Prompt Payment Penalties: CA Court of Appeal Relaxes Standard, “Good Faith Dispute” To Be Proven By Objective Evidence
FEI Enters., Inc. v. Kee Man Yoon, 194 Cal. App. 4th 790 (2011)
To encourage general contractors to make timely payments to subcontractors, California Business and Professions Code section 7108.5 requires a general contractor to pay its subcontractors within 10 days of receiving a corresponding progress payment from the project’s owner, unless the parties agree otherwise in writing. If the general contractor fails to do so, the subcontractor may recover a payment penalty. That penalty is fixed at 2% of the amount due per month for every month the payment is not made.
The general contractor, however, may withhold progress payments and avoid the payment penalty if there is a “good faith dispute” over the amount owed. The question is what constitutes a “good faith dispute.” In the recent case of FEI Enters., Inc. v. Kee Man Yoon, 194 Cal. App. 4th 790 (2011), the California Court of Appeal held that a “good faith dispute” exists “where the arguments asserted or positions taken have objective legal tenability.” In other words, the subcontractor does not need to show what a general contractor believed in his or her own mind. The subcontractor only needs to show objective evidence that the general contractor’s actions were unreasonable.