Here at Wolfe Law Group, I have been blogging a lot lately on liens for both public and private projects (See other posts here). Anytime a property is owned by and arm of the state then you are dealing with a public project. Although, this seems simple, many contractors do not always see the connection. The reason why so many disputes are happening now is because public projects have dominated in the years of the poor economy. Contractors on these projects need to know the rules so that they can get paid. (see La. R.S. §38:2241 et seq.)
Since the state owns the land, there are no security devices, such as a lien that can attach to the land and call for its foreclosure in the event of default or non-payment. Therefore the state has come up with its own security device to give contractors and laborers a way to collect when not receiving payment. Here we have the Louisiana coined term: Sworn Statement of Amount Due. La. R.S. §38:2242, which is Louisiana’s version of a public lien. This document needs to be filed by the subcontractor or laborer within 45 days of when the work was accepted by the government body overseeing the project. Id.
One way for a contractor who has a sub on any tier below it to cancel the Sworn Statement of Amount Due filed, is to “bond off” the lien. La R.S. §38:2242.2. This mechanism allows for the higher tier contractor to provide security or cash at an amount 125% of the total lien. Id. At this juncture the property will be clear but there will be evidence of the bonded off lien still held with the parish mortgage office. This is pretty common practice so that higher tier companies keep the bond free while settling disputes with subs.
If at the end of the 45 day window from the state agency signing off on full completion of the project there are still any claims remaining as unpaid, then the state, claimants, or contractors may file a concursus proceeding to have the funds distributed into the registry of the court so that the parties can fight about who deserves the funds. La R.S. §38:2243. Any party may file this action, and its a very powerful tool. This is why many of the contractors will use the mechanism to “bond off” the claims, so as to prevent this process.
Finally, every parties favorite section is where attorney fees are awarded. In the Public Works Act, by statute attorney fees are permissible. This gives all parties the confidence to fight thinking that they will recover the fees. Unfortunately, recovery of attorney fees is still a difficult chore even when there is a statute. Here, La R.S. §38:2246 allows for attorney fees to any claimant who timely and properly filed its claim and recovers the full amount of the claim asserted. The reason for the emphasis in the proceeding sentence, is due to the difficulty of getting exactly what you swore was due. Claimants should be as accurate as possible when asserting claims, otherwise this statute will not apply.
The above are just a few of the many nuances contained and embedded in the Louisiana Public Works Act. Each step of the process should be carefully traversed so that the contractor does not lose rights to collect if/when the general contractor or public entity runs out of funding.