Steve Siegfried 2013 srhl-lawFirm partners Steven M. Siegfried, Stuart Sobel and Berenice M. Mottin-Berger were featured in an article about their work on behalf of one of the firm’s construction clients that appeared in today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The report, which was titled “Caribbean Construction Firm Scores $4M Judgment,” chronicles the highly contentious litigation and arbitration that led their securing a $4.3 million judgment against DeVry Education Group (NYSE: DV) for Moorjani Caribbean Ltd., a Barbados-based construction company.  The article reads:

Stuart Sobel 2013-thumb-180x270-86799Coral Gables lawyers won a $4.3 million award against a subsidiary of for-profit college company DeVry Education Group in what they say was one of the nastiest arbitration battles they’ve ever fought.

Barbados-based construction company Moorjani Caribbean Ltd. sued over alleged underpayment for the construction of student housing and classroom projects at DeVry’s St. Kitts veterinary school.

Although both parties admitted some aspects of their work relationship was relaxed, with unsigned contracts and loose deadlines, the father-and-son construction company claimed it submitted detailed accounting for both projects and spent years trying to get payment before filing suit.

DeVry Medical International Inc. fought back with counterclaims, alleging it spent more than $1 million fixing design and construction defects in Moorjani Caribbean’s work on the student housing project.

BerenicMottinBergerBut arbitrators found DeVry made improvements to the residence hall so that it could qualify as a place of refuge during a hurricane, not because of deficient construction.

By the time the 2009 bills for the two projects came to the arbitration panel this year, interest and attorney fees made the award much larger than it might have been, Moorjani Caribbean’s lawyers said. Interest on the award continues to grow at a rate of about $593 per day, according to the Aug. 19 final arbitration award.

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Michael Clark Gort photo-thumb-160x240-13551Firm partner B. Michael Clark, Jr. authored an article that appeared in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which was titled “Ruling Creates Opening for Property Owners to Escape from Liens,” focuses on the implications of a recent ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal that has created a potential new opening for property owners to quickly wipe away the lien rights of unwary lienors.  Michael’s article reads:

The decision came in the case of Georgia Hiller v. Phoenix Associates of South Florida. Hiller, a homeowner, contracted Phoenix for work on her home and then allegedly failed to pay. Phoenix recorded a lien against her property, and Hiller responded by posting a transfer bond to remove the cloud of the encumbrance from the property.

Hiller proceeded to record a notice of contest under section 713.22(2), shortening the time frame for Phoenix to commence an action against the transfer bond to 60 days.

The contractor had already filed a complaint against Hiller to foreclose the lien as well as for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. However, despite having notice of the transfer and the contest, it failed to commence an action against the surety within the 60-day deadline. Instead, after the passage of more than 60 days, it filed a motion to amend its complaint to add the surety of the transfer bond to the suit.

dbrlogo-thumb-220x41-94239Hiller, presuming that the transfer bond automatically extinguished after the 60 days elapsed, filed a motion for the release of the transfer bond, which was denied by the trial court and became the basis for her appeal.

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JasonRodgers-DaCruzFirm partner Jason M. Rodgers-da Cruz moderated and co-presented a session titled “Developing and Presenting Expert Testimony: The Long View” for the American Bar Association’s Forum on Construction Law.  The seminar took place on April 29, 2016 as part of the organization’s Division 1 breakfast series.

Jason’s presentation provided participants with an overview on how to identify potential issues before they unfold, the selection of the appropriate expert at the beginning of the dispute, and how to navigate expert testimony to help ensure that both the client’s position and the expert’s analysis are properly presented.

Our firm congratulates Jason for sharing his insights on this important topic with the members of ABA’s Forum on Construction Law.  Click here to learn more about the Forum’s Division 1 breakfast series and its upcoming events.

Stuart Sobel 2013-thumb-180x270-86799Firm shareholder Stuart Sobel authored a guest column that appeared in the May issue of Construction Executive magazine, one of the leading construction industry trade publications in the country.  His article, which was titled “Dispute Review Boards: An ADR Technique That Works,” focused on the use of DRBs for major projects as an effective means to avoid or resolve disputes that may arise during construction.  Stuart’s article reads:

Disputes are endemic to the collaborative nature of construction. It seems prudent to anticipate the disputes, even where the precise nature of the dispute is unknowable, and create a structure for proactively addressing and resolving them when they do arise. Traditional dispute resolution, whether arbitration or litigation, when invoked at the end of the project, takes place too late to save it or get it back on track. Instead, proactive onsite real-time dispute resolution is warranted to protect working relationships, cash flows and schedule progress.

Arbitration has become the preferred alternative dispute resolution forum for resolving construction disputes because it is private, streamlined and presided over by experienced construction professionals.

However, just as with litigation, arbitration only comes into play after a dispute has ripened. The arbitration process usually extracts a considerable toll on the project participants through damaged relationships and expenses. The parties involved are very unlikely to continue doing business together in the future. In addition, discovery in arbitration proceedings is now wider, longer and more expensive, and its growing resemblance to litigation has become unmistakable. Thus, despite its reputation as a cheaper alternative to litigation, arbitration has become more expensive as the process permits more litigation-like discovery, with attendant administrative costs and arbitrators’ fees.

Instead, consider the scenario where an independent person or board, respected by all project participants, is designated in the operative construction contracts to stay abreast of the design and construction and to attend and observe all pertinent meetings (owner/architect/contractor meetings, change order meetings and even important contractor/subcontractor meetings). Through this process, the dispute resolution neutral or, where there is more than one, the Dispute Resolution/Review Board (DRB), can quickly understand theConstruction-Executive-Logo nature and genesis of disputes that are blossoming — before they slow or stop the construction progress.

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StuartSobel2013.jpgThe firm’s Stuart Sobel has once again written an article that appeared in the annual special report on Alternative Dispute Resolution published by the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper. Stuart’s article, which was published in today’s edition of the DBR and also appeared in Texas Lawyer and the Daily Report (Atlanta), focused on the use of formal mediation proceedings to resolve claims involving catastrophic construction accidents. Earlier this year he represented Miami Dade College in a $33.5 million mediated settlement that included 22 defendants for the collapse of a parking garage during construction.

Stuart’s article reads:

Tragically, a collapsed structure introduces personal injuries, wrongful deaths, economic losses and disappointed expectations on top of the impact to the completion of the project. As such, any formal dispute resolution, whether it be arbitration, litigation or several of both types of proceedings, will involve many parties and claims as well as many issues related to each party and each claim.

Add to this, many parties will have insurance available, but the coverage may be offered in layers, with underlying and surplus policies introducing even more grist for the dispute mill. Insurance policies may have several of the construction participants as additional insureds, and they may also have subrogation waivers and other nuances that must be considered in working toward a just resolution. Additionally, there will also likely be performance bond sureties that will have indemnity rights to bring to the party.

Consider then what the trial or arbitration hearing will look like. How long will it take to select a jury given the number of peremptory challenges? How long will a simple side-bar in a jury trial take? How long do depositions take to conclude, with 20-plus parties each having the opportunity to question important lay and expert witnesses? And, how much will all this cost?

How then best to manage this not so rare occurrence? At the risk of being accused of blasphemy, the answer is to run a mediation track parallel to the formal dispute resolution track.

Statistics tell us that nearly 99 percent of all filed lawsuits are settled. The settlement rate of arbitrations is not quite as high, but we should take some solace in the fact that, in all likelihood, a well-managed mediation process can also resolve our catastrophic construction claim.

So then, what is a well-managed mediation process? It must begin with the recognition that mediation is, itself, a process, not an event. Mediation is most effective when the parties understand the process, which calls for everyone to be brought together with a common goal — settling the claim — even if the goals diverge when each party wants someone else’s money to be used. Still, with everyone in the room, the opportunity for cooperative compromise in furtherance of the common goal becomes possible.

His article concludes:

When successful, mediation also allows for creative solutions that may not be available through formal dispute resolution. Correction of work, rather than the payment of money, may prove an attractive piece of a settlement. Resolutions may be kept confidential and private, while a jury verdict is never confidential.

Successful mediation requires a clear vision of what success will look like on paper. With so many parties, claims and issues, documenting a settlement reached in principle presents its own challenges.

Will all the insurers join in the settlement, disclosing their contributions and submitting to the jurisdiction of the court for the purpose of enforcement? If not, what default mechanism will work best to ensure that all of the parties pay, so that the plaintiff is not left with some paying, some not, and questions about collectability? Consider bringing a draft settlement agreement, leaving numbers blank, to the mediation so that it too can be negotiated, rather than leaving that task, with its own hazards, for the days or weeks after the dollar settlement is achieved.

Mediation provides parties the opportunity to see how their presentation of their case is received by others, and also to see their opponent’s case articulated in a manner that allows for more objective consideration. The process enables principals to sit across from each other with the ability to control the outcome of the dispute — as opposed to placing their fate in the hands of a judge, a jury or a panel of arbitrators. That control is appealing, and it has led the construction industry to embrace mediation as an important tool for the resolution of disputes involving construction catastrophes.

Our firm congratulates Stuart for sharing his insights into this important topic with the readers of the Daily Business Review, Texas Lawyer and the Daily Report. Click here to read the complete article in the DBR’s website (registration required).


JCristeswearingin.jpgThe mentoring of young lawyers is paramount to their future success in the profession, and our firm is proud of our ongoing mentoring of law school students and graduates as law clerks with the firm before they become newly minted attorneys.

John I. Criste and Berenice M. Mottin-Berger are our firm’s latest law clerks to be admitted as members of The Florida Bar. Both of them worked very closely with partner Stuart Sobel, who was honored to preside over their swearing in ceremony at our offices last week.

We are also very pleased to welcome John and Berenice as our firm’s newest associate attorneys. In addition to focusing on commercial litigation, they will both continue to work with Stuart as important new additions to our construction law practice group, and Berenice will also focus on community association law.

BMottinswearingin.jpgBoth John and Berenice graduated with cum laude honors from the University of Miami School of Law in May 2015. They were trial partners for the law school’s Litigation Skills Program and the John T. Gaubatz moot court competition. John earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 2011, and Berenice earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami in 2010.

On behalf of everyone at our firm, we congratulate John and Berenice on their admissions to the bar and promotions from law clerks to associates.

A recent editorial by the Miami Herald commemorated the one-year anniversary of the opening of the PortMiami Tunnel by highlighting the impact that this remarkable project has already made.

The editorial reads:

. . . it has been largely smooth sailing for the $643-million tunnel, which came in $90 million under budget — a feat unheard of for such massive projects. “We did it without the drama,” Christopher Hodgkins, CEO of Miami Access Tunnel, told the Editorial Board on Monday.

Built through an innovative public/private partnership, the tunnel is operated and maintained by Miami Access Tunnel, which also built the facility through a contractor, the French firm Bouygues — all with the help of a German-built tunnel boring machine.
In its first year, the tunnel has diverted 80 percent of the street-clogging cargo trucks headed for the port away from downtown Miami. Thousands of cruise-ship passengers have done the same. Now passengers landing at Miami International Airport don’t even have to get on Biscayne Boulevard. They can travel on state roads 836 or 112 and connect to I-395 east to the tunnel, which spills out at the port.

MHerald2015.jpg“The tunnel has been a great success,” Mr. Hodgkins said. “We have changed the quality of life in downtown Miami.”

Mr. Hodgkins is absolutely correct, as more than 14,000 vehicles are now using the tunnel every day and bypassing the city’s downtown streets. He is also right about the fact the builder was able to avoid “the drama” that typically accompanies construction projects of such a massive scale, and I was pleased to have helped tunnel builder Bouygues Civil Works Florida to do so when it encountered unexpected site conditions that required additional work and funds to overcome. The issue could have created a lengthy impasse during construction, and my work as the lead legal counsel for the builder helped the company to secure a $58.5 million settlement that was the subject of a front-page article in the February 5, 2013 edition of the Daily Business Review titled “Dispute Resolution Board Reaches Rapid Settlement with PortMiami Tunnel Builder.” The article read:

Imagine securing a $58.5 million settlement from a dispute panel that bans lawyers from the room.

That’s the scenario Coral Gables attorney Stuart Sobel faced while representing Bouygues Civil Works Florida Inc., which is constructing the $1 billion tunnel that will connect PortMiami to I-395.

It didn’t surprise Sobel — he helped set up the tunnel’s Technical Dispute Resolution Board when his client won the project.

The report chronicled how I devoted many hours to preparing for the hearings on liability before the Technical Dispute Resolution Board outside of normal schedules. “My work was at night, trying to anticipate the issues that were going to be discussed the next day,” I was quoted in the article, which continued to read:

For the board presentation, Sobel put together PowerPoint presentations for his witnesses to use and coached them on how to answer the panel’s anticipated questions. The board heard evidence for 13 days before making its decision largely in favor of Bouygues.

dbrlogo.jpgThe article explained that the tunnel dispute was over extra work for grouting the limestone as the company dug. “We determined there was a changed condition. The geologic conditions were different than what we’d been led to expect,” I noted.

I was also quoted discussing the merits of using Technical Dispute Resolution Boards for major construction projects. “The concept is you have construction people dealing with construction problems,” I concluded.

I am very proud of our firm’s work in enabling the tunnel builder to quickly and fairly resolve this matter and avoid any delays during construction. The award-winning tunnel is emblematic of the potential for public/private partnerships, which are expected to continue growing as the predominant paradigm for such large scale infrastructure projects in the years to come.

In a recent appellate ruling with significant precedential implications for litigation by contractors against construction lenders in Florida, the court found that Florida’s Construction Lien Law bars common law remedies for contractors to sue lenders for work performed by the contractors and other lienors. The court affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment for a lender over a contractor’s claims stemming from a failed housing development.

The case of Jax Utilities Management, Inc. v. Hancock Bank involved contractor Jax Utilities, developer Plummer Creek, LLC and successor lender Hancock Bank. In 2009, after the developer suffered financial difficulties it failed to pay Jax. As a result of the developer’s financial difficulties, Hancock Bank obtained a final judgment of foreclosure against Plummer Creek and the project in September 2011. Subsequent to that, in December 2011, Jax filed a claim for breach of contract against Plummer Creek as well as claims for unjust enrichment, and it sought to impose an equitable lien against Hancock Bank.

The trial court issued a final judgment for Jax against Plummer Creek for more than $587,000, but it also granted a summary judgment to Hancock Bank finding that the contractor’s equitable lien claim was barred by the one-year statute of limitations which governs actions to enforce equitable liens. It also found that §713.3471 of Florida’s lien law precluded Jax’s common law remedies.

On appeal, Jax and Hancock disagreed as to when the statute of limitations began to run to enforce an equitable lien. Jax took the position that it did not begin to run until the bank had instituted foreclosure proceedings. The First District Court of Appeals disagreed, holding, “By its plain language, section 95.11(5)(b) requires that a claim for equitable lien be brought within one year of the last furnishing of labor, services, or material for the improvement of real property.”

1dca.jpgThe First District Court of Appeal also agreed with Hancock Bank’s arguments that the lien law precluded Jax’s common law claims for equitable lien and unjust enrichment. §713.3471 establishes the proper procedures for lenders to notify contractors if they decide to cease disbursing funds under a construction loan, and it also sets the damages for a bank’s failure to provide notice. The court concluded that:

Section 713.3471(2) expressly immunizes lenders who provide notice, prescribes the damages where notice is not provided, and states that the cause of action cannot become the basis for an equitable lien claim. Moreover, a common law claim would conflict with the statute. If a lender complies with the statute, it has no liability. If the lender fails to comply, a contractor may seek damages as prescribed by the statute.

The court also noted that its holding was reinforced by the lack of a provision preserving common law remedies in the statute.

For contractors such as Jax, which had apparently earned the funds that it was not paid, the court’s holding delivers a clear message that they cannot forgo their rights under the lien law in favor of common law claims against lenders. Even in cases in which a construction lender disregards the requirements under the lien law by not issuing the proper notice to the contractor when it decides to stop disbursing loan proceeds, the lender’s liability is delineated solely by the statute.

Our firm’s other construction law attorneys and I work very closely with contractors, subcontractors and other lienors to enable them to utilize all of their rights to recover the funds that they are owed. We write in this blog on a regular basis about important legal and business matters for the construction industry in Florida, and we encourage industry followers to submit their email address in the subscription box at the top right of the blog in order to automatically receive all of our future articles.

NSiegfried2013.jpgThe firm’s Nicholas D. Siegfried was interviewed as part of the Expert Interview Series for the Surety Solutions blog. Nicholas discusses construction law and some of the elements of the Florida Construction Lien Law in the article. Surety Solutions specializes in the Surety Bonds and has over 50 years of experience in the industry. Its clients range from local construction contractors to Fortune 500 companies, foreign conglomerates to financial institutions, government entities to hedge funds, and both public and privately held companies.

Click here to read the feature in the company’s blog.


In recognition of the opening of One World Observatory in New York City, EarthCam has created a commemorative time-lapse video showing the building’s construction progress from October 2004 to Memorial Day 2015. The firm’s Stuart Sobel represented ADF Steel Corp. in 2012 in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. subsidiary of Canada-based ADF Group Inc. by WTC Tower 1 LLC, an assignee of 1 World Trade Center LLC owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The suit alleged that ADF breached its contractual obligations by refusing to ship the steel for the 458-foot spire that tops the iconic new skyscraper. ADF had not been paid by its client, the subcontractor responsible for fabricating and erecting the steel, even though the Port Authority apparently paid the subcontractor for ADF’s work. With Stuart’s help, ADF Group settled the dispute, getting ADF paid, while allowing the steel to be shipped before the St. Lawrence Seaway froze over for the winter, thus insuring that the erection of the spire crowning the tower could proceed as scheduled.

Click below to watch the incredible new time-lapse video.