The Connecticut Superior Court recently decided a case of first impression regarding the right to file an application for discharge of mechanic’s liens. The court in Grade A Mkt., Inc. v. Surplus Contrs., LLC held that a lessee did not have “standing” to file an application for discharge of mechanic’s liens and dismissed the tenant’s application. Grade A Mkt., Inc. v. Surplus Contrs., LLC, 2015 Conn. Super LEXIS 1342 (Conn. Super. May 26, 2015). In layman’s terms, “standing” is the right to have the court decide your case. The Grade A Mkt decision is interesting because it limits the ability of a tenant to obtain a discharge of mechanic’s liens even though the tenant’s lease with the owner may require the tenant to obtain a discharge of mechanic’s liens filed by contractors performing work for the tenant.
Mechanic’s liens are a statutory right that the legislature created to provide contractors and/or suppliers that furnish labor, materials, and/or services to a property with security for the alleged debt but mechanic’s liens were not intended to prevent the free transfer of property rights. For that reason, the statutes provide a few different mechanisms by which an appropriate individual or company may obtain a release of the mechanic’s lien.
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.
As previously discussed in this Blog, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 49-41 requires each general contractor on a public works projects valued over $100,000 to post a payment bond that guarantees payment to the general contractor’s subcontractors and suppliers. The payment bond also guarantees payment to each subcontractors’ sub-subcontractors and suppliers.
The procedure by which such subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and/or suppliers may make claim against such payment bonds is described in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 49-42. With the exception of claims for retainage, the statute requires those making claim on the payment bond to submit their “notice of claim” within 180 calendar days after the last day that it worked and/or supplied materials. The statute then provides the surety that issued the payment bond with 90 calendar days to pay or deny the claim. Until recently, both time provisions were mandatory. See Barreira Landscaping & Masonry v. Frontier Ins. Co., 47 Conn. Supp. 99, 110, 779 A.2d 244, 252 (Super. Ct. 2000)(holding that both the notice of claim and the surety’s response both much be made within the time specified by statute.)
With regard to the 90 day time limit, the court in Barreira Landscaping &
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.
Arbitration Awards May Be Amended by the Arbitrator
Arbitration is a procedure by which parties to a contract agree in advance that any disputes arising out of that agreement will be submitted to a private individual or a panel of private individuals to issue a final decision referred to as an “award” that is final and binding upon the parties. Much like a court trial, in an arbitraiton, a single arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will hear testimony and take evidence presented by the parties or their legal counsel and then make findings of fact and law that lead to one party prevailing over the other.
Arbitration has become a very popular dispute resolution procedure in construction contract disputes because of its intended efficiency and finality. In general, the courts favor arbitration and, as a result, judicial interference in arbitration awards is very limited. In Connecticut, as in most states, a court will only vacate, modify or correct an arbitration award for a handful of statutory reasons, which do not include re-litigating the matter. In other words, you cannot convince a court to throw out an arbitration award merely by pointing out the arbitrator made a mistake of fact or law.
It is readily apparent that – if a project is delayed – the contractor is losing money. The increased direct costs associated with the labor and equipment on site are obvious. The more complex question arises when considering the effect a delayed project has on a contractor’s recovery of its home office overhead, where “home office overhead” is defined as the cost of the contractor’s main office including, but not limited to, rent, utilities, executive and management salaries, staff, office equipment, office supplies, taxes, insurance, etc. Everyone intuitively understands that a delayed project increases such costs in the same manner that that delays increase the project’s direct costs but increases in home office overhead cannot be directly correlated to any one project because a contractor typically has several projects with overlapping schedules underway at any given time. Over the years, courts have attempted to determine the damages necessary “to compensate a contractor for its indirect costs that cannot be allocated to a particular contract for the period during which the government has made contractual performance impossible.” Charles G. Williams Constr., Inc. v. White, 326 F.3d 1376, 1380-1381 (Fed. Cir. 2003). “As a result, there are at least nine formulas that have been used,
A recurring problem in the construction industry is the failure of owners to issue timely payments. The problem not only affects contractors but also the subcontractors and/or suppliers who have to wait for the money to pass through the project’s general contractor and/or a higher tier subcontractor. Most contractors are aware of their right to secure payment of the monies owed through a mechanic’s lien (private work) or by filing a payment bond claim (public work or private work if applicable) but there are statutory rights of which contractors should be aware.
Connecticut General States § 42-158i defines a “construction contract” as “any contract for the construction, renovation or rehabilitation in this state on or after October 1, 1999, including any improvements to real property that are associated with such construction, renovation or rehabilitation, or any subcontract for construction, renovation or rehabilitation between an owner and a contractor, or between a contractor and a subcontractor or subcontractors, or between a subcontractor and any other subcontractor” but excludes contracts between a contractor and any local, state, or federal government, and it excludes contracts for building residential structures with less than 4 units. Id.
According to § 42-158i,
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.