On August 16, 2018, the Mississippi Supreme Court laid to rest any confusion regarding how public authorities are to address the situation where the apparent low bidder’s bid exceeds the “allocated funds” by more than ten percent (10%). [Click here to see Decision]. The procurement in question involved bids for a construction project in the City of Clarksdale (“the City”). The bids received exceeded the “allocated funds” by more than ten percent (10%). Hemphill Construction Company, Inc. was the second low bidder and protested the award to the apparent low bidder and demanded the City reject all bids and re-advertise. Rather than reject the bids, the City increased its budget to provide the necessary funds to award the contract to the apparent low bidder. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that the City’s action to increase the “allocated funds” after bids were opened violated the procurement laws and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

This decision makes clear that public authorities cannot change the “allocated funds” for a Project after bids are opened and then discovers the apparent low bidder’s price exceeds the “allocated funds” by more than ten percent (10%). However, if the apparent low bidder’s price is within ten percent (10%) the public authority can utilize Miss. Code Ann. § 31-7-13(d)(iv) to negotiate with the low bidder.

 

 

If you have been involved in a construction related arbitration and received an award, you should know it can only be challenged under the limited grounds set forth in the Mississippi Construction Arbitration Act, Miss. Code Ann. §§ 11-15-101, et seq. One of the grounds for challenging an arbitration award is there has been an “evident miscalculation” by the arbitrator. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-15-135(1)(a).

The Mississippi Supreme Court, in a case of first impression, was recently asked what qualifies as an “evident miscalculation” in D.W. Caldwell, Inc. v. W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company [click here for the Supreme Court decision]. In that case, D.W. Caldwell, Inc. (“Caldwell”) had secured an arbitration award against W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company (“Yates”). When Caldwell went to confirm the arbitration award, Yates objected claiming that there was an “evident miscalculation” in the arbitration award. The circuit court, over the objection of Caldwell, allowed Yates to offer documents from the arbitration and testimony to establish the “evident miscalculation” and reduced the arbitration award.

The Court, citing its past decisions, reminded the circuit court that its review of arbitration awards was extremely limited and restricted to the exceptions identified in Miss. Code Ann. § 11-15-135. Based upon the language of the statute, the Court concluded that “the ‘evident’ (plain, obvious, or clearly understood) miscalculation must be apparent from nothing more than the four corners of the award and the contents of the arbitration record.” Otherwise, “[l]ooking to evidence beyond ‘the face’ of the award or the arbitration record allows the parties to retry the matter in front of a trial judge.” The Court went on to provide guidance as to what might be considered by the circuit court in a proceeding to confirm an arbitration award holding “courts requested to confirm, modify and/or vacate arbitration awards are not at liberty to permit the examination of witnesses.” The Court therefore reversed the decision of the circuit court and remanded the case directing it to confirm Caldwell’s arbitration award.

The significance of this decision is that parties to arbitration should make sure that the hearing record is complete. However, even if the record is complete, thoughtful consideration should be given as to whether there are sufficient grounds to seek modifying or vacating the arbitration award before making such a request to a court.

 

The Mississippi Legislature has passed and on April 2, 2018, sent to the Governor HB 1306 for his signature. [Click here for link to House Bill 1306.] This legislation provides that "[a] provision in any contract, subcontract, or purchase order for the improvement of real property in this state or to provide materials therefor, is void and against public policy if it makes the contract, subcontract, or purchase order subject to the laws of another state, or provides that the exclusive forum for any litigation, arbitration or other dispute resolution process be located in another state." This means that Mississippi residents do not have to travel to foreign jurisdictions to have disputes resolved on projects located in Mississippi or have the laws of a foreign jurisdiction apply to a dispute arising out of or related to the improvement [construction or repair] of real property in this state.

This legislation provides Mississippi residents with a "home court" advantage that previously did not exist. HB 1306 will be effective for contracts entered into on or after July 1, 2018.

Representative Bell has introduced House Bill No. 1306 [Click here to view House Bill No. 1306] that would require construction claims for projects located in Mississippi be litigated or arbitrated in Mississippi. This requirement would apply regardless of whether or not the contract had a provision that required the claims to be resolved in another jurisdiction. This is an important bill for Mississippi contractors since many foreign contractors frequently include a venue provision forcing Mississippi contractors to litigate or arbitrate their claims in the foreign contractor’s home state. Without this legislation, the cost to pursue a claim against a foreign contractor could be cost prohibitive and potentially force Mississippi contractors to settle their claim for pennies on the dollar. Mississippi Contractors should keep their eye on this litigation and encourage its passage.

A question frequently asked by owners and contractors is when enough is enough and termination is justified. As a preliminary matter, immediate termination for a non-compliant contractor or subcontractor is never a good idea. Mississippi jurisprudence requires that notice (preferably in writing) should be given to the non-compliant party with an opportunity to cure the alleged defect. The decision to terminate is never easy and viewed by the court as an extreme remedy. Nonetheless, the court has also recognized that termination may be warranted where repeated attempts to cure have been ineffective.

Any notice of termination should be in writing identifying the "material breach" justifying the termination and entitlement to damages associated with completing the terminated scope of work. The owner or contractor should also secure a number of quotes/prices to complete the work. This will assist the owner or contractor from being accused of securing an unreasonable or excessive price to complete the terminated scope of work. Remember, any change in the original scope of work or "betterment" could be grounds for the terminated party to challenge all or a portion of the claimed damages.

Generally, most attorneys would say that you do not need a transcript of an arbitration hearing. However, there are exceptions–one of which was made apparent in a recent decision by the Mississippi Court of Appeals. In The City of Hattiesburg v. Precision Construction, LLC [Link to Decision] the City of Hattiesburg ("the City") attempted to challenge an arbitration award to Precision Construction, LLC ("Precision") alleging evident and material miscalculations in the award after Precision had filed a motion to confirm an arbitration award in its favor. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-15-123 provides that a party may request reconsideration of the arbitration award under limited circumstances if the request is made "within twenty (20) days of the receipt of the award". In response to Precision’s motion to confirm, the City filed a motion to amend, modify and/or correct the arbitration award under Miss. Code Ann. § 11-15-135. The trial court affirmed the award to Precision and the City appealed.

The City’s appeal of the award to Precision was unavailing in part due to the absence of a record.

…[T]here is no record of the arbitration hearing, so we cannot know whether the documents on which the City now relies were even presented at the hearing. The arbitrator’s decision indicates that no such argument was made. The concept of an "evident miscalculation" presupposes that the parties presented the arbitrator with evidence from which a "correct" calculation could have been made. If his calculations were consistent with the evidence and argument presented, then there is no miscalculation. Because there is no record of the hearing, it is impossible for us to say that the arbitrator made an "evident miscalculation." See Godeau v. Picheloup Constr. Co., 567 So.2d 697, 800 (La. Ct. App. 1990).

It may, therefore, be prudent to request a transcript of an arbitration hearing as a precautionary measure in the event a challenge to the arbitrator’s award is necessary.

On September 14, 2015, the Small Business Administration published its final rule implementing new regulations for awards to Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses (EDWOSB). Now, as with other "special status" concerns such as 8(a) and Service Disabled Veteran Owned businesses, women-owned businesses will have access to set-aside and sole-source contracting opportunities. The legal basis for this final rule is §825 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015.

 

Under the current WOSB program, SBA reports that WOSBs received approximately $15 billion in contract actions according to FY 2013 small-business goaling reports. The new sole-source authority for awards to EDWOSBs and WOSBs can only be used where a contracting officer’s market research cannot identify two or more WOSBs or EDWOSBs that can perform at a fair and reasonable price but identifies one that can perform. WOSB and EDWOSB competitive set-asides and sole-source contracts can only be awarded in those industries for which WOSB and EDWOSB opportunities are authorized.

 

The final rule announced in the Federal Register is attached here and becomes effective October 14, 2015.

 

The 2015 Mississippi Legislature has made a number of changes to the statutes governing the Mississippi State Board of Contractors, Miss. Code Ann. §§ 31-3-1, et seq. and Miss. Code Ann. §§ 73-59-1, et seq. The enumerated changes are found in Senate Bill 2508 [click here for SB 2508], which have been sent to the Governor for his signature. Listed below are some of the changes:

     

  • Demolition is added to the list of activities covered by the statute for which a certificate of responsibility will be required.

     

  • The thirty (30) day waiting period for an application for a Certificate of Responsibility has been removed.

     

  • The number of entities for which a qualifying party may appear is limited to three (3) unless special permission is granted.

     

  • Grants the Board of Contractors to issue citations to any commercial or residential contractor preforming work with a Certificate of Responsibility and may order the work to be stopped.

     

  • The definition of "resident contractor" has been clarified to include a nonresident person, firm or corporation that has been qualified to do business in this state and has maintained a permanent full-time office in the State of Mississippi for two (2) years prior to submission of the bid.

 

     

  • Board of Contractors now has the authority to issue public reprimands for violations of the statutes and/or regulations.

     

  • The appeal process for commercial and residential contractors from a decision of State Board of Contractors has been clarified and defines content of administrative record which is to be considered on appeal.

     

  • The Board of Contractors has that authority to require residential builders and remodelers issued licenses after July 1, 2015, to have two (2) hours of continuing education per year.

Commercial and residential contractors and subcontractors should read these amended statutes and check the website for the Mississippi State Board of Contractors at http://www.msboc.us/ for any changes to its Rules and Regulations resulting from these legislative changes.

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2013 ("NDAA") into law on January 2, 2013. The NDAA authorized the SBA to establish mentor-protégé programs for all small business concerns ("SBC")—not just socially and economically disadvantaged concerns certified to participate in the 8(a) Business Development Program. Over 2 years later, the SBA finally proposed a rule that would implement a mentor-protégé program allowing all small businesses the opportunity to benefit as a protégé to an approved mentor.

The SBA determined that a single set of mentor-protégé rules, applicable regardless of any other special SBC-status, would facilitate clarity and consistency among the contracting community. If a final rule is implemented along the lines of the "universal" program proposed, HUBZone SBCs, Veteran Owned and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned SBCs, Woman and Economically Disadvantaged Woman Owned SBCs, and other SBCs will have access to a mentor-protégé virtually identical to the 8(a) mentor-protégé program. Among other things, all approved mentor-protégé participants can joint venture and be considered "small" for purposes of small business set-aside contracts provided the protégé is small, mentors can have an equity interest in the protégé, mentors can provide bonding capacity for contracts, and mentors can provide business development assistance. Except for the Department of Defense Mentor-Protégé Program, all mentor-protégé programs currently in effect at other executive agencies will have one year from the date SBA’s final rule is published to have the SBA approve their mentor-protégé programs.

Another way the SBA proposes expanding mentor-protégé access is by removing barriers to being approved as a protégé. Currently, a SBC cannot be a protégé if its average annual receipts exceed one-half the size standard of its primary NAICS Code. If it cannot qualify based on this, then a SBC can only qualify as a protégé if it has never received an 8(a) contract or is within the business-development stage of the 8(a) Business Development program. These two latter eligibility factors would be removed as mentor-protégé access is expanded to all SBCs. However, the SBA has determined that any firm that is small relative to its NAICS Code should be able to participate in federal contracting as a protégé.

The SBA’s proposed universal mentor-protégé program would add additional certification and reporting requirements aimed at ensuring the approved mentor-protégé relationship is serving its purpose and is program-compliant. It would also add the requirement that any concern seeking approval as a protégé be certified by SBA as a small business concern. Also, 8(a) firms who are approved as protégés would be subject to size protests the same as other SBCs.

The full details of the SBA’s proposed rule are attached here. Comments on it are due to SBA April 6, 2015.

Recently the United States Supreme Court took a close look at the enforceability of forum selection clauses in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.  In that decision, the Supreme Court found that such forum selection clauses, when properly drafted, are enforceable.  Only where there is an overwhelmingly strong public interest should a venue selection provision be ignored.

Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision, there are some twenty-four (24) states that have enacted statutes which render such forum selection clauses void.  Whether these statutes can withstand constitutional scrutiny was not addressed by the Supreme Court in Atlantic Marine.  An example is Arizona’s statute that provides as follows:

A. The following are against this state’s public policy and are void and unenforceable:

1. A provision, covenant, clause or understanding in, collateral to or affecting a construction contract that makes the contract subject to the laws of another state or that requires any litigation arising from the contract to be conducted in another state.

2. A provision, covenant, clause or understanding in, collateral to or affecting a construction contract stating that a party to the contract cannot suspend performance under the contract or terminate the contract if another party to the contract fails to make prompt payments under the contract pursuant to section 32-1129, 32-1129.01 or 32-1129.02.

B. Any mediation, arbitration or other dispute resolution proceeding arising from a construction contract for work performed in this state shall be conducted in this state.

A.R.S. §32-32-1129.05.

It may be time for Mississippi to consider adopting a similar statute to protect resident contractors from having to pursue remedies against a non-resident contractor in a foreign jurisdiction and also being subjected to that state’s laws.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this issue, please contact Lee Nations, Executive Director for Associated General Contractors of Mississippi at (601) 9811-1144 or at lee@msagc.com.