Liens, Bonds & Collections

Texas surety law contains obscure procedural rules that can have outsized consequences. Chapter 43 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code is an important example.

Applicability

This chapter applies to everything that is a “surety” as defined by the statute. The statute’s definition includes “an endorser, a guarantor, and a drawer of a draft that

Co-author: Trevor Lawhorn
Published in Build Houston Magazine

When non-payment occurs, suppliers and service providers often first seek relief by suing for breach of contract. Unfortunately, many companies are undercapitalized or otherwise “judgment proof.”  A personal guaranty might mitigate this risk by providing an additional target, but guarantees are often difficult to obtain.  Even if one is signed, the guarantors may lack assets, perhaps deliberately so.  Judgement proof debtors and guarantors are especially frustrating when the case involves misappropriations of construction project funds or wrongful transfers of assets.  Texas law provides at least two statutory tort claims in these circumstances: the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (TUFTA) and the Texas Construction Trust Funds Act (the Trust Fund Statute).

Co-authors: Russell Jumper and Tim Fandrey
Published in Cleaning & Restoration Magazine

Just as the Texas coast assessed the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey’s damage, Hurricane Irma was taking shape in the Atlantic. Fewer than two weeks later, Irma would crash into the Florida Keys. Estimates put Harvey and Irma’s combined impact in excess of $275 billion. No small part of that amount will be required for cleaning and restoration services. Before Irma made landfall, even as Harvey hovered over the Houston area, restoration professionals from around the country arrived along the Texas coast to kick-start Texas’ recovery. For the people who lost their homes, possessions, and even family or friends, the focus turned to recovery. For some of the restoration professionals who helped, and continue to help, a second storm is forming: owner and insurer payment disputes. Like boarding up windows and setting out sandbags, there are some steps cleaning and restoration professionals can take in an effort to minimize the damage from the approaching payment dispute storm.

Most commercial construction contracts contain a “No Damage For Delay” Clause and most contractors mistakenly believe they are Kings X for any potential claims related to delay caused by an owner or original contractor. While nearly every commercial construction contract contains the same or similar provisions, it is important to keep in mind they all have different authors, which means typically no two clauses are ever drafted the same.

This is particularly important when it comes to “No Damage For Delay” Clauses as the actual breadth of the language and scope will set the tone for their enforcement or circumvention. There are several common law exceptions to “No Damage for Delay” clauses recognized in Texas, which may be neutralized or ignored by the particular language of a “No Damage for Delay” Clause.

Get the project information up front

You should ask your customer for the owner’s name and address, the location of the project, a copy of the payment bond (if any), and the general contractor’s name and address (if you are a second tier subcontractor or supplier).  Having this information at the outset will help you quickly send out bond and lien notices if the new customer falls behind on making payments.

Federally owned construction projects are covered by a Miller Act Payment Bond for the benefit of the subcontractors and suppliers thereof.  If you make a claim for payment under the Miller Act, you may, under certain circumstances, also have a claim for attorney fees and interest.  The text of the Miller Act is silent with respect to attorney fees and pre-judgment interest.  However, federal common law allows the recovery of both under certain circumstances.

Previously, Texas law provided that a court “may” award costs and reasonable attorney fees in a suit to foreclose a lien, enforce a payment bond claim or declare a lien to be invalid to the extent that such costs and reasonable attorney fees were “equitable and just”.  The use of the word “may” allowed courts discretion over whether to award a lien claimant his or her attorney fees.  This led to unfair results.  Even lien claimants who prevailed did not always receive their attorney fees and/or costs.

Historically, subcontractors and suppliers were compelled to sign onerous and overreaching lien waivers and releases in order to receive payment.  In addition, many subcontracts contain lien waivers lurking in the boiler plate.  Consequently, subcontractors often do not realize they have agreed to these clauses until it is too late.

Texas law was recently changed to