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Surety not obligated to pay bond to subcontractor

May 11, 2012

A company that was subcontracted by another subcontractor for work on a plant construction project won’t be paid from a payment bond the subcontractor obtained because of a pay-if-paid clause in subcontractors’ contract.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had to figure out if the District Court was correct in finding that the language contained in the contract subcontractor Industrial Power Systems entered into with BMD Contractors contained a pay-if-paid clause instead of a pay-when-paid clause. Industrial Power was hired by Walbridge Aldinger, the general contractor on a plant manufacturing project. Industrial Power in turn hired BMD. Industrial Power also executed a payment bond with Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, making Fidelity a surety for Industrial Power’s payment obligations to BMD.

The manufacturer eventually went bankrupt and was unable to pay Walbridge, which in turn was unable to pay Industrial Power, leaving it unable to pay BMD. BMD and Ferguson Enterprises, which provided supplies to BMD, tried to recover the rest of what they were owed from the bond. Fidelity refused payment and BMD filed suit.

The 7th Circuit affirmed in BMD Contractors Inc. v. Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, No. 11-1345, finding the contract between Industrial Power and BMD expressly provides that Industrial Power’s receipt of payment is a condition precedent to its obligation to pay BMD. This issue raised in the instant case hasn’t expressly been ruled on by Indiana’s Supreme Court.

Judge Diane Sykes pointed out that Indiana surety law is quite clear on two points: sureties are generally liable only where the principal itself is liable; and concurrently executed bonds and the contracts they secure are construed together.

“These surety-law principles firmly support Fidelity’s position that it cannot be liable under the payment bond if Industrial Power is not liable under the subcontract. Although there are no Indiana cases applying these general principles in this particular context, courts in other jurisdictions have done so,” she wrote.

The trend of recent caselaw supports the basic principle of Indiana law that a surety may assert all the defenses of its principal. Fidelity, no less than Industrial Power, may rely on the pay-if-paid clause in the Industrial Power/BMD subcontract to defend against this suit on the payment bond, Sykes wrote.

 

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