General Contractor’s Unjustified Threats to Assess Delay Damages Against Subcontractor Are a Material Breach of Contract

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

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

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Fifth Circuit Holds Settlement Proceeds Received by General Contractor From Subcontractors Constitute “Other Insurance” Which Offsets the Liability of the Excess Carrier and General Contractor Bears the Burden of Properly Allocating the Proceeds Among Covered and Non-Covered Claims

Satterfield & Pontikes Constr., Inc. v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 21488 (5th Cir. Aug. 2, 2018)

This case arises out of an excess insurance provider’s refusal to cover damages incurred by the insured general contractor after it was terminated from a construction project.  Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, Inc. (“S&P”) served as general contractor for the Zapata County courthouse project and purchased two layers of insurance to cover potential liabilities: commercial general liability insurance and excess insurance.  Excess insurance, provided by United States Fire Insurance Company (“Excess Carrier”), would apply when the first layer was exhausted.  S&P also required its subcontractors to purchase insurance and execute indemnity agreements to cover damages they caused to the project.

During the project, Zapata County terminated S&P and filed suit to recover the damages it incurred to complete and correct S&P’s work.  At arbitration, Zapata County was awarded over $8 million in damages, fees, and costs.  S&P covered over $4 million of the award through settlement agreements it executed with its subcontractors—which did not specifically allocate the proceeds to the damages or liabilities they covered—and nearly $3 million from its commercial general liability insurance providers.  S&P sought to obtain coverage for the balance of the award from its Excess Carrier, but the Excess Carrier refused to pay any amount, arguing that the first layer of insurance had not been completely exhausted.  S&P filed suit for breach of the policy, arguing that its Excess Carrier was obligated to make up the shortfall of the arbitration award.  The Excess Carrier argued that not all of the damages awarded at arbitration were covered under its policy (such as mold, attorney’s fees, and prejudgment interest) and that those that may have been covered were likely satisfied by the subcontractor settlements. Continue reading

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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

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

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Federal Court in Pennsylvania Holds Pay-If-Paid Clause Unenforceable Where Prime Contractor’s Inadvertent Delays Contribute to the Owner’s Withholding of Payment

Connelly Constr. Corp. v. Travelers Cas. & Surety Co. of Am., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123009 (E.D. Pa. July 24, 2018).

This post was published in the October 4, 2018 issue of eNews published by National Association of Credit Management (NACM).

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of General Services undertook a project for the construction of a new maximum security prison facility in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  Walsh Heery Joint Venture (“WHJV”) was the prime contractor and it retained Connelly Construction Corporation as its masonry subcontractor.

The prime contract permitted the Commonwealth to withhold retainage from WHJV until completion of the project.  Similarly, the subcontract permitted WHJV to withhold retainage from Connelly in proportion to the retainage held by the Commonwealth.  The subcontract also included a pay-if-paid clause under which Connelly agreed that it was not entitled to payment unless, as an express condition precedent, WHJV was paid by the Commonwealth.

Completion of the project was delayed for more than two years.  As a result, the Commonwealth continued to withhold retainage from WHJV, and WHJV thus withheld more than $200,000 in retainage from Connelly, long after Connelly completed its scope of work. Continue reading

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Federal Arbitration Act Preempts Florida State Statute Which Prohibits Out-of-State Resolution of Construction Claims Involving Florida Real Property

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

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