out the Project and filed a lawsuit against Arch.


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Holds That the Statute of Limitations on Payment Bond Claim Under Georgia Law Commences at Substantial Completion Rather Than Final Acceptance

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

DVBE Trucking and Construction Co., Inc. v. McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90052 (N.D. Cal. July 10, 2015)

This payment dispute case arises out of a Veterans Affairs (“VA”) construction project located in Palo Alto, California.  McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. (“McCarthy”) was the prime contractor, Federal Insurance Company and Travelers Casualty and Surety provided the performance and payment bonds on behalf of McCarthy mandated by the Miller Act, and DVBE Trucking and Construction Company, Inc. (“DVBE”) was McCarthy’s subcontractor.  Section 11.1 of DVBE’s subcontract required that, for any dispute involving the VA, it would follow the dispute resolution procedures agreed to by McCarthy in its contract with the VA, and agreed to be bound by the result of any such dispute resolution procedures to the same degree as McCarthy.


Continue Reading Federal District Court in California Holds that Subcontract Provision Binding Subcontractor to Result of Dispute Resolution under Prime Contract Was Not an Effective Waiver of Miller Act Rights

Marenalley Constr., LLC v. Zurich American Ins. Co. and Nason Constr. Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30968 (E.D. Pa. March 13, 2015)

This payment dispute case arises out of a Veterans Affairs (“VA”) construction project located in Philadelphia. Nason was the general contractor, Zurich was Nason’s surety, and Marenalley was Nason’s subcontractor. Marenalley’s subcontract required it to pursue any claim related to the project through the administrative disputes resolution process provided by Nason’s prime contract with the VA before bringing suit against the project’s bond.  The prime contract’s administrative dispute resolution process clause incorporated the terms of the Contract Disputes Act (the “CDA”).


Continue Reading U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania Holds Subcontractor’s Miller Act Suit Not Subject to Stay Pending Prime Contractor’s Prosecution of Claim Against Government

KBW Assocs. v. Jaynes Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18220 (D. Nev. Feb. 13, 2015)

This action arose out of the construction of additions to existing buildings at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada (the “Project”).  The United States Army Corps of Engineers (the “COE”) contracted with Defendant Jaynes Corporation, Inc. (“Jaynes”) to perform the work.  Jaynes then subcontracted with Plaintiff, KBW Associates, Inc. (“KBW”), to construct the metal framing and outer shell of the buildings.

Following construction delays, Jaynes found itself involved in two separate actions.  In the first action (the “Prime Contract Litigation”), Jaynes was defending against liquidated damages assessed by the COE under the prime contract.  In the instant action (the “Subcontract Litigation”), Jaynes was defending a Miller Act suit for contract balances brought by KBW.  KBW alleged Jaynes was responsible for the construction delay, through a “pattern of mismanagement”, involving failure to timely approve work, unilateral imposition of work beyond the scope of the subcontract and improper scheduling.  Jaynes asserted several affirmative defenses and filed counterclaims against KBW, on grounds that KBW failed to perform in accordance with the subcontract and failed to meet construction schedules.


Continue Reading Federal District Court in Nevada Denies Contractor’s Motion to Stay Subcontractor’s Miller Act Suit Pending Resolution of Contractor’s Suit Against the Government

United States ex rel. Heggem-Lundquist Paint Co. v. Centerre Gov’t Contracting Grp., LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66161 (D. Colo. Apr. 23, 2014) 
 Am. Constr. & Envtl. Servs. v. Total Team Constr. Servs., Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57467 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 23, 2014)

Federal district courts for the District of Colorado and the Eastern District of California have ruled  subcontract provisions that disputes will be resolved in accordance with the dispute resolution provisions in a prime contract are insufficient to waive or postpone a subcontractor’s Miller Act rights.

These cases involved claims asserted by subcontractors (collectively “Plaintiffs”) against the upstream contractors and their sureties (collectively “Defendants”) for work performed on federal government projects.  The plaintiff in Haggem-Lundquist performed as a sub-subcontractor on a Department of Veterans Affairs renovation project at a medical center in Denver, Colorado.  The plaintiff in Am. Constr. & Envtl. Servs. performed as a subcontractor in support of a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to replace emergency generators at a Veterans Administration Care Facility in Fresno, California.  In both actions, Plaintiffs filed claims against the bonds issued for the projects pursuant to the Miller Act to recover money allegedly owed for changed and additional work performed.


Continue Reading District Courts in California and Colorado Hold Subcontract References to Prime Contract Disputes Procedures Do Not Waive Miller Act Rights

Window Specialists, Inc. v. Forney Enterprises, Inc.,
2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34702 (D.D.C. March 18, 2014)

This dispute arises out of a construction contract to repair property at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.  The Army contracted with a general contractor, IIU Consulting Institute, who in turn contracted with defendant subcontractor, Forney Enterprises.  Forney entered into a sub-subcontract with plaintiff Window Specialists, Inc. for the labor and materials to supply and install over 680 windows and over 60 doors on the project.  During the course of the project, the Army issued a 10-day cure notice identifying numerous issues with the general contractor’s demolition of existing windows and Window Specialists’ installation of new windows.  Ultimately, Forney terminated the contract with Window Specialists and the general contractor had to demolish, re-order, and re-install all of Window Specialists’ work on the project.
Window Specialists filed suit against Forney, the general contractor, the general contractor’s payment bond surety, and the Secretary of the Army, bringing claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, a payment bond claim, and for injunctive relief.  Forney filed two counterclaims against Window Specialists, one for breach of contract and one seeking indemnification related to the costs the general contractor incurred replacing Window Specialists’ work.


Continue Reading Federal District Court for DC Rejects Subcontractor’s Pass-Through of General Contractor’s Claim to Sub-Subcontractor

Berks Products Corp. v. Arch Ins. Co.
72 A.3d 315 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2013)

Note: A petition for allowance of appeal from this decision has been filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but has not been acted upon as of January14, 2014.

This action arose from a payment bond secured by a general contractor for work performed on a public school building. Skepton Construction, Inc. (“Skepton”) entered into an agreement with the Wilson Area School District (the “District”) to be the general contractor for the construction of a new intermediate school (the “Project”). Under its agreement with the District, Skepton was required to secure a payment bond in order to guarantee its payment obligations. Skepton secured its payment bond through Arch Insurance Company (“Arch”). The payment bond (the “Bond”), in relevant part, stated: “[I]f the Principal and any subcontractor of the Principal to whom any portion of the work under the Agreement shall be subcontracted,…promptly shall pay or cause to be paid, in full, all money which may be due any claimant supplying labor or materials…, then this Bond shall be void; otherwise this Bond shall be and shall remain in force and effect.”


Continue Reading Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Interprets Payment Bond Language to Waive Bond Law “Safe Harbor” Against Double Payment

Lasalle Group, Inc. v. JST Properties, LLC
2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83548 (S.D. Mich. July 29, 2011)

LaSalle, as general contractor, obtained a contract for construction of a school building in Gulfport, Mississippi. LaSalle subcontracted the concrete work on the project to Gulf Coast. American Contractors Indemnity Company (“ACIC”) provided performance and payment bonds to support LaSalle’s obligations under the subcontract.


Continue Reading U.S. District Court in Michigan Denies Performance Bond Claim for Contractor’s Failure to Meet Conditions Precedent – Also Holds that Surety May Proceed with Overpayment Defense and Counterclaim