This article was published in Law360 on December 4, 2019. © Copyright 2019, Portfolio Media, Inc., publisher of Law360. It is republished here with permission.

On Nov. 21, the Queen Mary University of London School of International Arbitration, in partnership with the U.K.-based law firm Pinsent Masons LLP, released its ninth annual international arbitration survey focused on international construction disputes.

As a nod to the significance the construction industry plays in the field of international arbitration, the 2019 Queen Mary University survey marks the largest industry-specific survey its School of International Arbitration has ever conducted and offers insights that will undoubtedly be used for years to come.
While the survey data and accompanying report provide a granular level of analysis concerning a wide variety of topics, below are some of the key takeaways of interest to U.S. practitioners.

Continue Reading New International Arbitration Study Offers Construction Dispute Insight

SMJ Gen. Constr., Inc. v. Jet Commer. Constr., LLC, No. S-16785/16985, 2019 BL 131640 (Alaska Apr. 12, 2019)

In 2016, Jet Commercial Construction, LLC (“Jet”) entered into a subcontract with SMJ General Construction, Inc. (“SMJ”) to supply materials and labor for the construction of a restaurant in Hawaii.  The subcontract contained a dispute resolution provision that required the parties to first mediate any dispute and then submit it to arbitration if mediation was unsuccessful.  It also included a choice-of-law and venue provision designating Oklahoma Law and the courts of Cleveland County, Oklahoma for any lawsuits pertaining to the Agreement’s enforcement.

Continue Reading Alaska’s Supreme Court Holds That Executing a Settlement Agreement Releases Parties from Contractual Obligation to Arbitrate Disputes

Eugene Water & Elec. Bd. v. MWH Americas, Inc., 2018 Ore. App. LEXIS 879 (July 25, 2018)

On July 25, 2018, an Oregon appellate court concluded that a pair of subcontractors could not compel an owner to arbitrate its claims against them by virtue of a “flow-down” provision in a prime construction contract which also contained an arbitration clause.  The case is a reminder that principles of contract interpretation govern the enforcement of arbitration agreements and that courts will not compel arbitration where both parties have not expressly consented to arbitrate their disputes.

As part of an improvement project for the Leaburg Dam near Eugene, Oregon, the Eugene Water and Electric Board (“EWEB”) entered into a prime contract with Advanced American Construction (“AAC”) as the general contractor for the project.  AAC subsequently entered into subcontracts with MacTaggart, Scott & Company Limited (“MacTaggart”) and Olsson Industrial Electric, Inc. (“Olsson”).  When the improvements to the Leaburg Dam failed, EWEB filed a complaint in Oregon state court against AAC and, shortly thereafter, asserted claims against the two subcontractors in an amended complaint.

During the proceedings, AAC sought to compel arbitration of EWEB’s claims against AAC because the prime contract contained an arbitration clause.  As litigation proceeded, both MacTaggart and Olsson also sought to compel arbitration of EWEB’s claims against them.  Problematically, however, because MacTaggart and Olson, as subcontractors, were only in direct privity with AAC, and not EWEB, no express agreement to arbitrate existed between EWEB and the two subcontractors. 
Continue Reading When a Flow Down Provision Doesn’t Flow Up: Oregon Appellate Court Holds That a Flow Down Provision From a Prime Contract With an Arbitration Clause Does Not Grant Subcontractors a Right to Compel Arbitration With Owner

Sachse Constr. & Dev. Corp. v. Affirmed Drywall, Corp., 2018 Fla App. Lexis 9998 (July 18, 2018)

Sachse Construction, a Michigan-based general contractor, entered into a subcontract (the “Subcontract”) with Affirmed Drywall Corp. (“Affirmed”), a Florida drywall subcontractor, to perform work on a property in Florida.  The Subcontract provided that all disputes be resolved by mediation and/or arbitration in Southfield, Michigan, or within 20 miles thereof, pursuant to the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association and in accordance with Michigan laws.  However, under Section 47.025 of the Florida Statutes, a venue provision in a contract involving a Florida-based contractor or subcontractor, etc., for the improvement of real property located in Florida is considered void as a matter of public policy if it requires that legal action be brought outside of Florida.

Affirmed filed an action in Florida state court alleging claims for breach of contract against Sachse and to recover against a bond naming Sachse and the surety on the bond.  Sachse moved to dismiss or to compel arbitration in Michigan in accordance with the dispute resolution provision in the Subcontract.  Sachse argued that the Subcontract involved interstate commerce, so the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) governed the Subcontract and preempted inconsistent state law.  Sachse claimed that Section 47.025 did not void the provision in the Subcontract mandating that disputes be resolved by arbitration in Michigan because of the FAA’s liberal policy favoring arbitration agreements.  The trial court disagreed, denied Sachse’s motion and ordered Sachse to answer the complaint.  Sachse appealed.
Continue Reading Federal Arbitration Act Preempts Florida State Statute Which Prohibits Out-of-State Resolution of Construction Claims Involving Florida Real Property

Fogelson v. Bozzone, 2017 N.M. App. LEXIS 58 (July 26, 2017)

In May of 2008, Wallen Development, LLC (“Wallen”) entered into a written agreement to construct and sell a new home to David and Corinne Fogelson (“Fogelson”).  But, after Fogelson paid Wallen in excess of $165,111 under the agreement, Wallen went out of business as a result of financial difficulties.
Fogelson filed an arbitration action against Wallen and ultimately obtained a default judgment after Wallen failed to appear.  Thereafter, Fogelson filed a complaint in court against various individuals affiliated with Wallen.  As relevant here, Fogelson asserted a claim under New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act, NMSA 1978 §§ 57-12-1 to -26 against one of Wallen’s owners, Mark Bozzone (“Bozzone”).  Bozzone filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that “construction services”, such as those provided by Wallen, do not fall within the scope of the Unfair Practices Act.  The trial court granted Bozzone’s motion.

The major issue on appeal was whether the doctrine of res judicata applied to an arbitration proceeding.  After a very lengthy discussion covering over half of the opinion, the Court of Appeals ruled the res judicata did apply to the arbitration result against Wallen.


Continue Reading Appellate Court Holds That the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act Applies to a “Services” Contract for the Construction of a Home, But Does Not Apply to a “Sales” Contract for the Sale of a Completed Home

TK Servs., Inc. v. RWD Consulting, LLC, 2017 U.S. Dist. Lexis 97239 (D.D.C., June 23, 2017)

This litigation arose from a dispute between TK Services, Inc. (“TKS”), as sub-subcontractor, and RWD Consulting, LLC (“RWD”), as prime subcontractor, in connection with a sub-subcontract (the “Subcontract”), whereby TKS agreed to be responsible for managing operation and maintenance-related services (the “Services”) for the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington DC (the “Project” or the “EPA Building”) in exchange for a monthly fixed fee and a percentage of profits derived from reimbursable projects performed at the EPA Building.  Pursuant to the Subcontract, all funds received by RWD as payment for the Services performed at the Project and all working capital provided by TKS were to be deposited into a joint bank account to which both TKS and RWD were signatories.

In its complaint, TKS alleged that RWD (1) breached the Subcontract by failing to properly compensate TKS and excluding TKS from accessing the EPA Building, (2) converted the funds in the joint bank account by unilaterally closing the account, and (3) was unjustly enriched by its improper conduct.  TKS also moved for a preliminary injunction to sequester the profits received by RWD in connection with the Project, prevent RWD from excluding TKS from the EPA Building and the joint bank account, and reinstate TKS to its prior role under the Subcontract.


Continue Reading D.C. Federal Court Declines to Enjoin Arbitration Because the Arbitrator Could Issue Any Equitable Relief Required, the Integrity of the Arbitration Was Not Threatened and the Movant’s Projected Economic Loss Did Not Prove Irreparable Harm

United States v. Int’l Fid. Ins. Co., No. 16-0472-WS-C, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16791 (S.D. Ala. Feb. 7, 2017)

This action arose out of a payment dispute between Bay South Limited, Inc. (“Bay South”) and Stephens Construction & Concrete, Inc. (“Stephens”). Bay South entered into two subcontracts with Stephens, whereby Bay South agreed to furnish labor and materials to Stephens on two federal construction projects.  In connection therewith, International Fidelity Insurance Company (“Fidelity”) issued payment bonds (the “Bonds”) to Stephens.  Bay South filed a complaint in federal court to assert claims against the Bonds under the Miller Act (40 U.S.C. §3133), as well as other claims.  Stephens sought to compel arbitration of Bay South’s claims, pursuant to the arbitration provision in the subcontracts, which provided:

“In the event of a dispute arising between [Stephens] and [Bay South] under the Subcontract Agreement, the dispute shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association then in effect …”

Bay South argued that the 1999 Amendment to the Miller Act prohibits such claims from being arbitrated, and, in the alternative, even if these claims may be arbitrated generally, Bay South’s specific claims are not subject to arbitration because they are not within the scope of the parties’ arbitration agreement.


Continue Reading Federal Court in Alabama Rules that 1999 Amendment to the Miller Act Does Not Preclude Arbitration of Underlying Claims

Nappa Constr. Mgmt., LLC v. Flynn, 2017 R.I. LEXIS 13 (R.I. Jan. 23, 2017)

Caroline and Vincent Flynn (the “Flynns”) contracted with Nappa Construction Management, LLC (“Nappa”) to construct an automobile repair facility. The parties executed the American Institute of Architects’ A101-2007 Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Contractor.  The contract provided that the owner could terminate the contract for cause; could order the contractor to suspend the work without cause “for such period of time as the Owner may determine”; and could terminate the contract for convenience.

Six months after Nappa commenced work, the Flynns directed Nappa to “immediately cease any further work on the project,” contending that Nappa was not constructing the flooring according to the project plans or industry standards. Thereafter, Nappa submitted a payment application that included expenses for the disputed flooring, which the Flynns declined to pay.  Nappa notified the Flynns that they were in breach of the contract and filed for mediation.  Nappa ultimately terminated the contract for nonpayment.


Continue Reading Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules That Despite Deference Afforded Arbitrator, the Award Must Be Vacated Where Arbitrator’s Decision Was Contrary to Contract Language

Bell Prods. v. Hosp. Bldg. & Equip. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9183 (ND of Cal. Jan. 23, 2017)

A Contractor, Hospital Building and Equipment Company (“HBE”) entered into a subcontract with a mechanical subcontractor, Bell Products, Inc. (“Bell”), on a design-build project for a California hospital.  Bell sued HBE, asserting that HBE’s plans and specifications were deficient and failed to meet requirements of the applicable regulatory agencies, resulting in 15 months of delay to the project.  Bell initially sued HBE in State Court.  However, the case was removed to federal court, and the federal court stayed the proceedings pending conclusion of arbitration.

The subcontract provided that:  all claims between HBE and Bell shall be decided by arbitration; the arbitration shall be per the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association; the arbitration provisions shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and “unless [HBE] requests the locale to be the place of the Project, the arbitration locale shall be St. Louis, Missouri.  Bell sought relief from the venue provision, based upon a California Statute, C.C.P. § 410.42(a)(1), which provides:

(a) The following provisions of a contract between the contractor and a subcontractor with principal offices in this state, for the construction of a public or private work of improvement in this state, shall be void and unenforceable:
(1) A provision which purports to require any dispute between the parties to be litigated, arbitrated, or otherwise determined outside this state.
Continue Reading Federal Court in California Rules That the Federal Arbitration Act Preempts California Statute That Requires Arbitrations Relating to California Construction Projects Take Place in California

Tilson Home Corp. v. Zepeda, No. 14-16-00075-CV, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 12022 (Tex. App. Nov. 8, 2016)

The Court of Appeals of Texas has held that an arbitrator—not a trial court—must determine whether a prerequisite to the obligation to arbitrate has been met. Thus, when faced with the procedural question of whether an arbitration demand was timely filed, Texas trial courts must compel arbitration, leaving the question to the arbitrator. 

In Tilson Home Corp., Jorge and Lisa Zepeda hired Tilson to build a home on their property.  The contract’s arbitration provision stated:

Any dispute or claim which arise[s] from or relates to this Agreement, the Work and/or the Home will be barred unless the claim is filed with the [AAA] by Owner or Contractor within two (2) years and one (1) day from the date the cause of action accrues.


Continue Reading Texas Court of Appeals Holds That the Effect of a Failure to Meet a Specific Contractual Deadline for Arbitration is a Procedural Question for the Arbitrator, Not the Trial Court