Home | Construction Law Blog

The Babst Calland Construction Law Blog contains articles published by the attorneys at Babst Calland to provide timely legal and business information on issues important to the construction industry.



Attorneys John McCreary and David White will join the Keystone Contractors Association (KCA) for a COVID-19 & Workers Comp Q&A webinar on Tuesday, November 24, 2020 at 10 a.m. Due to the rise in COVID-19 cases the past few weeks, there has also been an uptick in the number of questions from employers related to workers compensation. To help construction companies navigate through these challenging times, the KCA has created an opportunity for construction employers to get their concerns answered. This virtual event features representatives from Babst Calland and McConkey Insurance & Benefits who will be fielding your questions. If interested in attending, please email the KCA.

Tagged:  COVID-19, Webinar, Workers' Compensation

Article: Impacts of COVID-19 on Existing and Future Projects

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a “new normal” that was likely not accounted for in pricing and scheduling for projects awarded prior to the pandemic (“existing projects”). As owners and contractors move forward with new projects in a post-pandemic world, there is incredible uncertainty to what extent COVID-19-related requirements will impact future projects (“Future Projects”). This article addresses some of the major risks that owners and contractors face on both existing projects and future projects. To read the full article, click here.

Tagged:  COVID-19, coronavirus, costs, delays, existing projects, force majeure, future projects, project schedule, safety protocols, supply chain

Alert: Governor Releases Guidance for Construction Industry in Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Wolf announced on April 23, 2020 that the construction industry in Pennsylvania may resume in-person operations starting Friday, May 1, 2020 – one week earlier than previously announced.  Governor Wolf also issued “stringent” guidance intended to protect construction workers and the public when construction operations resume.  This guidance “provides universal protocols for all construction activity, as well as specific additionally guidance for residential, commercial and public construction projects.” Please read more about this Order in this Alert.

Tagged:  COVID-19, Pennsylvania, commercial, non-exempt projects, public, residential

Alert: Governor Amends COVID-19 Order to Recommence Limited Construction Activities in Pennsylvania

As part of a three phase plan for Pennsylvania overcoming the COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Tom Wolf announced on Monday, April 20, 2020 that limited construction activities may recommence on May 8, 2020 for non-exempt projects in Pennsylvania.  Although the full details regarding the plan have not yet been released, it is clear that all construction work must comply with the Governor’s and Secretary of Health’s April 20, 2020 amendments to their business closure orders and must be in strict compliance with the administration’s guidance referenced in those amendments.

Please read more about this Order in this Alert.

Tagged:  COVID-19, Pennsylvania, commercial, non-exempt projects, residential

New PA Superior Court Opinion: Service of Notice of Intent to Lien

On March 11, 2019, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued its opinion in American Interior Construction & Blinds, Inc. v. Benjamin's Desk, LLC reversing a trial court's dismissal of a subcontractor's mechanics' lien action based upon a finding of improper service of the subcontractor's formal notice of intent to lien. In the American Interior, Benjamin's Desk, LLC ("Benjamin's Desk") hired Brass Castle Building Co., LLC ("Brass") to serve as its general contractor for constructing office space improvements.  Brass, in turn, subcontracted certain aspects of that work to American Interior Construction & Blinds, Inc. ("AICB").  A payment dispute arose between AICB and Brass, and as a result, AICB served Benjamin's Desk with formal notice of its intent to file a mechanics' lien via FedEx on March 21, 2017.  Several weeks later, in early June 2017, AICB filed its Statement of Mechanics' Lien and Complaint to Obtain Judgment on that lien.  In response to those filings, Benjamin's Desk filed preliminary objections in alleging that the mechanics' lien was procedurally defective because AICB failed to serve its formal notice of intent to lien in accordance with the requirements of section 501(d) of the Mechanics' Lien Law of 1963. That statutory section provides formal notice of intent to lien “may be served by first class, registered or certified mail on the owner or his agent or by an adult in the same manner as a writ of summons in assumpsit, or if service cannot be so made then by posting . . . the improvement.”  Thus, according to Benjamin's Desk, service via FedEx is neither by "first class, registered or certified mail", nor is it services "by an adult in the same manner as a writ of summins in assumpsit" (i.e. via sheriff).  In response, AICB argued that the FedEx delivery person is a competent adult, and therefore, services were proper pursuant Rule 400.1 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure - a rule that creates an exception to the general rule requiring service by sheriff for cases in Philadelphia County. The Superior Court sided with AICB and reversed the dismissal of its mechanics' lien action.  However, the Superior Court did not base its conclusion upon the service exception created by Rule 400.1.  Instead, the Superior Court cited to the long line of Pennsylvania case law holding that technical noncompliance with the Rules governing service may be excused absent “intent to stall the judicial machinery or actual prejudice.”  The Superior Court then concluded that because Benjamin's Desk did not allege AICB intended to stall the judicial machinery by serving via FedEx or that service via FedEx caused it actual prejudice, any technical noncompliance with the requirements of section 501(d) of the Mechanics' Lien Law are excused. Importantly, the Superior Court’s decision appears to implicitly hold that service by FedEx is neither acceptable service by mail under section 502(d), nor is it acceptable service by an adult under the Philadelphia specific service Rule.  Instead, this decision appears to stand for the premise that, while not technically proper, subcontractors may serve formal notice of intent to lien via FedEx provided that the service does not prejudice the owner or reflect an intent to stall the judicial machinery.  Thus, from a practical perspective, service of a subcontractor's formal notice of intent to lien is not technically proper under the Mechanics' Lien Law, but an owner will have a difficult time invalidating a subcontractor's lien if its only basis for doing so is the fact that the formal notice of intent was served by FedEx instead of by mail or sheriff.

Tagged:  Mechanics' lien, intent to lien, notice, service, subcontractor

Construction Law Year in Review Seminar

It is not too late to RSVP to Babst Calland’s annual Construction Law Year in Review seminar, which will be held this Thursday, March 21, 2018 at the Doubletree Hotel in Greentree, beginning with a continental breakfast at 7:30 a.m., followed by the seminar from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.  Speakers will include Kurt Fernsler, Matt Jameson, Justine Kasznica, John McCrearyJim MillerRich Saxe, and Dave White.  This seminar qualifies for two (2) PA CLE credits.  We hold this annual seminar as a service to our clients and prospective clients.  This complimentary seminar will provide an overview of 2018′s significant construction law developments (both statutory and case-law). This year’s topics include:
  • regulatory developments involving the use of drones on construction projects;
  • amendments to Pennsylvania's Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (CASPA);
  • case law dealing with Mechanics’ Lien claims;
  • updates on the use of Project Labor Agreements on public projects;
  • updates on "pay if paid" contract clauses;
  • forum selection; and
  • use of Master Services Agreements in the construction industry.
For more information or to RSVP, please click this link.


Commonwealth Court Invalidates PennDOT Project Labor Agreement

The Commonwealth Court recently held that a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) required by PennDOT violated competitive bidding laws codified in the Commonwealth Procurement Code, 62 Pa.C.S.A. §512(g). Allen Myers, L.P. v. Department of Transportation, No. 314 C.D. 2018 (Pa.Cmwlth. January 11, 2019)(en banc). Although the facts which gave rise to the dispute are unusual, the decision is significant because it demonstrates the Court’s willingness to question the justifications relied on by PennDOT (and presumably other agencies) in support of mandating PLAs. Allen Myers, L.P., an open shop contractor, had recently completed (early and under budget) the first phase of a PennDOT project for improvements on Markley Street, State Route 202 in Montgomery County. For phase 2, PennDOT mandated that the successful contractor enter into a PLA with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Philadelphia and Vicinity, which represented 11 local construction unions. The PLA would have required the successful contractor to hire its entire workforce of tradesmen pursuant to the hiring practices set forth in the labor agreements of each union, but did not require the unions to accept as members the employees of any contractor that bid on the project. Further, there was an exception to the hiring requirement for contractors whose employees were represented by the United Steel Workers (USW): those contractors did not have to hire from the local unions and could employ their own, USW-represented employees. Allen Myers filed a bid protest under the Procurement Code, challenging the PLA requirement on three grounds: 1) that the PLA was discriminatory because it effectively precluded non-union contractors from bidding and unduly favored contractors affiliated with the USW; 2) the Keystone Report, which PennDOT had relied on as its rationale for including the PLA requirement in the project, was invalid because it did not use objective data and was inherently biased; and 3) that the use of the PLA violated 404.1 of the State Highway Law, 36 P.S. 670-404.1, because a bidder’s union affiliation is not among the statutory criteria for determining a responsible bidder on a highway project. The Secretary of Transportation dismissed Allen Myers’ protest, which then appealed to Commonwealth Court. The Court began its analysis by reiterating the principles behind competitive bidding statutes: to eliminate fraud and favoritism and to provide common standards to foster fair competition that places all bidders on an equal footing. When the procedures followed by an agency interfere with these principles the courts will intercede to restore them. The Court then reviewed its jurisprudence addressing PLAs, concluding that it had found them to be appropriate where “time was of the essence” for project completion and where they permitted non-union contractors an equal opportunity to bid by allowing them to employ at least some of their own employees on the project. E.g., A. Pickett Construction, Inc. v. Luzerne County Convention Center Authority, 738 A.2d 20 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1999); Sossong v. Shaler Area School District, 945 A.2d 788 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2008); Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc. v. Dep’t of General Services, No. 405 M.D. 2009 (Pa.Cmwlth. December 1, 2009). In light of these factors, the Court determined that the PLA requirement on the Markley Street project violated competitive bidding requirements. It noted that the “exemption for United Steelworkers contractors tilts the playing field” because USW contractors can use their own employees while others must hire their workforce through the local unions. The Court rejected PennDOT’s argument that the PLA was available to all contractors as “lip service to the principle of competitive bidding” because “unlike contractors affiliated with the Local Unions or the United Steelworkers, the nonunion contractor that bids the Markley Street Project cannot use its own experienced workforce.” And because the PLA did not require the Local Unions to accept Allen Myers’ employees as members it “effectively precluded a nonunion contractor, such as Allan Myers, from participating in the bid solicitation.” The Court next critically examined and rejected PennDOT’s reliance on an “expert’s report” as justification for the PLA. The Court stated that its PLA precedent “did not establish the broad principle that a PLA is appropriate so long as it contains the boilerplate language ‘time is of the essence’ and ‘nonunion contractors may bid’”:

The use of a PLA is permitted where the contracting agency can establish extraordinary circumstances, and PennDOT did not make that demonstration in this case. The Markely Street Project is a long term road improvement, the first phase of which was completed a year ahead of schedule. Nor is there any evidence that there is a labor shortage in the greater Philadelphia area. The Keystone Report’s recommendations did not justify the PLA because it did not identify any extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Markley Street Project that warranted its use.

(Emphasis supplied). Because of the PLA’s inherent unfairness to nonunion contractors and PennDOT’s failure to establish the “extraordinary circumstances” to justify its use, the Court held that the “PLA requirement in the bid solicitation for the Markley Street Project violates competitive bidding” and canceled the bid solicitation. The most signifcant aspect of the Allen Myers case is the Court’s willingness to examine the justifications for the use of PLAs by contracting agencies. If Commonwealth Court really means that PLAs are warranted only in “extraordinary circumstances,” then the routine use of PLAs for government contracts in the Commonwealth is of dubious validity.

Tagged:  PennDOT, Procurement Code, Project Labor Agreement, union

Maryland Senate Bill 853 – General Contractors Now Liable for Ensuring Payment to Subcontractor Employees

As of October 1, 2018, General Contractors operating on construction services projects in Maryland are now potentially subject to additional liability under the “General Contractor Liability for Unpaid Wage Act” introduced through Maryland Senate Bill 853 (the “Act”).  Specifically, a general contractor may be jointly and severally liable for subcontractors’ failure to properly pay employees.  To make matters more complex, this applies to subcontractors who are not even in direct contractual privity with the general contractor and can arguably extend infinitely down the sub-subcontracting chain. Indeed, general contractors may now be liable for ensuring that every down-the-chain subcontractor on a project properly pays their employees in a manner consistent with Maryland wage and hour laws. This controversial law also contains both a multiplier and an attorneys’ fees provision.  Specifically, if a subcontractor fails to pay an employee in accordance with Maryland’s wage and hour laws, both the employee’s direct employer and the general contractor may be liable to the employee for up to three times the wages owed, plus reasonable attorney fees and costs.  A claimant may make a claim against both the general contractor and the non-paying party as soon as two weeks after a violation occurs, and as late as three years after the occurrence. In an attempt to balance the scales, the new law requires subcontractors who fail to properly pay their employees to indemnify the general contractor for “any wages, damages, interest, penalties, or attorney fees owed as a result of the subcontractor’s violation;” however, this indemnity protection is only as strong as the subcontractor’s ability to pay such damages and costs.  The exception to the requirement for subcontractors to indemnify general contractors occurs either when: (1) indemnification is already provided for in a contract between the general contractor and the subcontractor; or (2) the violation arose due to the general contractor’s failure to make timely payments to the subcontractor. The full repercussions of this new law are yet to be determined, but ambiguity in the Act raises several questions.  First, the Act imposes no obligation on the subcontractors to provide the general contractor full access to all payroll and supporting records that would be needed to defend a claim, including a potentially fraudulent claim.  Second, the Act fails to specify whether an employee-claimant need even be staffed on the same project as the general contractor, or whether merely being an employee to the subcontractor who has staffed other employees on the project will suffice.  These questions will likely be clarified through litigation.  
Steps you can take:
In response to the Act, both general contractors and subcontractors should review their contract provisions with counsel, general contractors may consider requiring subcontractors to obtain a bond or insurance to protect against wage claims by a subcontractor’s employees, and consider adding contract provisions to allow for review of their subcontractors’ pay practices, records, and history of wage claims and lawsuits for at minimum three years following final payment.  General contractors should further consider requiring a subcontractor’s principal or officer to sign certified payrolls, thereby attesting that employees were paid properly.

Tagged:  Industry news, Maryland, Proposed Legislation, subcontractor payment, wage payment

Seminar on Recent Amendments to Pennsylvania’s Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (CASPA)

On October 10, 2018, significant changes to Pennsylvania’s Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (CASPA) will take effect.  Some of the areas impacted include a prohibition on the waiving of CASPA rights, the creation of a right to suspend work for nonpayment, the requirement that notice of deficiencies justifying the withholding of payment must be in writing, and right to post a maintenance bond to trigger the release of retainage. In addition, the use of medical marijuana under Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) raises several employment law issues that must be considered by construction companies, as they try to balance the competing interests of the MMA, federal employment laws, and collective bargaining agreements. Please join Babst Calland’s construction attorneys on Wednesday, October 10 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. for a brief yet informative complementary program at the DoubleTree Hotel in GreenTree to learn about the impact of these two important issues.  A complementary cocktail and networking reception will immediately follow the program.  You can still RVSP by sending an e-mail to Vicki Landa at vlanda@babstcalland.com.


The 2018 Babst Calland Report Focuses on the Appalachian Basin Oil & Gas Industry Forging Ahead Despite Obstacles

Babst Calland recently released its annual energy industry report: The 2018 Babst Calland Report – Appalachian Basin Oil & Gas Industry: Forging Ahead Despite Obstacles; Legal and Regulatory Perspective for Producers and Midstream Operators.  This annual review of shale gas development activity in the Appalachian Basin acknowledges an ongoing rebound despite obstacles presented by regulatory agencies, the courts, activists, and the market. To request a copy of the Report, please send an e-mail to info@babstcalland.com. In this Report, Babst Calland attorneys provide perspective on issues, challenges, opportunities and recent developments in the Appalachian Basin and beyond relevant to those involved in the shale gas industry. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s May 2018 report, the Appalachian Marcellus and Utica shale plays account for more than 40 percent of U.S. natural gas output, compared to only three percent a decade ago. Since then, the Appalachian Basin has become recognized in the U.S. and around the world as a major source of natural gas and natural gas liquids. The industry has been forging ahead amidst relatively low natural gas prices, infrastructure building, acreage rationalization and drilling plans that align with business expectations. The policy landscape continues to evolve with ever-changing federal and state environmental and safety regulations and tax structures along with a patchwork of local government requirements across the multi-state region. Joseph K. Reinhart, shareholder and co-chair of Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources Group, said, “This Report provides perspective on the challenges and opportunities of a shale gas industry in the Appalachian Basin that continues to enjoy a modest rebound. While more business-friendly policies and procedures are emanating from Washington, D.C., threats of trade wars are raising concerns about the U.S. energy industry’s ability to fully capitalize on planned exports to foreign markets.” To read more: click here.

Tagged:  Pipeline construction