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Philadelphia Construction Law Blog

Kaplin Stewart Honors Adminstrative Assistants' Day

Administrative Assistants' Day provides an opportunity for people to take a moment to say thank you and express appreciation for all that is done by administrative assistants. At Kaplin Stewart, we mark that day annually by hosting a lunch at which we stop to recognize all the members of our administrative team for their contributions to our success. These events are important and appropriate. But more is necessary. It needs to be said publicly for the world to hear.

Here at Kaplin Stewart, we truly believe we have the best administrative staff around. They perform admirably and answer the metaphorical bell every day in good times and bad. Without their wisdom, great work, and patience, our firm would not be the success that it is today. For that, all of the attorneys' and paralegals at Kaplin Stewart are eternally grateful.

Thank you to the entire administrative assistant staff at Kaplin Stewart for all you do. You truly are the best.

BREAKING NEWS: PA Supreme Court Overturns Bricklayers' Decision

Posted by:  Josh Quinter  (jquinter@kaplaw.com)

In what was seen as a seismic shift in judicial interpretation of the Pennsylvania Mechanic's Lien Law of 1963, the Superior Court previously held that the construction trade unions could assert mechanic's lien claims against property for unpaid health and welfare fund contributions by a contractor. In an opinion issued several days ago, the state's highest court overturned that decision and reinstated the trial court's order dismissing liens filed on that basis in Bricklayers' of Western Pennsylvania Combined Funds, v. Scott's Development Co.

Bricklayers at jpgBy way of brief background, the underlying mechanic's lien claims were filed by the trustees for the Bricklayers and Trowel Trades International Local 9 and Laborers District of Western Pennsylvania. These unions claimed unpaid health and welfare benefit fund payments from William Pustelak, Inc., a construction contractor in western Pennsylvania. Union members were working on the subject property as employees of Pustelak - who was the general contractor - pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement entered into between the contractor and the union long before the subject project was started.

The trustees claimed that the union was owed roughly $42,000 in unpaid benefits from the contractor. Based on language in the CBA, the union maintained that the union members were subcontractors that provided labor and materials for the completion of the work. The union, by association, had standing to bring the claim on their behalf. The developer for the project disagreed and said that the CBA was a collateral agreement and made the union members employees of the contractor. The trial court agreed that the statute narrowly defined the term "subcontractor" and that the CBA did not make the union employees of the contractor "subcontractors" under the law.

Slight Bump In Some Construction Material Prices

Posted by:  Josh Quinter  (jquinter@kaplaw.com)

The recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor on its producer price index showed mixed results for construction materials prices in March. Construction materials prices went up 0.5% from February, but they are up 1.1% from March of 2013. The number correlates closely with increases in non-residential construction materials prices, which were up 0.4%.

Experts seem to believe that the increase does not signal inflation in construction prices despite the fact that inflation seems to be impacting the overall economy. Wholesale goods, for instance, are up 1.7% for the year. This change seems largely driven by the cost of raw materials, most notably in the energy sector. Even after falling over 6% in March, crude materials prices remain up 13% from the same time last year and are up over 34% in 2014.

Construction Producer Price Index for March 2012 to March 2014.bmp

State Wide Electrical Licensure Bill In The Works Again In Pennsylvania

Posted by:  Josh Quinter  (jquinter@kaplaw.com)

The introduction of licensure bills in the Pennsylvania state legislature has become quite a regular occurrence over the last 10 years. The efforts have included attempts to establish licensing requirements for electricians, plumbers, crane operators, and a number of other trades. A good deal of debate remains about the idea generally.

The most recent bill to gather some steam is one which would create a state wide licensure requirement for electricians.  House Bill 1585 was introduced in 2013 and is presently before the Professional Licensure Committee. It is unclear whether it will get out of committee in 2014 given that it is an election year, but the bill is worth tracking.

electrician at work.jpgThose proposing the legislation indicate that its purpose is to promote safety in the electrical contracting industry. To accomplish that end, the new law would create a state wide licensure requirement that would supplant all other electrical licenses in existence. The law would also create a state licensure board that would be composed of members of the public, an electrical inspector, and 8 appointed members from with an even mix from the union and non-union sector.

The licensure board would establish certain educational and experience requirements, as well as create an application process. A testing protocol would also be put in place. To be eligible for the license contractors would have to meet all of those requirements, have "good moral character", and be at least 22.

PennDOT to Select a Team of Companies to Manage the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project

Posted by:  Karin Corbett  (kcorbett@kaplaw.com)

Recent news accounts report that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has selected four teams made up of companies in finance, construction, manufacturing and other industries to submit proposals for PennDOT's Rapid Bridge Replacement Project, which provides for the replacement of over 500 bridges statewide through public-private partnerships. The four teams are constituted as follows:

1. Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners: Plenary Group, The Walsh Group, Granite Construction Co., HDR Engineering, HNTB Corp. and Infrastructure Corporation of America.

2. Keystone Bridge Partners: InfraRed Capital Partners, Kiewit, Parsons, The Allan A. Myers family of companies, DBi and American Infrastructure.

3. Commonwealth Bridge Partners: John Laing Investments, Fluor, American Bridge Co., Traylor Bros. Inc., Joseph B. Fay Co., STV Inc. and Infrastructure and Industrial Constructors.

4. Pennsylvania Crossings: Meridiam, Lane Construction, AECOM, Trumbull, Wagman Companies and Cofiroute.

PennDOT expects to award the management of the bridges' design, construction and maintenance to one of the four teams this fall in order to begin construction in the summer of 2015. By allowing one team to manage multiple bridge projects, thereby streamlining design and construction work, PennDOT anticipates savings allowing more projects to be completed.

In addition to managing the projects, the selected team will share in the maintenance of the bridges for a certain number of years and will be required to finance the project, with PennDOT making performance based milestone payments.

PA House Bill 427 Would Impose New Rules On Homebuilders

Posted by:  Josh Quinter (jquinter@kaplaw.com)

Although introduced as part of the 2013 legislative session, House Bill 427 now seems to be gaining some momentum in the state legislature. The bill, whose primary sponsor is Representative Readshaw, would impose a number of new rules for residential home builders.

The legislation reads ominously like the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act that has been in effect for several years. HB 427 proposes that home builders - both in state companies and out of state companies building in Pennsylvania - register with the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection. It similarly imposes contractual requirements that mirror the mandates in HICPA, including but not limited to listing the a company's registration number on the contract, approximate start and finish dates, identification of subcontractors, and a right of rescission. The bill is also tied to the state's Consumer Protection Act and includes criminal penalties at the felony level. Perhaps the biggest difference is the creation of a Home Builder Guaranty Fund to cover homeowners with claims.

Residential Construction.jpg

Pennsylvania Legislation Removing Exemption for Stalking, Harassment, and Threats to Use Weapons of Mass Destruction From Criminal Code Passes Pennsylvania House

Posted by:  Josh Quinter  (jquinter@kaplaw.com)

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently passed legislation which removes the exemption for harassment, stalking, or threats to use weapons of mass destruction when involved in a labor dispute from the criminal code. The bill, which can be read in its entirety here, passed the house with a vote of 115-74 and has moved over to the Senate for consideration.

Organizations such as the Associated Builders & Contractors and the Chamber of Commerce support the legislation. Representatives of both organizations testified in favor of the bill in committee and heavily supported the efforts of State Representative Ron Miller (R - York) to get it passed in the House. These groups argue that the current law provides too much leeway for labor unions to use inappropriate tactics to support their causes. They cite to instances where Courts have dismissed cases brought for such conduct based in part on the exemption and maintain the loophole should be closed.

Construction Trivia

Posted by:  Josh Quinter  (jquinter@kaplaw.com)

There is an ongoing debate in the construction and development industry about the usefulness of building more office space. Technology has made workers more mobile, particularly when it comes to traditional "desk jobs. This discussion is prompted in part by the amount of office space already available.

Skyscrapers and large office buildings dominate the skyline of most major metropolitan areas and offer thousands of square feet of space. Can you name the world's largest office building by square footage though?

And for extra credit, where is the building located and how long did it take to build?

Kaplin Stewart Construction Attorneys Win "Bait and Switch" Trial

A team of Kaplin Stewart attorneys recently won a significant verdict on behalf of one of its site contractor clients. Mohammad A. Ghiasuddin served as lead counsel at trial and was assisted by Mike Hogan.

Following several years of litigation, the case was tried before a jury in Northampton County over the course of a week. Mr. Ghiasuddin argued that the Defendant was liable for a "bait and switch" scheme by substituting a filler material for what the defendant had represented to be a specific cement product which met a defined industry standard. Kaplin Stewart asserted claims for fraud, breach of contract, and breach of several warranties. The jury found in favor of Kaplin Stewart's client on all three counts and awarded the plaintiff $345,000.

          Robert Korn.jpg         Mohammad Ghiasuddin.jpg         Mike Hogan.jpg  

Join us in congratulating Mohammad Ghiasuddin, Mike Hogan, and Robert Korn for their win!

Billion Dollar Judgment Against Lead Paint Companies

Posted by:  Josh Quinter  (jquinter@kaplaw.com)

Your eyes did not deceive you when you read the title. Lead paint companies were hit with a $1.15 billion verdict - that is billion with a b - in California recently. In addition to the size of the award, the theory by which it was obtained is of some interest. The question for the construction industry in this region is whether this case is a precursor to similar litigation in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware.

painter.jpgThe case, captioned People v. Atlantic Richfield, was initiated by the County of Santa Clara in California state court. The argument made against Atlantic Richfield and a number of other paint manufacturers was one of public nuisance. Like courts in other jurisdictions, the trial court in this case initially rejected that argument for a number of reasons. The decision to dismiss the case was overturned by the appellate courts and sent back to the trial court. A subsequent trial resulted in the $1.15 billion verdict after a bench trial. The money is to be placed into an abatement fund to assist in lead paint investigations and removal programs in California.

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