Category: Case Summaries

No Compensation for Clandestine Employment in Germany!
Federal District Court in Pennsylvania Allows Negligence Suit Against Builder, Despite lack of Privity of Contract Between the Parties
Unions and Benefit Fund Trustees Not “Subcontractors” Under Lien Law, According to Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Appellate Division of New Jersey Upholds Jury Verdict in Connection with Misrepresentations Made by Developer
FIDIC Update: Clarity on Notice Provisions and Time Bars
Alabama Supreme Court Clarifies Position on Construction Coverage Question
New York Court holds that Indian Sovereign Immunity does not Extend to For-Profit Corporation
West Virginia’s High Court Holds Defective Workmanship Causing Bodily Injury or Property Damage Does Constitute an “Occurrence” Under Standard CGL Policy
Maritime Law Does Not Preempt State Safety Laws When The State Laws Do Not Unduly Interfere With Maritime Law
New Jersey Court Requires Materials Suppliers to Ascertain Source of Payments Made By Insolvent Subcontractors Under New Jersey Lien Law

No Compensation for Clandestine Employment in Germany!

By Christoph Mank and Kristina Fischer, K&L Gates, Berlin

In Germany, it is prohibited by law to hire clandestine workers. But what happens if a principal nevertheless hires a clandestine worker and does not pay the agreed compensation? Is the clandestine worker entitled to claim his compensation before court? In a recent judgment dated 10 April 2014, the German Federal Court of Justice (“Bundesgerichtshof“) said “no“ and decided that clandestine employment must not be compensated.

The defendant was building serial houses; the plaintiff was instructed by the defendant to do electrical installations. As compensation, plaintiff and defendant had agreed that the defendant would pay a lump-sum of EUR 13,800 including VAT and another EUR 5,000 cash and without invoice. From the agreed amount of EUR 5,000, the defendant had paid EUR 2,300 but refused to pay the remaining EUR 2,700. The claim with which the plaintiff (inter alia) requested payment of these EUR 2,700 was, however, dismissed:

The agreement between the parties, obliging the defendant to pay the cash amount of EUR 5,000, is null and void. According to Section 134 of the German Civil Code, an agreement which violates a statutory prohibition is void, unless the statute leads to a different conclusion. In this case, the parties´ understanding has violated Section 1 no. 2 (2) of the German Act to Combat Clandestine Employment (“Schwarzarbeitsbekämp-fungsgesetz“), which classifies as clandestine employment the nonfulfilment of statutory tax liabilities. According to the Court, it was evident that the parties´ agreement to provide works without an invoice was meant to conceal the plaintiff´s turnovers from German tax authorities and to provide a price advantage for the defendant. Even if the „cash understanding“ referred to only a part of the agreement, the violation of Section 1 no. 2 (2) of the Act leads to a nullity of the entire agreement. As a consequence, the clandestine worker was not able to claim the agreed compensation from the principal.

What makes the decision of the German Federal Court of Justice particular? In a former decision of 1990, the Court had decided that although the agreement between principal and contractor was violating the (former) Law on Clandestine Employment the contractor was nevertheless entitled to claim restitution according to the value of his work. The Court argued that the principal who mostly is the economically stronger party, would otherwise be in unjust advantage if he was allowed to keep the clandestine worker´s performance without any consideration. Since 1990, the Laws on Clandestine Employment have tightened. Accordingly, in 2013, the Court heralded a change of its case law and ruled that a principal has no warranty claims against a clandestine worker, if the worker´s performance was poor, inadequate or insufficient. With its 2014 decision, the Court emphasized the importance to enforce the Laws on Clandestine Employment effectively: A person who deliberately violates the Law does not deserve to be protected by civil law. By denying the principal´s warranty claims on the one hand and the clandestine worker´s claim for compensation on the other hand, parties shall be restrained from concluding a prohibited clandestine agreement. Whether or not this judgment will have the expected deterrent effect on clandestine contractors and principals remains to be seen.

Federal District Court in Pennsylvania Allows Negligence Suit Against Builder, Despite lack of Privity of Contract Between the Parties

By Kimberly L. Karr, K&L Gates, Pittsburgh

A Federal Court in Pennsylvania has handed down a ruling that may expand the pool of potential plaintiffs in construction litigation. See AMCO Insurance Co. v. Emery and Associates, 926 F. Supp. 2d 634 (W.D. Pa. 2013). In AMCO, the court allowed the second owner of a building and its insurer to file suit for negligence against a builder, even though privity of contract did not exist between the parties. See id. at 643.

The case stems from damage to property in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. The original owners of a property hired a general contractor, Emery, to build a hotel. The owners then sold the hotel to a second owner. Seven years after that, a fire occurred that caused significant damage to the hotel premises. See AMCO, 926 F. Supp. 2d at 637-38.

The second owner filed a claim with its insurance company, AMCO, to recover the cost of the damage due to the fire. AMCO paid their insured $4 million, and then sued the contractor for the claim amount. Among AMCO’s causes of action was an argument that the builder, Emery, acted negligently when it constructed the hotel. Specifically, AMCO alleged that Emery’s failure to comply with local and state building codes attributed (at least in part) to the fire. See id. at 637-39.

Emery petitioned the Federal District Court to dismiss AMCO’s negligence claim, with one reason being that it owed no duty to the second owner and its insurer. See id. at 642. Emery seemed to rely on the lack of direct relationship between the parties to support its claim. See id. at 642-43.

However, the court disagreed. It held that under Pennsylvania law, a “duty of care” could extend from a builder to a second owner and its insurer, even in the absence of a direct relationship (including privity of contract). Quoting a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision, F.D.P. ex rel. S.M.P. v. Ferrara, 804 A.2d 1221, 1231 (Pa. Super. 2002), the AMCO court weighed five factors to determine whether a duty of care was present: (1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the social utility of the actor’s conduct; (3) the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred; (4) the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and (5) the overall public interest in the proposed solution. See AMCO, 926 F. Supp. 2d at 643. Applying these factors to Emery, the court ruled that it is reasonable for a builder to assume that a commercial building may have more than one owner, and negligent acts on the part of the builder could affect subsequent owners. The court also emphasized that it is in the public interest to impose a duty on those who are negligent in following required building codes. See id.

Owners, developers, and builders should be mindful of the AMCO decision before starting a construction project in Pennsylvania. If privity of contract is no longer the sole avenue for recovery, parties must consider all potential plaintiffs who might be owed a duty of care.

Unions and Benefit Fund Trustees Not “Subcontractors” Under Lien Law, According to Pennsylvania Supreme Court

By Kimberly L. Karr, K&L Gates, Pittsburgh

On April 17, 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Pennsylvania’s mechanics’ lien law, 49 P.S. § 1101, et seq., does not allow trustees of union benefit funds to bring claims for non-payment as subcontractors against employers and owners. See Bricklayers of W. Pa. Combined Funds Inc. v. Scott’s Dev. Co., Case No. 36 WAP 2012 (Pa. April 17, 2014); Laborers’ Combined Funds of W. Pa. et al. v. Scott’s Dev. Co., Case No. 37 WAP 2012 (Pa. April 17, 2014). The decision reverses the Superior Court, which previously ruled in favor of the unions.

Under the Pennsylvania’s mechanics’ lien law, unpaid subcontractors can record a lien on an owner’s property. See 49 P.S. § 1301. If the primary contractor continues to withhold rightful payment, the subcontractor can foreclose on the lien and force the sale of the property in lieu of compensation. See id. at § 1701.

The question before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether unions and benefit fund trustees could qualify as subcontractors under the mechanics’ lien law. The dispute stemmed from construction work performed by members of two unions on a property in Erie County. General contractor J. William Pustelak Inc. hired the unions using collective bargaining agreements. The agreements specified, among other things, that when the general contractor needed bricklayers and/or laborers, it would obtain them from the unions.

After the work in Erie County went unpaid, the unions filed liens against the property owner, Scott’s Development. The unions sought approximately $42,000 in contributions owed to a fund for the workers’ health, welfare, retirement, and fringe benefits. Scott’s Development objected on the grounds that unions and benefit fund trustees were not considered contractors or subcontractors under Pennsylvania’s mechanics’ lien law. The trial judge dismissed the case, but the Superior Court reinstated it on the basis that the statute should be liberally construed.

The Supreme Court ultimately determined that unions and benefit fund trustees could not be considered subcontractors. It reasoned that a “subcontractor” by definition is a person or business “who performs for and takes from the prime contractor a specific part of the labor or material requirements of the original contract,” as opposed to ordinary laborers. Quoting Clifford F. MacEvoy Co. v. United States for Use & Benefit of Calvin Tomkins, 322 U.S. 102, 109 (1944). The court also cited language from the statute’s official legislative comments, which make a similar distinction between subcontractors and employees. Moreover, according to the court, the trustees could not assert that an implied-in-fact subcontract existed, where the trustees’ claims were based on an express collective bargaining agreement.

The Supreme Court also seemed to consider the effect that the Superior Court’s decision would have if sustained. The court determined that if union workers could be considered “subcontractors” under the mechanics’ lien law, private property owners would then be forced to act as guarantors of contractors’ general employment obligations. According to the Supreme Court, the lower court’s decision would effectively create a new class of claimants that would saddle private property owners with an undue increased risk of litigation. Accordingly, union members and laborers in Pennsylvania are left to recover payment through more traditional theories of liability, such as breach of contract.

Appellate Division of New Jersey Upholds Jury Verdict in Connection with Misrepresentations Made by Developer

By Christopher A. Barbarisi, Loly G. Tor, and Christopher J. Archer, K&L Gates, Newark

Builders and real estate developers should take note of a recent decision of the Appellate Division of New Jersey (the state’s intermediate appellate court), in which the Court upheld a jury verdict of $4,817,638.12 in connection with misrepresentations made by a developer in its marketing materials relating to the nature and quality of the views from high-rise riverfront condominium units.

Etelson v. South Shore Urban Renewal, L.L.C.[1], involved a group of sixteen purchasers of ten upper-floor condominium units (“Plaintiffs”) in the South Shore Club building in Jersey City, New Jersey. Plaintiffs contracted to purchase their pre-construction units in 2005. During sales negotiations, the developer (“Developer”), through its sales agents and marketing materials, represented to the Plaintiffs that their units—all east-facing and located on the 19th through 22nd floors—would enjoy unobstructed, panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. At the time that the Plaintiffs entered into their sales contracts, there were no buildings in the area capable of obstructing the views of Plaintiffs’ units.

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FIDIC Update: Clarity on Notice Provisions and Time Bars

By Mike R. Stewart and Camilla A. de Moraes, K&L Gates, London


Case law on the FIDIC form of contract has to-date been scarce, particularly in respect of Sub-Clause 20.1.

The recent case of Obrascon Huarte Lain SA v Her Majesty’s Attorney General for Gibraltar [2014] EWHC 1028 (TCC) gives an interesting judicial insight into the interpretation of Sub-Clause 20.1 as well as Sub-Clauses 4.12 (Unforeseeable Physical Conditions) and 15 (Termination).

The case was brought by the Contractor, Obrascon Huarte Lain (OHL), who was engaged to undertake the design and construction of a road and tunnel under the runway of Gibraltar airport. Subject to some minor amendments, the contract was based on the FIDIC Yellow Book.

The main issue for the court to determine related to the validity of the termination of the contract by the Employer, the Government of Gibraltar. The court also considered the Contractor’s compliance with Sub-Clause 20.1 in respect of extension of time claims brought for the discovery of rock and exceptionally adverse weather (pursuant to Sub-Clause 4.12).

Sub-Clause 20.1
Sub-Clause 20.1 must be complied with where the Contractor “considers himself to be entitled to any extension of the Time for Completion and/or any additional payment, under any Clause of these Conditions or otherwise in connection with the Contract…

The requirement is that the Contractor must notify the engineer, describing the event or circumstance giving rise to the claim “as soon as practicable, and not later than 28 days after the Contractor became aware, or should have become aware, of the event or circumstance.” [emphasis added]

If the Contractor fails to give notice of a claim within the 28-day period, he shall not be entitled to an EOT or any additional payment and the Employer shall have no liability in respect of such claim.

The 28-day period referred to within Sub-Clause 20.1 does not run from the occurrence of the event or circumstance giving rise to the claim. Instead, it runs from when the Contractor “became aware, or should have become aware, of the event or circumstance” giving rise to the claim.

Less clear is whether the 28-day period starts running when the Contractor is aware (or is deemed to be aware) of (i) the event or circumstance or (ii) the fact that the event or circumstance is to have time and/or cost consequences such that he is entitled to an EOT or additional payment.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Akenhead saw no reason why Clause 20.1 should be construed strictly against the Contractor, especially given the serious consequences of such an approach, namely that the Contractor would lose entitlement to what otherwise might be a good claim against the Employer.

Mr Justice Akenhead, in reaching his decision, made reference to Sub-Clause 8.4 of the FIDIC conditions, which sets out the circumstances in which the Contractor is entitled to an extension of time. Sub-Clause 8.4 states that:

The Contractor shall be entitled subject to Sub-Clause 20.1…to an extension of the Time for Completion if and to the extent that the completion for the purposes of Sub-Clause 10.1…is or will be delayed by any of the following causes…” [emphasis added]

The judge placed particular emphasis on the words identified in bold in the paragraph above. He stated that the entitlement to an extension clearly arises either when it is clear that there will be a delay (a prospective delay) or when the delay has at least started to be incurred (a retrospective delay). From this, he concluded that notice does not have to be given until there actually is a delay.
Whilst of course the Contractor can give notice when it reasonably believes that it will be delayed, it is not required to do so. Sub-Clause 8.4 grants the Contractor the choice by virtue of the word “or” between “is” and “will be.” If the Contractor was required to give notice on the earlier date, the wording of Sub-Clause 8.4 would have read “is or will be delayed whichever is the earliest” [emphasis added].

Further, the judge held that whilst there is no particular form of notice required pursuant to Sub-Clause 20.1, it must be recognisable as a “claim”. In this case, OHL had tried to rely on a monthly progress report which stated that “The adverse weather condition (rain) have [sic] affected the works” to constitute the requisite notice for an extension of time. In the judge’s view, this was “clearly nowhere near a notice under Clause 20.1.”

Mr Justice Akenhead confirmed that the onus is on the Employer to establish that a notice is not given in time. In any event, in this particular case, OHL failed to give notice of the exceptionally adverse weather within the 28-day period and, therefore, was only entitled to a one-day extension to the Time for Completion.

Sub-Clause 4.12 (Unforeseeable Physical Conditions)
The court, in determining whether OHL had encountered unforeseeable physical conditions, was required to consider the ground conditions that were reasonably foreseeable by an experienced Contractor at the date of the submission of the tender. OHL had been provided with site data, and had been told to allow for a substantial volume of contaminated material, but had not done so.

The court held that OHL should have carried out “some intelligent assessment and analysis” of why the site was contaminated and what the real risk was of encountering more contaminated material than had been envisaged at the tender stage. OHL had failed to do so and, therefore, its claims were rejected.

Sub-Clause 15 (Termination)
The court also had to consider whether the Employer had lawfully terminated the contract with OHL. Sub-Clause 15 provides that the Employer is entitled to terminate the contract if the Contractor (having been given notice) does not rectify a failure to carry out any obligation under the contract. The court held that Sub-Clause 15 is generally to be construed as permitting termination for significant or substantial breaches, rather than trivial or insignificant ones, but rejected OHL’s argument that the breach relied upon must be equivalent to a repudiatory breach of contract.

The court ultimately found in the Employer’s favour with regards to the lawfulness of the termination. Amongst other things, this was on the basis that OHL failed to progress the Works with due expedition, thereby breaching Clause 8.1 of the Contract. This allowed the Employer to terminate under 15.2(c) and recover all costs associated with the termination and completion costs, insofar as the same exceeded OHL’s original contract price. The award is likely to be the largest ever awarded to the Government of Gibraltar and will, therefore, have significant economic consequences, not least that it should be able to finalise the works commenced by OHL and have a working tunnel under the runway.

This recent case provides welcome clarity with respect to a number of matters.

Most importantly it highlights that, under Sub-Clause 20.1 of the FIDIC conditions, the clock does not start running for the Contractor until the date on which he is aware (or should have been aware) of the delay resulting from a particular event or circumstance. Although the court only considered Sub-Clause 20.1 in respect of an extension of time, the same principle is expected to apply to claims for additional payment made pursuant to this provision.

Claims made pursuant to Sub-Clause 20.1 must be identifiable as claims, with a description of the event or circumstance relied on, and must state that the notice is intended to notify a claim for an extension of time or additional payment under the contract. A passing reference to a particular event will not, on its own, be sufficient. However, it is important to note that whilst this judgment is likely to be viewed as positive for Contractors, it is certainly not carte blanche for the Contractor to disregard the notice provisions all together. He still has to comply with the 28-day period; it simply starts a little later.

Alabama Supreme Court Clarifies Position on Construction Coverage Question

By Frederic J. Giordano and Robert F. Pawlowski, K&L Gates, Newark

Damage to Contractor’s Work Resulting from Faulty Workmanship Does Constitute "Property Damage" Caused by an "Occurrence" under Standard CGL Policy

In an important decision for policyholders in the construction business, the Supreme Court of Alabama recently clarified that Alabama law is in accord with the growing majority of jurisdictions finding coverage for property damage arising out of defective workmanship. Adding precision to its prior holdings and citing with approval various out-of-state authority, the Alabama high court confirmed that the definition of “occurrence” does not exclude property damage caused by faulty workmanship and that damage to other parts of a structure caused by defective workmanship constitutes “‘property damage’ ‘caused by’ or ‘arising out of’ an ‘occurrence.’” Owners Insurance Company v. Jim Carr Homebuilder, LLC, —So.3d—, 2014 WL 1270629 *6 (Ala. March 28, 2014).

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New York Court holds that Indian Sovereign Immunity does not Extend to For-Profit Corporation

Sue/perior Concrete & Paving, Inc. v. Lewiston Golf Course Corp., — N.Y.S.2d—, 2013 WL 2674470 (N.Y. App. Div. June 14, 2013)

In Sue/perior Concrete, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, clarifies how closely a corporation must be tied to an Indian tribe to be entitled to tribal sovereign immunity.

Defendant, Lewiston Golf Course Corporation, was an Indian tribe-affiliated entity formed under the laws of the Seneca Nation of Indians.  Lewiston hired the plaintiffs, Sue/perior Concrete & Paving, Inc. to construct a golf course that would increase revenue for an adjoining casino.  The casino was owned by Lewiston’s parent company, Seneca Niagara Falls Gaming Corporation.  Seneca Niagara Falls Gaming Corporation was in turn owned by another corporation, which itself was in turn owned by the Seneca Nation.  Thus, the Seneca Nation was Lewiston’s ultimate owner, but the Nation was three steps removed from construction of the golf course.  The construction project took over a year longer than estimated, and upon completion Sue/perior sued Lewiston for $4.1 million for extra work performed as well as delay-related damages.  Lewiston moved to dismiss on the grounds that they were entitled to the Seneca Nation’s sovereign immunity.

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West Virginia’s High Court Holds Defective Workmanship Causing Bodily Injury or Property Damage Does Constitute an “Occurrence” Under Standard CGL Policy

By: Robert F. PawlowskiMatthew S. Sachs, K&L Gates, Newark

West Virginia has joined the majority of states recognizing coverage for bodily injury and property damage claims arising out of defective workmanship.  Influenced by the growing number of states allowing for such coverage, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia rejected prior rulings and recently held that defective workmanship causing bodily injury or property damage constitutes an “occurrence” under a policy of commercial general liability (“CGL”) insurance.  Cherrington v. Erie Insurance Prop. & Cas. Co., Case No. 12-0036, 2013 WL 3156003 (W.Va. June 18, 2013) (“Cherrington”).  In so holding, the Cherrington Court expressly overruled three of its prior decisions, decided between 1999 and 2005, holding that CGL policies do not cover defective workmanship claims.

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Maritime Law Does Not Preempt State Safety Laws When The State Laws Do Not Unduly Interfere With Maritime Law

Durando v. City of New York, 963 N.Y.S.2d 670 (N.Y. App. Div. 2013)

In this case, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, addressed the interaction of New York state construction law and federal maritime law in the context of a construction worker’s personal injury suit, and held that local regulations will not be preempted when they do not unduly interfere with a fundamental characteristic of maritime law or the free flow of maritime commerce.

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New Jersey Court Requires Materials Suppliers to Ascertain Source of Payments Made By Insolvent Subcontractors Under New Jersey Lien Law

L&W Supply Corp. v. DeSilva, 429 N.J. Super. 179 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2012)

In this case, a New Jersey appellate panel expands and clarifies a material supplier’s obligations to determine the source of payments made by purchasers of materials and allocate the payments properly under the New Jersey Construction Lien Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:44A-1, et. seq. (the “Lien Law”).

Pursuant to the Lien Law, a contractor or supplier who is owed payment for work or materials is permitted to file a lien against the real property on which the improvements were constructed. L&W Supply, 2012 WL 6599966 at *1.  The purpose of the Lien Law is two-fold. First, it ensures that suppliers are paid for materials supplied during construction.  Second, it protects owners from paying more than once for the same work or materials.  In order to facilitate the second purpose of the Lien Law, the value of a materials supplier’s lien fund is limited to the unpaid portion of the contract price for the contract for which the unpaid materials were utilized.

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