Binding arbitration of construction disputes is frequently required by standard industry contracts. For example, the contract forms published by the American Institute of Architects either require or provide an option for arbitration under the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”). The latter rules authorize the arbitrator to decide whether the contractual arbitration agreement is enforceable. (See, e.g. Rule 9 of AAA Construction Industry Rules). However some courts have decided this issue should be determined by the courts, rather than the arbitrator.
In 2009, the California legislature amended Section 143 of the Streets and Highways Code and greatly expanded availability of the public-private partnership (“P3”) as a mechanism to finance transportation infrastructure projects. In early 2010, under the authority of the newly amended Section 143, the California Department of Transportation (“CalTrans”) began to implement part of the Presidio Parkway Project (“Project”) as a P3.
By Robert Sturgeon
Parties to construction arbitrations who are disappointed with the arbitrator’s award are often doubly-disappointed to learn that they have very little chance of successfully appealing in a court to overturn the arbitrator’s decision. Because arbitration is intended to be a final and complete alternative dispute resolution process, judicial review of the arbitrator’s award is quite limited. Ordinarily a court may not review the merits of the dispute, or overturn an arbitration award on ground that the arbitrator made legal errors or erred in applying the law to the facts. In general, a court is authorized to overturn an arbitration award only where (i) the award was procured by corruption or fraud; (ii) there was corruption or misconduct by the arbitrator, (iii) the arbitrator exceeded his or her powers, (iv) the arbitrator refused to postpone the hearing despite there being good cause to do so and that prejudices the parties, or (v) the arbitrator failed to disclose potential grounds on which he or she could be disqualified or refused to disqualify himself when there was cause to do so. See, e.g., Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 1286.2.
By Candace L. Matson
In California, the payment of contractors is governed by so-called “prompt payment statutes” which are sprinkled through various legislative codes, and which impose sanctions on the paying party for non-compliance. Progress payments by general contractors to their subcontractors on private and most public works of improvement are governed by section 7108.5 of the Business & Professions Code. Retention payments to subcontractors on public works of improvement are governed by section 7107 of the Public Contracts Code, and on private works of improvement by section 3260 of the Civil Code. In some cases the statutes permit withholding of payments only where there is a “good faith” dispute. But what constitutes “good faith”?
California Labor Code sections 1720 et seq. (the Prevailing Wage Law) ("PWL") require employers (including developers and contractors) engaged in public works projects to pay the prevailing wage to their employees if the project is "paid for in whole or in part out of public funds." The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal recently ruled that private developers must pay prevailing wages for the construction of all public improvements in connection with a development project if public funds are used to finance any part of the public improvements, even if the remaining public improvements are paid for with private funds. The California Supreme Court declined to hear the developer’s appeal. Therefore, developers and contractors could face increased project costs as a result of this case.
- Tverberg v. Fillner Construction, Inc., 49 Cal. 4th 518 (June 2010)
The peculiar risk doctrine is a judicially created exception to the common law rule that a person hiring an independent contractor to perform inherently dangerous work is generally not liable to third parties for injuries resulting from the work. Courts initially used the peculiar risk doctrine to impose upon landowners vicarious liability for the acts of their independent contractors when certain third parties – innocent bystanders or neighboring property owners – were injured by the contractors’ work. It was not until courts expanded the doctrine to include another category of third parties, the employees of the independent contractors, that the Supreme Court stepped in to curtail the exception. In Privette v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 4th 689 (1993), the Supreme Court held that a hirer of an independent contractor is not vicariously liable to the employees of the independent contractor for injuries caused by risks inherent in the work the contractor was hired to perform.
- Forecast Homes, Inc. v. Steadfast Insurance Co., 181 Cal. App. 4th 1466 (4th Dist. Jan. 2010), rev. denied, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 4356
A home developer, acting as a general contractor, hired subcontractors to build homes. The subcontracts all required the subcontractors to defend and hold the developer harmless against any liability arising out of their work and to add the developer to their commercial general liability policies as an additional insured. A construction defect litigation was brought against the developer, but not against the subcontractors. The developer tendered its defense to Steadfast Insurance Company, which insured many of the subcontractors and on whose policies the developer was an additional insured. The insurer refused the tender, maintaining that only the named insured subcontractors could satisfy the per occurrence self-insured retention ("SIR") amounts and none of the subcontractors had done so because they did not incur defense or indemnity costs in the litigation.
- Alameda County Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee v. Roadway Electrical Works Inc., 186 Cal. App. 4th 185 (1st Dist. June 2010)
A general contractor and its electrical subcontractor working on the project to rebuild the Bay Bridge were sued by various electrical unions, electrical contractors, and electrical contractors’ associations. The plaintiffs asserted claims for unfair and unlawful competition under Business and Professions Code Section 17200 claiming that that defendants were using unauthorized workers to perform work that called for certified electricians under Labor Code Section 3099. The defendants succeeded in obtaining the dismissal of the lawsuit by arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims raised issues with respect to the proper classification of workers, that it was up to the Department of Industrial Relations ("DIR") in the first instance to determine the scope of work that must be performed by certified electricians, and that plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies with the DIR before filing suit.
- Great West Contractors Inc. v. Irvine School District, 187 Cal. App. 4th 1425 (4th Dist. Aug. 2010)
In Great West Contractors, the Fourth District held that a public agency’s rejection of a bid for a public works project on the basis that a corporate bidder did not list its officers’ licenses is a question of bidder responsibility, not bid responsiveness, and therefore a due process hearing was required. The Court of Appeal said that the case is important for two reasons. First, it presents a challenging problem in public contracting law: how to distinguish a "non-responsive" bid from a de facto determination that the bidder is not a "responsible" bidder. Second, the case presents what the court called "an object lesson in how evidence that, at least on its face, tends to show favoritism – indeed, on this record, favoritism most foul – never got squarely presented to, or considered by, the trial court." The Court invited readers of the opinion to judge for themselves whether "stonewalling" might not be a better word than "delay" for describing the public agency’s actions.
- Yassin v. Solis, 184 Cal. App. 4th 524 (2d Dist. May 2010)
Homeowners entered into an agreement with a contractor for home improvement work. The agreement called for the contractor to be paid fixed amounts upon reaching specific milestones on the project, with the final payment of $7,500 due once the work was complete and a certificate of occupancy issued. The homeowners became dissatisfied with the contractor’s work, terminated him from the project, and hired another to complete the work.