California local public agencies and their contractors should take note of a recent appellate decision pertaining to late progress payments on public works projects. In Clark Bros., Inc. v. North Edwards Water Dist., 2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 331, filed on April 22, 2022, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District held that a local agency’s late progress payments to a general contractor did not constitute breach of contract under the prompt payment penalty statute, Public Contract Code § 20104.50. Notwithstanding this holding, the contractor recovered damages, interest, fees, and costs in excess of its contract amount.
In 2013, the North Edwards Water District awarded a $6.2 million contract to Clark Bros., Inc. to construct a water treatment facility. The District’s water contained excessive levels of arsenic, and the project was sponsored by the State of California with funds earmarked to provide safe drinking water. The State agreed to disburse funds to the District during construction upon the State’s review and approval of the contractor’s progress payment applications. The contract required completion of the work within one year following the District’s issuance of a notice to proceed to the contractor.
As a result of factors arguably outside the control of the contractor, including unforeseen site conditions and the failure of the District’s equipment supplier to meet delivery deadlines, the project was significantly delayed beyond the deadline for completion. The District nonetheless terminated the contractor, which in turn filed suit against the District and the State. The contractor asserted claims for breach of contract, including breach of contract for the District’s failure to pay the contractor’s progress payment applications within the time specified under Public Contract Code § 20104.50. Subsection (b) of the statute provides:
Any local agency which fails to make any progress payment within 30 days after receipt of an undisputed and properly submitted payment request from a contractor on a construction contract shall pay interest to the contractor equivalent to the legal rate set forth in subdivision (a) of Section 685.010 of the Code of Civil Procedure.