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Articles Posted in Construction Litigation

Construction-Trial-Deskbook-Announcement-002-300x300Our firm is known around the country for our work in construction law-related matters. Recently, we were privileged to have been selected to have Jason Rodgers-da Cruz co-author one of the chapters for the American Bar Association’s newly released “Construction Trial Deskbook.”

The chapter, which is titled “Jury Instructions and Verdict Forms,” serves as a resource for construction attorneys preparing for trial. This trial practice handbook was written by construction lawyers who, collectively, have decades of trial experience. The book follows a trial sequence, with chapters on jury selection, opening statements, direct and cross-examination, handling experts and exhibits, jury instructions, and closing.

Our firm congratulates Jason Rodgers-da Cruz for his participation in developing such an essential chapter in a book that will play a vital role in assisting construction attorneys preparing to go to trial.  Click here for more information on the new book.

It is essential for those in the construction industry, including contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, to learn about construction liens, which can be an additional layer of protection from non-payment. A construction lien provides unpaid project participants the ability to claim an interest in the property they have worked on. Once recorded, the lien remains on the title of the property until the lienholder gets paid for the work or services it provided, or the lien is otherwise released or discharged.

Though a helpful option in recovering unpaid amounts, the process of recording a construction lien is technical, and failing to follow specific requirements, some of which are outlined below, can result in a lien that is not perfected and subject to challenge. The following suggestions should be considered when filing a construction lien:

Serve a Notice to Owner

iStock_000011161523Medium-300x201Most claimants who do not have a direct contract with an owner need to serve a Notice to Owner as a first step in perfecting a claim of lien. Subcontractors, sub-subcontractors and material suppliers working on a construction project must serve a Notice to Owner pursuant to Section 713.06, Florida Statutes, within 45 days of first performing work or furnishing materials. Doing so preserves their right to record a claim of lien. Failure to properly complete this step can make a future claim of lien unenforceable.

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A 2019 Florida appellate court ruling in a case against a homebuilder alleging negligent construction of an attic ladder provided added clarity over what constitutes the construction of an improvement to real property under the state’s statute of repose law.

In James Harrell v. The Ryland Group, the First District Court of Appeal considered an appeal of a final summary judgment entered in favor of Ryland over the applicability of the 10-year statute of repose and whether the homebuilder failed to establish that the period of repose had run.

The case originally stemmed from injuries sustained by Harrell when the attic ladder he was climbing at his home collapsed. His lawsuit alleged that the homebuilder was negligent “by failing to ensure that the attic ladder was installed in a secure manner with the appropriate hardware” and “by failing to verify that the ladder was secure before selling the home.”

1dca-300x225The builder filed a motion to dismiss, arguing in part that the claim was barred by the 10-year statute of repose of section 95.11(3)(c), Florida Statutes. The trial court found that the statute is applicable because an attic ladder is an improvement to real property, but it denied the motion because it was not clear from the face of the complaint whether the suit was filed before the expiration of the 10-year period.

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When a property owner finds defects in its general contractor’s work, declares the contractor to be in default and terminates the construction contract, perhaps the last thing it expects is to be forced to rely on the defaulting contractor to complete the project. Yet that is exactly what happened to a Marathon, Fla. condominium association after the provider of its surety bond elected to retain the original contractor to complete the project.

In Seawatch at Marathon Condominium Association v. The Guarantee Company of North America et al., the Florida Keys condominium association retained Complete Aluminum General Contractors for a $5.4 million construction contract for extensive renovations to the community’s three condominium buildings (pictured here). swatchcondos-300x224The Guarantee Company of North America executed a surety bond to secure CAGC’s performance under the contract for the association.

When the association discovered defects in the renovations, it declared the contractor in default and terminated the contract. It then requested Guarantee to promptly exercise one of its options pursuant to the performance bond.

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NSiegfried2013-thumb-200x300-94905-199x300Stuart-Sobel-2013-thumb-180x270-86799Firm shareholders Stuart Sobel and Nicholas D. Siegfried were quoted in an article that now appears on the main South Florida page of The Real Deal, the real estate news magazine and website.  The article, which is titled “Codina Partners affiliate allegedly owes $3.6M for Downtown Doral condo construction: lawsuit,” focuses on the firm’s work on behalf of the general contractor for the prolific developer’s new 5350 Park condominium tower in Downtown Doral.  The article reads:

. . . Grycon LLC is suing 5350 Park LLC and the project’s surety bond provider Arch Insurance Company in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for breach of contract. According to the complaint, Grycon hasn’t been paid for $3.1 million in construction services and $500,000 in bonuses for achieving completion milestones.

RDealIn February, the 20-story, 238-unit tower and attached garage were substantially completed, and buyers began closing on 5350 Park condos, the lawsuit states.

“When it came time to pay us and settle up, [the developer] has come up with excuse after excuse,” said Stuart Sobel, a Siegfried Rivera shareholder representing Grycon. “They have played it very heavy-handed.”

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Jason-Trauth-200x300StuartSobel2013-thumb-120x180-93546Firm shareholders Stuart Sobel and Jason B. Trauth secured a $10.54 million settlement for ADF International, which fabricated and erected the structural steel for the Virgin train station and 2 MiamiCentral office tower, from general contractor Suffolk Construction Co. and the project’s architects and insurers.  The settlement was reached on the 10th day of trial in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on the lawsuit, which alleged nonpayment and severe project management failures by Suffolk.

The Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, and The Real Deal Miami magazine and website chronicled the settlement.  The DBR article reads:

. . . ADF, which amended its complaint twice, argued it received project plans that were missing information, had mistakes and sometimes were conflicting. Also, the construction site was mismanaged as tower cranes weren’t provided and service on the nearby Metrorail and Metromover wasn’t coordinated with the steel installation work.

ADF said it told Suffolk about the issues, but Suffolk either never replied or responded without thoroughly addressing problems, and told ADF to keep working. The complaint said ADF followed up by sending change items with added changes and extra costs, but the change notices were often rejected or ignored.

dbrlogo-300x57Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas presided over the trial from Sept. 16 to 27. ADF International and Suffolk had rested their cases. Skidmore was about to call its witnesses when the emphasis shifted to settlement talks . . .

. . . Suffolk paid some of ADF’s costs during the litigation, and other amounts were recalculated, said ADF attorney Stuart Sobel, a shareholder at Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel in Coral Gables. He worked on the trial with shareholder Jason Trauth.

“We think that the $10.5 is that horrible thing called a fair settlement,” he said flippantly. “We think it’s fair. It may have been half of the liquidated amount we sued for, but it’s a whole hell of a lot more than those guys wanted to pay.”

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The Florida Senate passed a new bill that took effect on July 1 which could have serious ramifications for contractors. The new bill, House Bill 7125, substantially altered Florida Statute 489.126 in order to afford homeowners more protection against contractor fraud by making it easier for a homeowner to press criminal charges.

The statute provides that once a consumer makes a payment in excess of 10 percent of the contract price for any residential construction, the contractor must first apply for the necessary permits within 30 days and then begin the work 90 days after the permits issue. In the event the contractor fails to apply for the necessary permits or begin the work, pursuant to the revised statute, a homeowner can make a written demand on the contractor and require that the contractor either: (1) applies for the necessary permits, (2) starts the work, or (3) refunds the payment.

Florida-legislature-300x169The amended statute also provides that a contractor who receives money in excess of the value of the work performed may not fail or refuse to perform any work within a 90-day period or any period mutually agreed upon and specified in the contract. If the contractor doesn’t have just cause for failing to perform any of the work within the 90-day period or specified contractual period, or the contractor doesn’t terminate the contract with proper written notice to the owner, then the owner can likewise make a written demand to the contractor demanding either that (1) the work be performed, or (2) the money be returned.

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Stuart-Sobel-2013-thumb-180x270-86799An article authored by shareholder Stuart Sobel was featured as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “‘Daubert’ Standard in Fla. Construction Litigation Requires Deft Implementation,” focuses on the ramifications of a decision earlier this year by the Florida Supreme Court to reinstate the Daubert standard for evaluating and admitting expert testimony, after having abandoned it in favor of the Frye standard.   Stuart’s article reads:

. . . The more stringent Daubert standard, which is used in federal courts and most state courts, requires that the court act as the gatekeeper, determining that proposed expert testimony is based upon scientific methods appropriately applied to the matter at hand, presented by appropriately qualified witnesses. The resurrection of the Daubert standard in Florida has the potential to increase the cost and time needed for litigating construction disputes, since Daubert challenges will now become the norm, rather than the exception.

dbrlogo-300x57Trial courts will employ a multi-factor test to determine whether experts’ methods are “scientifically reliable.” They will hold pretrial hearings on Daubert motions to determine whether experts will be limited in the scope of their testimony or excluded from testifying at trial.

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A recent ruling by the Fifth District Court of Appeal demonstrates the potential ramifications of ambiguities in the mediation and arbitration provisions of construction contracts. The ruling found the lower court correctly determined that the parties had a valid agreement to arbitrate certain claims because the contract clearly required arbitration for claims arising before final payment was due. However, it was silent regarding the procedure for resolving claims arising after the final payment became due, so the case was remanded back to the lower court for a determination as to whether the claims arose before or after final payment was due.

In Royal Palms Senior Apartments Limited Partnership v. Construction Enterprises Inc. et al., Royal Palms appealed the nonfinal order entered in favor of Construction Enterprises Inc. staying the developer’s lawsuit pending mediation and arbitration based on its assertion that the trial court erred in finding a valid arbitration agreement existed and its claim was subject to arbitration.

5DCA-300x183The Fifth DCA affirmed lower court’s finding that the parties had a valid agreement to arbitrate certain claims. However, because it is unclear whether Royal Palms’ claim was one subject to arbitration, it remanded the case for a determination of that issue.

The parties entered into a contract in 2006 for CEI to build the Royal Palms Senior Apartments. The agreement was comprised of the “AIA Document A201-1997 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction” (“General Conditions”) and a supplementary document (“Supplementary Conditions”), which modified and deleted portions of the General Conditions and controlled if the two documents conflicted.

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Stuart-Sobel-2013-thumb-200x300-87324-200x300The firm’s Stuart H. Sobel was the subject of the weekly “Profiles in Law” feature in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “How Miami Construction Lawyer Stuart Sobel Accidentally Built a Trial Empire,” discusses the entire span of Stuart’s career in the law and his varied litigation experience.  It reads:

. . . Sobel’s represented Miami’s New World Center concert hall, the contractor who built the Port of Miami tunnel, the steel fabricator who built Miami’s Brightline train terminal — and the one who put the roof on the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.

As shareholder at Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel’s Coral Gables office, construction cases account for 98% of Sobel’s practice, and avoiding trial is the top priority. But in the 1980s, Sobel cut his teeth trying “any kind of case and every kind of case” that got him into the courtroom.

. . . Sobel took the law boards “on a lark” but had decided on a business degree at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. While driving to Philadelphia for his first semester, Sobel changed his mind. Somehow, his brother Jack Sobel, in law school at the University of Miami at the time, convinced law school dean Soia Mentschikoff to take a call from Sobel on his travels.

dbr-logo-300x57“I was literally in my car, pulled over, went to a phone booth and got interviewed by Dean Mentschikoff,” Sobel said. “And at the end of the conversation she said, ‘Keep driving.’ I got to Miami on a Thursday afternoon and I started law school on Monday morning without ever applying.”

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