The doctrine of substantial performance holds that a contractor’s breach of a construction contract does not entitle the owner to damages because the contractor’s performance was close enough to that which the contract required. “Technical violations are excused not because compliance [is] impossible, but because actual performance is so similar to the required performance that any breach that may have been committed is immaterial. Substantial performance occurs when, although the conditions of the contract have been deviated from in trifling particulars not materially detracting from the benefit the other party would derive from a literal performance, [the other party] has received substantially the benefit [it] expected, and is, therefore, bound to perform.” United Concrete Prod., Inc. v. NJR Constr., LLC, No. CV176011932S, 2018 WL 5733720, at *4 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct. 17, 2018). The classic example of this doctrine is a situation where the contract specifies a product manufactured by Company A but the contractor provides the same product manufactured by Company B. Because the contract expressly stated that the product shall be manufactured by Company A, the installation of the same product manufactured by a different company is a breach of the contract. However, because the products are identical other than the name of the manufacturer,
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,
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.
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,
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.
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,
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.
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,
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.