Tag Archives: Massachusetts construction

Understanding the Limitations of Chapter 93A – Pursuing Litigation Is Not Unfair or Deceptive

By on February 26, 2017

Companies operating or conducting business in Massachusetts are aware of an all-too-familiar statute, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A. This statute provides individual consumers and businesses a right to bring legal action if they are harmed by an unfair business practice. The statute eloquently, although perhaps ambiguously, states that a violation shall exist when a company commits an “unfair or deceptive act or practice, or unfair method of competition,” against another who is engaged in commerce within the Commonwealth.  Violations can cover a litany of topics, such as a company that unfairly demands more money to complete its contract obligations after having already executed the contract (Anthony’s Pier Four, Inc. v. HBC Associates, 411 Mass. 451), or where insurance providers fail to offer a fair and equitable settlement amount within the required time period (Rhodes v. AIG Domestic Claims, Inc., 461 Mass. 486), or against landlords who fail to provide habitable units to their residential tenants (Haddad v. Gonzalez, 410 Mass. 855).  Although Chapter 93A is far-reaching, it does have its limitations.

Recently, Strang Scott attorneys Cole Young and Jennifer Lynn argued to the Massachusetts Appeals Court that litigation tactics alone are not unfair or deceptive acts or practices, such that they violate Chapter 93A.  Agreeing, the Appeals Court held that demanding payment under a contract, filing suit, and continuing to litigate a claim over a disputed amount is a simple contract dispute and nothing more. Aggregate Industries ­– Northeast Region, Inc. v. Hugo Key & Sons, Inc., 90 Mass.App.Ct. 146 (2016).   Said another way, the Appeals Court held that plaintiffs should not be punished for deciding to litigate, rather than accepting a lower settlement amount.  The Appeals Court went on to hold that the unfair or deceptive practice must arise from an independent act of trade or commerce, “not tangentially from litigation concerning that conduct.” 

The precedent of this case will be far-reaching and provides security to companies and businesses who choose to file suit, as opposed to being forced into settlement for fear of committing an “unfair” act.  Because the breadth of Chapter 93A can be complicated and nuanced, potential litigants should speak with an experienced Massachusetts litigator.

Keeping up Formalities: Protecting Assets Across Commonly Owned Companies

By on February 2, 2017

A recent Massachusetts Bankruptcy Court decision should serve as a clear reminder to business owners that, in order to enjoy the benefits that limited liability entities afford, one must respect established corporate formalities and comport business accordingly. Briefly, in In Re: Cameron Construction & Roofing Co., Inc. the  Bankruptcy Court held that the assets of a Massachusetts limited liability company, closely related to a Massachusetts construction business subject to Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, could be reached to satisfy the claims of the creditors of the construction business. 

The two separate entities shared a common owner yet were formed as distinct enterprises. In this case, however, the Court determined that the owner controlled both the non-debtor LLC and debtor construction business and had allowed for the intermingling of assets. Further, the Court noted that the common owner “was thinly capitalized, and the two entities observed only minimal corporate formalities by filing separate tax returns and Annual Reports.” Thus, the Court held that ‘substantive consolidation’ was the appropriate remedy- effectively disregarding the sovereignty of the separate entities and combining their assets as a means to satisfy the liabilities of one.  Had the owner resected the separate corporate forms of his commonly owned entities in his everyday operations he likely would have been in a better position to shield assets held by the  non-debtor LLC from creditor access.

Contractors Will Soon Be Able to Apply for Certification for Public Construction Online

By on February 29, 2016

The Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) recently announced that contractors will soon be able to utilize an online application process for certification. It will include the ability to pay fees online as well as online access to documents such as Certificates of Eligibility. The website is expected to be ready in March, 2016. Follow the link below for more information.

http://www.mass.gov/anf/property-mgmt-and-construction/design-and-construction-of-public-bldgs/contractor-certification/new-online-certification-process.html

Certification online graphic

Prime Contractors Can Use Subcontractor’s Qualifications to Meet Specification Requirements

By on February 22, 2016

In a recent decision, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Bid Protest Unit ruled that in certain circumstances a prime or general bidder on public construction projects can use the experience and qualifications of a subcontractor to meet the requirements of the project specifications.

The case, In re Department of Mental Health, Attorney General Bid Protest Decision (February 19, 2016), involved bid documents that required bidders to have at least five years of experience with smoke and fire damper maintenance. The protester argued that the general contractor submitting the low bid did not have such experience. In rejecting the protest, the hearing officer found that the low bidder’s subcontractor’s experience met the qualification.

The ruling is expressly limited to unique circumstances. The word “bidder” usually is limited to the general or prime bidder in public construction. Here, however, the bid documents stated that a sub-bid is called a “bid.” It appears that future bid documents will need similar language for the general or prime bidders to be able to rely on subcontractors’ experience in meeting the requirements for bidders.  Our Massachusetts construction lawyers will continue to monitor the impact of this decision.