Contractors doing work on publicly-owned projects in Pennsylvania may find it more difficult to recover statutory penalties and attorneys’ fees if the owner withholds funds in bad faith. Pennsylvania’s Procurement Code, which governs bidding on public projects and payment to prime contractors and subcontractors, is intended to “level the playing field” between government and contractor. Similar, but not identical to the private prompt payment act, the statute provides for the award to the contractor of interest, a penalty in the amount of 1% of the unpaid balance per month, and attorneys’ fees if the public entity acts in bad faith by refusing payment that is due to the contractor. Pennsylvania courts previously interpreted this statute to mean that if a jury determined that the public entity acted in bad faith, then an award of penalties and attorneys’ fees was required.
In the recent case of Township of Salem v. Miller Penn Development, LLC, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court invoked the often overlooked doctrine of nullum tempus occurrit regi. Read literally as “time does not run against the king,” as a general rule, nullum tempus allows the Pennsylvania state government or agencies to sue government contractors at any time, regardless of a statute of limitations defense. Nullum tempus also applies to claims brought by local governments, such as school districts, municipalities and counties, but only if the local government 1) brings its claims in its governmental capacity and 2) seeks to enforce an obligation imposed by law, as distinct from one arising out of a voluntary agreement.
Almost any construction project carries the potential for disputes, which all too often lead to litigation and associated costs. As litigation costs increase, they eat into potential recovery or limit defense strategies. Finding ways to lower litigation expenses helps eliminate cost as a barrier to a favorable outcome. One area ripe for such measures is e-discovery—the process in any litigation where, as court rules require, the parties collect and exchange electronically stored documents and data. That process necessarily is affected by the way those documents and files are stored and managed. Even before litigation begins, construction companies can take simple steps to reduce their e-discovery costs.