Commercial Law – Alleged Breach of Contract – Building Contract – Performance Bonds

The case of Spiersbridge Property Developments Ltd vMuir Construction Ltd [2008] involved a determination relating to an action alleging breach of a building contract. A bank had paid out an amount demanded by the pursuer under a performance bond and it had to be decided, if the demand on the bond exceeded the sum ultimately due, whether the pursuer was obliged to account for the excess to the bank or to the defender.

The pursuer in this case was a property development company and the defender was a construction company. The parties entered into a building contract in June 2005, in accordance with this contract, the defender was to design and construct a development consisting of warehouses and office space.

This case was centred on the pursuer claiming for alleged delays in completing the works whilst the defender counterclaimed, requesting for an extension of time in which it could complete its obligations.

According to clause 2.10.2 of Appendix 1 of the building contract, the defender, as the contractor, made an undertaking to execute and deliver to the pursuer, as the employer, no later than 14 days following a written request from the pursuer to do so:

“…A performance bond in an amount not less than 10% of the Contract Sum in terms the same as the draft performance bond set out in Part Five of this Schedule”.

The Bank of Scotland subsequently issued a performance bond. The performance bond was in the form of a letter which was addressed to the pursuers and included substantially the same terms as the draft bond referred to in clause 2.10.2.

Then, in November 2006, the pursuer made a demand requiring the bank to pay £503,193.75 under the bond, which the bank duly paid to the pursuer. The defender stated that it was obliged, under a counter-indemnity it had granted to the bank, to pay that same amount to the bank and that it had duly done so.

Furthermore, the defender stated in its counterclaim that the grounds on which the pursuer called on the bond were erroneous. The defender argued that the grounds were erroneous due to the fact that it was not in breach of contract as alleged by the pursuer. It asserted that the pursuer was obliged to account to it for the sums received under the bond. The basis for that assertion being that the following term was to be implied into the building contract:

“…In the event that… the pursuer should make a call on the bond it would account to the defender for the proceeds of the bond, retaining only the amount equivalent to any loss suffered by the pursuer as a result of the defender’s breach of contract, if any”.

It was argued that such a term required to be implied as a matter of business efficacy. This meant that the dispute as to whether the defender was in breach of the building contract, as alleged by the pursuer, was yet to be settled.

Despite the fact that a ‘proof before answer’ had been appointed, the parties also disagreed on whether the pursuer was obliged to account to the defender for that excess, assuming it was found to be entitled to a sum less than it was paid under the bond.

Accordingly, the pursuer argued that its duty to account was owed to the bank and not to the defender. The pursuer’s principal concern was that if it made payment of that excess to the defender, it risked being sued for an equal sum by the bank.

The parties came to the mutual decision to have the issue decided in a debate before the proof. The question for decision during the debate was:

“Where a demand had been made on a performance bond in an amount which was ultimately found to exceed the sum due to the party making the demand, was that party obliged to account for that excess:

(a) To the bank; or

(b) To his opposite contracting party?”

Counsel for the pursuer said that there were three contracts which needed to be considered:

§ The bond contract, namely the contract on the performance bond between the pursuer and the bank;

§ The building contract, which was the contract between the pursuer and the defender; and

§ The banking contract between the defender and the bank pursuant to which the bank agreed to issue the performance bond.

It had to be decided to whom the pursuer should account for the excess and the route to achieve this. It was submitted that the most sensible route was by implication of a term into the bond contract. The term would state that the pursuer would repay the excess to the bank. This would be matched by a corresponding term to be implied into the banking contract under which, if it had already been paid by the defender, the bank would repay the said amount to the defender.

This however raised some potential difficulties. If the term was implied into the building contract where the defender became insolvent, and the pursuer was required to account for the excess to the defender, the payment by the pursuer would go into the pot for the general body of creditors of the defender. This would mean that unless it had already been paid by the defender, the bank would lose out.

Counsel for the defender submitted that the term should be implied in the building contract. If it were the case that it was the bank that could sue on the bond for the excess, the bank would be undertaking the burden of seeking to prove in litigation with the pursuer that the defender was not in breach of contract. Alternatively, that the damage suffered by the pursuer was less than the amount called under the bond.

It was argued that that was not a task a reasonable banker would be particularly willing to undertake, not just because of the difficulty of running such a case, but also due to the fact that it would be expensive.

It would be much better for the bank to be able to rely upon its counter-indemnity from the defender at the time that the bond was called. If the bank had the right of action for recovery of the excess, counsel for the pursuer argued that those difficulties could be overcome by an assignment of the right of action by the bank to the defender. However, this would not work as the terms of the bond prohibited the bank from assigning its rights without the pursuer’s consent. Furthermore, if the bank had been paid by the defender pursuant to its counter-indemnity, it would not have suffered any loss and would have no claim to assign.

After much deliberation, the court held that where a demand was made on a performance bond in an amount which was ultimately found to exceed the sum due to the party making the demand, that party was held to be obliged to account for that excess to the opposite contracting party. In the circumstances of this case, the parties had agreed that the obligation on the pursuer to account for any excess must rest upon an implied term in one of the contracts to which it was a party.

This meant that the question then became one of establishing which implication best gave the intended business efficacy to the transaction.

The court was of the opinion that the natural implication was an implication of the type for which the defender argued, namely an implication of a term into the building contract as follows:

‘…In the event that… the pursuer should make a call on the bond it would account to the defender for the proceeds of the bond, retaining only the amount equivalent to any loss suffered by the pursuer as a result of the defender’s breach of contract, if any’.

It was held that a term implied into the building contract had none of the disadvantages of involving the bank in the merits of the case. Furthermore, it also allowed for establishing what loss, if any, the pursuer had suffered as a result of the defender’s alleged breach of the building contract. This could be determined in litigation or arbitration between the parties to that contract.

The court further held that it was unrealistic to think that the bank would not have agreed with the defender a counter-indemnity in terms of which the defender would in turn indemnify the bank in the like amount upon a call being made upon the bond.

In the event that the call on the bond was excessive, the defender would be out of pocket, not the bank. According to the court, it seemed quite natural that it should be the defender to whom the pursuer had to account for that excess. This did however leave one potential problem. That problem being that if the defender became insolvent after the bond was established by the bank, but before the bank could claim against the defender on the counter-indemnity, then the bank would stand to lose out if it had not taken security.

This potential problem was held to merely be a commercial risk which the bank would decide whether or not to take depending upon its assessment of the defender’s creditworthiness. As such, the bank could overcome this problem by refusing to issue the bond, or require some security before agreeing to issue it.

© RT COOPERS, 2008. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

Learn About the Ideal Job Description of Commercial Real Estate Lawyers

Money becomes an imperative figure when it is about considering any sort of investment or dealing in estate property. Most of the times and for the majority of us, we do not have the true resources and all the necessary information that is required in estate transactions. Therefore, in such situations the best choice is to consult a professional and experienced commercial real estate lawyer who will have all the necessary and precise information during the process.

You may need to approach a lawyer when you are selling or buying commercial property or when you want to make sure that the sale you are getting is fair and legitimately priced. Well, whatsoever is the reason, a lawyer is always the most advisable and sensible option when it comes to dealings in the realty industry. Before we go through the crucial details of commercial real estate lawyers, let us briefly read about real estate law.

What is Commercial Real Estate?

This term loosely refers to any piece of land purchased with the full intent of making substantial money on the overall property. Commercial estate can also be used for apartment complexes and industrial production. However, most commonly it is used for restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, office buildings and any other similar property on which the owner of the land expects to mint some money.

What Does a Commercial Real Estate Lawyer Do?

Real estate is basically the sale, purchase, and transfer of homes, buildings or any other commercial property and very strict laws are alleviated for real estate transactions. Thus, a lawyer is typically required for such types of commercial transactions. A lawyer has focused and practiced the real estate law and thus is entitled as a fully licensed attorney. The lawyers handle estate transactions encumbering commercial properties. They also title opinions.

The clients can be property owners, lenders, or developers and can be involved in issues related to property litigation, zoning problems or contract disputes. A lawyer has to render advice to his clients regarding all the paperwork and property transactions. This is one of the most important roles as a commercial lawyer.

Many of the times, established commercial firms hire dedicated lawyers to work for their corporations. Sometimes, these lawyers attain good opportunities and act as general counsel for large scale developers too. However, the job of such attorneys is to sell and buy properties, review the financial documents, file paperwork for corporations, partnerships, documentation for taxes, and communicate with investors regarding the property.

Nevertheless, other attorneys in this domain are also in charge of reviewing the deeds and ensuring the titles are appropriately filed with the right governing policies. They also manage the negotiating leases for various commercial office buildings and shopping centers.

Choosing Your Lawyer

The job of a lawyer is globally recognised and respected as a position of authority and trust. Lawyers’ job roles vary significantly depending upon which aspect of law they choose to specialise in. The fact that they generally specialise in only one aspect of law means that you may consult with more than one lawyer in your lifetime depending on the situation; you would need a family lawyer to sort out a divorce whilst a commercial lawyer would ensure that your business is in order.

Family Law

Family lawyers cover issues such as divorce and child custody. This aspect of law can be very emotive and often refer to sensitive issues therefore lawyers in this field should be approachable and sympathetic. One of the main things to consider when choosing a lawyer in this sector is whether you feel comfortable speaking to them. This is because you will need to share all of the information about the circumstances of the situation which can often be a harrowing experience. Having a lawyer that you are relaxed with should make divulging this information less stressful.

Criminal Law

Criminal lawyers work for both the accused party and the victim of crime. When choosing a lawyer if you are accused of a crime ensure that they have a good track record with cases similar to your own, their experience will be invaluable.

If you are a victim of crime, reliving the incident by talking to a lawyer can be a very emotive experience. It is important then that the lawyer gains all of the evidence necessary to build a case against the accused, but also that they are sympathetic and understanding to your feelings and emotions. As with all good family lawyers, criminal lawyers should make you feel comfortable to talk to them about all of the issues surrounding the criminal act.

Commercial Law

All businesses, regardless of size, are governed by commercial law. This means that in order to operate, they must be compliant to all aspects of this law. As a result, businesses often use commercial lawyers on a consultancy basis to ensure that their practises are in line with the law. When you employ a commercial lawyer, ensure that you are able to maintain a healthy working relationship with them. This will benefit your company as the more that the lawyer knows about your company, the more they will be able to assist you with decisions and planning for the future. It also means that should you come into difficulty with the law, they will know enough about how your business operates to be able to represent you honestly.

Tax Law

Businesses are responsible for calculating the amount of tax they must pay each year. If this is done incorrectly it can result in businesses overpaying or underpaying tax. Underpayment of tax can result in substantial fines so it is imperative that the tax calculation is accurate and the money reaches the government on time. Tax lawyers can be a useful tool in helping to complete these calculations as they have vast amounts of knowledge about the legal requirements of tax payments. You should choose a tax lawyer that you feel you can trust as they will be dealing with your business finances at least once per year. Also, should you have an issues concerning tax, they will have the inside knowledge to be able to represent you fairly.

Top Tips on Negotiating a Commercial Contract

Negotiating a successful commercial contract will save you time and money in the future. A good contract should be as comprehensive as possible satisfying the needs of both the parties. This article includes some top tips on how to negotiate and create a commercial contract.

Who are you negotiating with?

If you are doing business with a new client then you will need to ensure that you are satisfied as to their location and credit worthiness. Performing a credit check on an individual or company might mean you avoid ending up out of pocket if they fail to pay in the future.

If you are dealing with a company check the company address and registered number at Companies House, this check can be done for a relatively low cost online.

Would you be happy if the company or individual you are dealing with assigned their rights to someone else, or is their identity important to the performance of the contract? Allowing assignment can be a strong negotiation point for a contract as many providers are only happy dealing with one party. Assignment can bring a higher price and more favourable terms for the contract provider. Conversely however assignment requires a high degree of flexibility and the ability to deal with different parties, of which may not suit your organisation. Make sure either way that the terms of assignment are clear.

What is the purpose of the contract?

Irrelevant to whether the contract is for goods or services an adequate description of what is being sold should be provided so that the buyer is clear on exactly what they will be receiving.

If you are a commercial seller then you must ensure that any goods sold under the contract are of a ‘satisfactory quality’ and are ‘fit for purpose’. Due to the Sale of Goods Act (1979) these requirements are automatically implied under the contract.

Any assumptions as to the quality of the goods or services which are bespoke to the contract should be documented as agreed by both parties. These assumptions will normally match whatever was negotiated upon at the point of sale – what was the agreed price?

Before drafting the contract it is important that you negotiate and agree upon a price for the performance of the contract. However when creating the contract you should try to detail any potential extra costs that may be incurred by the buyer. Try to be as transparent as possible with costs as this is one of the main areas of contractual disputes.

If the contract is for a large sum of money then a payment plan can be negotiated between the parties and this should be detailed in the contract. Dates should be given for when the deposit money should be paid and when each payment instalment is due. You may also like to provide a preferred payment method i.e. by cheque or bankers draft.

Every business should ensure that they have tightly drafted terms and conditions of business prepared by specialist commercial lawyers for every transaction – and should consider dedicated commercial contracts for large transactions.

Real Estate Lawyers – Your Options

Transactions involving property can be quite complex and you might need a real estate lawyer to help you make sense from the transaction process and the details involved in the same. Legal transactions need to be managed carefully so that both property sellers and buyers get the best from the processes and this is what lawyers specializing in this field can help you with. They lawyers can handle a number of services on your behalf as far as the property transactions go whether they are individual house purchasing needs or commercial needs, residential developments to industrial developments.

Residential real estate lawyer

The buying or selling of a home is a very important process that ought to be handled in the most professional way possible. If you are buying, then you know that it is a huge investment on your part and there is need to ensure that everything works out smoothly from beginning to end and you get genuine transactions and deals in the end. As a seller, you also want to enjoy a smooth process dealing only with genuinely interested buyers to make the process seamless. A residential real estate lawyer can help both home sellers and buyers with properties such as new homes, resale homes and condominiums. Apart from such sales, a good lawyer can help you secure the refinancing that you need and mortgages for the property you are interested in.

Commercial real estate lawyer

Legal services are just as important to commercial real estate as they are to residential property. This type of lawyer can come through for lenders and tenants, landlords, buyers and sellers to offer the best solutions and choose the most appropriate process for the commercial transactions to take place. The lawyer can help you in a variety of areas as far as the commercial property goes including the following.

· Sales and purchases of the property where the lawyer ensures laws are followed and genuine buyers are hooked with genuine sellers or landlords with genuine tenants.

· Financing that is needed for the commercial property whether you are buying or selling so that you can get the best financial terms from your lender.

· Negotiations whether they are between you and the buyer or you and the seller or the landlord. Whatever the commercial process calls for, you can be sure that your lawyer will handle the negotiations professionally and within the law for you.

· A commercial real estate lawyer can also help with leases and subleases of commercial property and help you with lease review to ensure that the terms are reasonable and worthwhile.

· Title examinations can never be overlooked in any commercial real estate process and the lawyer will help you with title and lien searches so that you get deals that are indeed real and worth the efforts you are putting in.

· The lawyer can also help you create shared and joint ownerships to the commercial property under terms that are beneficial for both parties involved. When a lawyer is involved you know that you get a fair share of the ownership.