Article on Firm’s Case in Today’s Daily Business Review: “Caribbean Construction Firm Scores $4M Judgment”

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.

The article concludes:

“What’s telling to us is we were given the million dollars that we were owed [on the housing project alone], but it took so long that the arbitrators also gave a million dollars in interest,” said Stuart Sobel of Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel in Coral Gables. Sobel and his colleagues Steven Siegfried and Berenice Mottin-Berger represented Moorjani Caribbean.

The construction company agreed to the residence hall project in 2005, and after its work was done, the company worked diligently through a “punch list” of fixes that DeVry provided, according to the arbitrators.

DeVry paid Moorjani Caribbean more than $9 million for the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine building, fulfilling the original contract price and several follow-up bills.

But when a fifth change order in 2009 billed the company for an additional $1.12 million, DeVry did not approve it. The university president told the construction company he did not have the authority to sign off on final payment, and the project’s architect took a year to respond, arbitrators found — but neither said Moorjani Caribbean director Richard Moorjani didn’t back up his numbers.

“We have no reason to doubt Mr. Moorjani’s testimony that he presented the proof that was demanded and worked for years trying to obtain payment,” found arbitrators John Vento of Trenam in Tampa, retired lawyer Michael Nuechterlein of Frankenmuth, Michigan, and Adrian Bastianelli of Peckar & Abramson in Washington.

Moorjani Caribbean also began working on the classroom project in 2008. As that was wrapping up, DeVry started upgrading the dormitory without telling Moorjani Caribbean, and then kicked it off the classroom project, Sobel said.

This time, the construction company didn’t have a chance to go through the punch list, and it claimed its payment fell short by $1.23 million.

The 2013 claims moved from St. Kitts court to an International Centre for Dispute Resolution arbitration panel, where they were heard in January of this year.

In May, the panel awarded Moorjani Caribbean $3.26 million, with $1.96 million for the housing project and $1.3 million for the classroom project. The amount included pre-judgment interest.

The construction company won nearly everything it asked for. The classroom claim was knocked down about $150,000, mostly due to a credit the company offered DeVry to replace the roof.

Moorjani Caribbean filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in June to enforce the arbitration award.

The construction company’s attorneys said the battle to win the award was rough and included attacks on Moorjani’s personal reputation, strife over obtaining DeVry’s documents and other procedural tussles.

“They fought everything,” Sobel said of DeVry’s legal team. “They wouldn’t stipulate that today was Wednesday. They made us prove it was Wednesday.”

Our firm congratulates Steven, Stuart and Berenice for their diligent and successful efforts in this case on behalf of Moorjani Caribbean that drew the attention of the editors of the Daily Business ReviewClick here to read the complete article in the newspaper’s website (registration required).