Here’s Some General Information for Those Wishing to File Their Own Mechanic’s Lien in Connecticut (Including a Mechanic’s Lien Form)

As a disclaimer, I don’t recommend that contractors file their own mechanic’s liens without the aid of an attorney. Every client and/or potential client that has ever come to me asking that I foreclose a mechanic’s lien that they filed on their own had some fatal defect. The reason for that is the arguably conflicting laws in the statutes and in the court decisions interpreting those laws.

A prime example of something that is not readily apparent by reading the mechanic’s lien laws is the notice and service requirements. According to our courts, “[r]ead together, [Sections] 49-34 and 49-35 [of the Connecticut General Statutes] require the [contractor filing the lien] to serve a copy of the certificate upon each owner of the property within 90 days after he ceased performing services or furnishing materials.” Steeltech Bldg. Prod., Inc. v. Viola, 2000 WL 726367, at *2 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 16, 2000). Of course, one may not reach that same conclusion reading [Sections] 49-34 and 49-35 on their own. According to Connecticut General Statutes § 49-34, “[a] mechanic’s lien is not valid unless the person performing the services or furnishing the materials [records a certificate of mechanic’s lien in the land records] within ninety days after he has ceased to do so…” However,

The Importance of Reading and Understanding Your Construction Contract

Everyone knows that they ought to eat right and exercise; yet, far too few of us do it. Similarly, proper construction contract management requires a contractor to thoroughly understand their contracts but many fail to do so. Of course, the reason that contractors are often largely ignored are understandable. Most construction contracts have the same substantive provisions with which contractors are already familiar; the specific requirements for any given project will be discussed at the preconstruction meeting; and the more specific details of any contract tend to only really matter in the rare occasions that the parties end up in a dispute they cannot resolve on their own. However, the few instances that result in litigation may make having proper practices in place for every project worthwhile.

On a positive note, most contractors that I encounter are now reading their contracts before signing them, as opposed to only reading them after a problem develops. As obvious as this may sound, actually taking the time to thoroughly read a contract before a project begins is the only way to be certain that you will fully comply with all your obligations. In addition, reading a contract before signing can prevent a contractor from experiencing an unfortunate surprise.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE NOT BEING PAID

The most common issue I confront as a construction attorney is what to do when my client is not being paid. The standard approaches include sending a demand letter, making a demand for disputed funds to be placed in escrow in accordance with the prompt payment statute, and, of course, filing mechanic’s liens and/or bond claims. The larger issue becomes what to do when my client can no longer to perform its work without payment.

As a general rule, a contractor is better off completing its work, and then fighting about the monies due, as opposed to walking off the job. While it is true that there are Connecticut cases which hold that a contractor is excused from finishing its work if progress payments are not made when due, but reliance on such cases is fraught with potential problems.

If you ever forced to litigate, you want to be viewed as the one wearing the white hat. You want to be the injured party that is as pure as the driven snow. If at all possible, you do not want to give the other side any arguments to raise. Thus, if you walk off the job for nonpayment,

Contractual Time Limits for Providing Notice of Claim Must be Taken Seriously

The Connecticut Appellate Court recently issued a decision that should cause every contractor some concern.  In J. WM. Foley Inc. v. United Illuminating Co., 158 Conn. App. 27 (Conn.App. 2015), the Appellate Court upheld a decision that denied a contractor’s $4.7 million delay claim because the contractor did not provide proper notice of the claim within the 10 days required by the contract.  The case is disconcerting because the court’s decision appears to be based upon the contractor’s failure to strictly comply with the contract’s notice provision.  There is no discussion indicating that the owner was harmed or prejudiced by the delay in receiving notice of the claim.  Moreover, the decision acknowledges that the contractor had provided the owner with notice of events giving rise to the claim.  In fact, despite denying the delay claim, the trial court awarded the plaintiff over one million dollars for its direct costs, which arose out of the same facts as the delay claim.

 

The project underlying the dispute in J. WM. Foley Inc. was the construction of a utility pipeline.  The parties’ agreement stated that the contractor was expected to encounter subsurface obstructions and that the contractor would be entitled to additional compensation associated with same. 

Recent Supreme Court Case Teaches Important Lessons

It is no secret that public works construction is a difficult business.  On any given project there are innumerable ways that things can go wrong. With any project involving excavation and underground utilities, encountering changed conditions should not be a surprise.  Of course, such changed conditions are not the contractor’s responsibility.  What is the contractor’s responsibility, however, is providing the public owner with proper notice of its claims in accordance with the subject agreement.

One of the reasons public works construction projects are more onerous than their private counterparts is because public owners rarely negotiate contract terms. Contracts that are slanted significantly in the public owner’s favor are the norm.  Thus, as the contractor in a recent state Supreme Court decision learned, it is vitally important to read the contract and abide by its terms.

One of the lessons from Old Colony Cosntr., LLC v. Town of Southington, 316 Conn. 202 (Conn. April 21, 2015) is that general assertions of entitlement to damages and/or additional contract time is not sufficient when the contract requires more detail.  During the long duration of the project, the contractor in Old Colony repeatedly indicated that each problem that occurred impacted its schedule and costs. 

A Contractor May Still Recover Monies Due For Work Performed Pursuant to an Unenforceable Contract

Despite what might appear to be the parties’ intentions, courts sometimes find contracts unenforceable.  Courts may find contracts unenforceable for any number of reasons including, but not limited to, the contract omitting a material term; the contract having vague or indeterminate terms; the contract violating the statute of frauds; the contract lacking consideration; and/or the contract not reflecting the understanding of both parties.  In those situations, a party that provides labor, materials, and/or services may still be entitled to receive payment for its work under the legal theories of unjust enrichment or quantum meruit.

“[U]njust enrichment and quantum meruit are alternative theories of restitution.”  Nation Elec. Contracting, LLC v. St. Dimitrie Romanian Orthodox Church, 144 Conn.App. 808, 814, 74 A.3d 474, 478 (Conn.App., 2013).  “Unjust enrichment applies whenever justice requires compensation to be given for property or services rendered under a contract, and no remedy is available by an action on the contract.”  Gagne v. Vaccaro, 255 Conn. 390, 401, 766 A.2d 416, 424 (Conn.,2001).  “Quantum meruit is the remedy available to a party when the trier of fact determines that an implied contract for services existed between the parties, and that,

Beware of No Damages for Delay Clauses

It is common for construction contracts to state that, if the project is delayed by the owner, the contractor shall be entitled to an extension of contract time but will not be entitled to any addition compensation.  Such a contract provision is known as a “no damages for delay” clause.  The Connecticut Supreme Court has held that “‘no damages for delay’ clauses are generally valid and enforceable and are not contrary to public policy. [unless]: (1) [the] delays [are] caused by the [owner’s] bad faith or its willful, malicious, or grossly negligent conduct, (2) [the delays] uncontemplated …, (3) [the] delays so unreasonable that they constitute an intentional abandonment of the contract …, and (4) [the] delays [result] from the [owner’s] breach of a fundamental obligation of the contract.  White Oak Corp. v. Department of Transp., 217 Conn. 281, 288-89, 585 A.2d 1199, 1203 (Conn.,1991).  The list of exceptions; however, may not actually be that broad.  In a recent decision, the Superior Court analyzed the applicability of the aforesaid exceptions to a typical “no damages for delay” clause.

In C & H Elec., Inc. v. Town of Bethel, an electrical contractor was substantially delayed because of the additional asbestos abatement work that was required. 

After Nine Years, There is Still Ambiguity in The State’s Prequalification Program

On October 1, 2004, acting through its Department of Administrative Services (“DAS”), the State of Connecticut implemented a prequalification program for all contractors bidding on certain public projects.  2003 Ct. ALS 215, 1.  Specifically, “[t]he DAS Contractor Prequalification Program (C.G.S §4a-100) [(the “Program”)] requires all contractors to prequalify before they can bid on a contract or perform work pursuant to a contract for the construction, reconstruction, alteration, remodeling, repair or demolition of any public building or any other public work by the state or a municipality, estimated to cost more than $500,000 and which is funded in whole or in part with state funds, except a public highway or bridge project or any other construction project administered by the Department of Transportation.”  DAS website, http://www.das.state.ct.us/cr1.aspx?page=10.  On October 1, 2007, the Program was expanded to apply to subcontractors whose contract exceeded $500,000.  http://www.das.state.ct.us/fp1.aspx?page=111.  Still, questions remain as to whether an apparent low bid submitted by a DAS prequalified contractor may be rejected by a public owner and/or its construction manager and the information that a bidder may have to submit to be awarded a project can be unduly burdensome and repetitive.

According to DAS,

Recent OCIP Decision Reminds Contractors About the Importance of Contract Language

In recent years, Owner Controlled Insurance Programs (“OCIP”) have become more prevalent in public and private construction projects.  An OCIP “is a class of ‘wrap-up’ insurance that provides coverage for many construction project participants under one program.”  Capstone Bldg. Corp. v. Am. Motorists Ins. Co., 308 Conn. 760, 767 (Conn. 2013).  Such programs typically include commercial general liability insurance and worker’s compensation insurance.  In general, OCIPs reduce a project’s overall cost because the owner does not have to pay the multiple layers of duplicative administration associated with the general contractor and each subcontractor having its own insurance coverage.  The general understanding is that the project owner benefits from the savings but a recent Superior Decision reminds us that contractual duties and obligations are derived from the plain language of the contract and not what may reasonably inferred.

In Elevator Serv. Co. v. Reg’l Scaffolding & Hoisting Co., 2013 Conn. Super. LEXIS 687 (Conn. Super. Ct. Mar. 27, 2013), Elevator Service Co., Inc. (“Elevator Service”) and Regional Saffolding & Hosting, Inc. (“Regional Scaffolding”) entered into an agreement pertaining to a project known as the Royal Bank of Scotland (the “Project”).  The issue before the court was whether Elevator Service had to pass along to Regional Scaffolding a discount that it received through the subject project’s OCIP. 

Connecticut Statutes Provide Assistance with Receiving Prompt Payment on Public and Private Construction Projects

Under Connecticut law, an owner should pay its general contractor within 30 days of having received the general contractor’s application for payment; the general contractor, in turn, is required to pay its subcontractors and suppliers within 30 days of having received payment from the owner; and the subcontractors should then pay their sub-contractors and suppliers within 30 days of having received payment from the general contractor and so on down the line.  See Gen. Stat. § 49-41a and Conn. Gen. Stat. § 42-158j.

The provisions in § 49-41a and § 42-158j are substantially similar except that:

1.) Only private owners are required to make payment to their general contractors within a specified number of days after receiving an application for payment; and

2.) The statute only applies to public projects for which a payment bond is required, which is any public works project whose contract amount exceeds $100,000.

Both statutes also have similar enforcement procedures.  Either a subcontractor on a public project to which the statute applies or general contractors and subcontractors on a private project can make demand for payment by way of registered or certified mail and, within 10 days,