Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs

cranes.jpgRecently, we all had yet another reminder that the Virginia Courts will strictly construe even the strictest of payment conditions. In the W. O. Grubb Steel Erection Co. v. 515 Granby, LLC case (full text of opinion in .pdf here), Suburban Grading and Utilities found this out in spades, much to their chagrin. Suburban Grading sued for payment, and Turner Construction Company, the general contractor pointed to its “pay if paid” clause of the contract. Conceding the unequivocal nature of the pay if paid clause, Suburban Grading argued that the Owner/Turner contract rendered the clause ambiguous because the prime contract between the Owner and Turner stated that Turner could only bill for those charges that it incurred and payments made to subcontractors.

While this argument seems persuasive, the Norfolk, VA Circuit Court disagreed. It stated that the clause cited by suburban grading did nothing to change the nature of the unambiguous contract between Turner and its subcontractor. Instead, the Court cited both the fact that the prime contract clause only discussed timing of payments and specifically stated that payments from Turner to subcontractors were to be in accordance with the subcontract documents. Additionally, the subcontract contained a priority clause making terms in the subcontract control in the event of a conflict. In short, Turner saved itself from a judgment because it made sure to include an unambiguous pay if paid clause.

Yet again, the Virginia Courts teach us that, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the contract is king. The general contractor, Turner, saved itself with careful drafting that avoided any potential issues created by its contract with the Owner. Suburban Grader, the subcontractor, could do nothing about the language even in the face of some at least arguable ambiguity because of it.

A second point to be made here is that a subcontractor should always request and review a copy of the prime contract before entering into a construction subcontract. The prime contract is almost always incorporated into the subcontract and can contain provisions that affect the risk assumed by a subcontractor on a project. This can include anything from notice time frames to dispute resolution.

Also, I recommend the use of an experienced construction attorney to assist you in drafting and reviewing contracts before a contractor or subcontractor enters into such a contract.

UPDATE: For more on the debacle at Granby Towers, check out this post at Virginia Real Estate, Land Use & Construction Law Blog

As always, I encourage you to join the conversation with a comment below. Also, please subscribe to keep up with the latest Construction Law Musings.

Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs
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17 Responses to Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christopher Hill, Build2Sustain. Build2Sustain said: Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs: Recently, we all had yet another reminder that the Virginia Courts will strictly c… http://bit.ly/6tyM2S […]

  2. Christopher Hill (constructionlaw « Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs | Construction Law Musings- Richmon... « Chat Catcher) says:

    […] 2009-12-21T06:28:59  RT @build2sustain: Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs [link to post] […]

  3. That case is nuts – the owner’s lawyer sure did their job in getting that financing term in the contract. Turner was crazy to start the job with no financing, and the end result is that both Turner and the subs end up getting burned.

    Glad to see my Guest Post Friday lives on – thanks for following up with the post-script, a sad result for the subs but not unexpected after the first decision.

  4. Glad to see it lives on as well Tim. Glad to see that you’re reading. It also shows that contracts can get tricky so make sure they’re reviewed carefully before diving in.
    .-= Christopher G. Hill´s last blog post .. 8 DurretteBradshaw PLC Attorneys In Virginia’s Legal Elite =-.

  5. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by constructionlaw: New Musings: Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs http://bit.ly/6C0OWI

  6. The really sad story is that from talking to Jack Rephan about the case, the subs all assumed the financing was in place from Turner proceeding and only found out there was a problem when the project fell apart.

  7. Sad story that proves that my view that Murphy was an optimist is confirmed almost daily in construction. An uphill battle for those of us who represent subs a fair amount.
    .-= Christopher G. Hill´s last blog post .. Musings Turns One! =-.

  8. Build2Sustain (build2sustain « Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs | Construction Law Musings- Richmon... « Chat Catcher) says:

    […] 2009-12-21T07:34:41  Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs: Recently, we all had yet another reminder that the Virginia Courts will strictly c… [link to post] […]

  9. […] 2009-12-21T07:50:50  RT @constructionlaw: RT @BlawgTweets: Nu @constructionlaw: Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs [link to post] […]

  10. Timothy R. Hughes (vaconstruction « Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs | Construction Law Musings- Richmon... « Chat Catcher) says:

    […] RT @constructionlaw: RT @BlawgTweets: Nu @constructionlaw: Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs [link to post] //gd post on an ugly […]

  11. Gary Reinhardt (garyreinhardt « Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs | Construction Law Musings- Richmon... « Chat Catcher) says:

    […] RT @constructionlaw Pay If Paid, Pay Attention Subs [link to post] //Good stuff, Chris. […]

  12. You must have read my mind! I just finished my blog post on this same case this morning, then looked at your site! How funny — great minds think alike! Fortunately, I took a little different approach so we will both discuss different angles of this case. Mine will post on Wednesday morning. What a shame this situation was for everyone (except maybe the federal government, which will likely end up condemning the property!).

  13. Heidi,

    Thanks for the comment! I can’t wait to see your angle on the situation.
    .-= Christopher G. Hill´s last blog post .. Contracts, Liens and Notice =-.

  14. […] in the contracting process. When money was flowing, contractual provisions such as “pay if paid” clauses did not seem so critical. Even the basics like incorporation become more […]

  15. […] will not re-iterate them here. This litigation continues to swirl and involved interpretation of pay if paid clauses, financial contingency clauses (thanks @vaconstruction), and a large number of other claims by […]

  16. Reminder: Pay if Paid Not All Encompassing (but Could it be? | Construction Law Musings- Richmond, VA) says:

    […] with so called “pay if paid” clauses in construction contracts. While such clauses are enforceable in Virginia (when phrased correctly), there are exceptions and limitations (for instance in the Miller Act […]

  17. The Dangerous Terrain of "Pay If Paid" Provisions in Virginia -- The Power of Two Magic Words | Virginia Construction Law News says:

    […] Chris Hill discussed in Construction Musings, a couple of years back, there are real-life cases where these provisions […]

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