Posts Tagged ‘Louisiana’

I’ve Received Contractor Lawsuit. What Happens Next?

Builder Ripping Up A Contract Lawsuit

The project is either over or it is winding down, money and tensions are getting tight. Contractors know this scenario very well. The problem arises when a lawsuit is delivered because of the dispute. Many contractors do not know what to do once they receive a lawsuit. This post will outline the possibilities of what happens after the lawsuit is received.

Why Did I Receive A Lawsuit?

On a typical construction project, whether public or private, commercial or residential, there are typical players. These players include: the owner, general or prime contractor, subcontractors, laborers, suppliers and equipment lessors. All of these parties have the ability to file a lawsuit and/or receive a lawsuit, depending on the facts of the situation.

In actuality, you have received this lawsuit because of your involvement in the project and someone in this group has alleged that you are liable for some type of damage. This undoubtedly will be money damages. Other types of damages exist but courts like to compensate with money.

What Happens Once I Am Served With The Lawsuit

The clock starts running! No matter the jurisdiction, whether it be state or federal court or in Louisiana or another state, the time to respond to the lawsuit begins to run once service is made. Depending on the jurisdictions for which I am familiar you have anywhere from ten to sixty days to respond. The usual here in Louisiana is fifteen days from service in a state court, see La. C.C.P. 1001.

Many times if you contact an attorney they can get an extension of time for which to file and answer or other responsive pleadings. This is customary in our business.

Options With The Lawsuit

There are a few options that I see people do when they receive a lawsuit, some are advisable and others are inadvisable.

Hire An Attorney: The first, most logical and most advisable option is to contact your attorney and retain his services to defend you in the lawsuit. An attorney will know the landscape of the Court procedures and assure that you will be protected within the confines of the law. Attorneys are not miracle workers, but they have a number of strategic and tactical maneuvers which can be deployed to protect you or your company’s interests.

The flaw here is that lawyers are not cheap. A good lawyer will tell you whether the amount and nature of your dispute are worth fighting over. Many times its a better business choice to work out a deal and move on with making money.

Self-representation: I see this more and more these days. A person can always represent themselves in a court of law. The Fourteenth and Sixteenth Amendments have been interpreted through the years to allow individuals to represent themselves pro se in court. The key here is individuals representing themselves. A corporation or limited liability company is not an individual. They are juridical entities, which cannot be represented in court unless by an attorney.

Due to the fact that most smart business owners are some type of business entity, courts will not allow for self-representation. Self-representation can be advisable in some situations, but most of the time it is not.

Do nothing: This option is popular, but it is disfavored and inadvisable. When a party who is sued does nothing, the suing party can get a judgment by default. Once a judgment is rendered against the party who is sued, then bank accounts, garnishments and property are all options for a quick collection.

Instead of doing nothing, if you file and answer or other responsive pleading, the judicial process will take much longer and you have many other legal moves at your disposal.

Other options: – Informal negotiations or ADR clause are other options. Once you have been sued and within the time frame to answer, you and/or your company could engage in informal negotiations with the adversary. I always encourage my clients to work out a deal and move on. This can be with informal meetings or telephone calls. Its always smart to bring in an attorney to help here, even if not for the full lawsuit.

Finally, many construction contracts have some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) clause. Even with these clauses present an adversary may still file suit contrary to the contract. This can be done for a number of legitimate reasons. All you or your attorney have to do is enforce the ADR clause. This can be done informally or via formal court Motion.

Conclusion

Once a lawsuit is received by a party to a construction project, there are a number of options, as discussed above, which can be implemented. The key here is to do something and avoid a default judgment. Contacting an attorney for advice is a smart play, even if it is to decide which of the above methods is best for you.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in:     About Our Services, Construction Contracts, Litigation, Louisiana  /  Tags: , , , ,   /   Leave a comment

Commercial Debt Collection – How Do I Collect When A Company Owes Me Money?

 businessman with financial symbols coming from hand

In today’s business culture we call businesses working with other businesses B2B. It has always been a popular practice to the alternative, business to consumer. The rules are different governing B2B as opposed to B2C. The legal and business world assume that the B2B relationship and players are more sophisticated.

This post discusses what happens when the B2B relationship sours and one company must collect what it is owed from another company. The most important distinction between the rules of B2B and B2C is that consumers are much more protected by government regulation. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects the consumer, not businesses.

Phases of Collection

Most business think that when an account is overdue, then they call up a debt collection agency and the debt will be collected or its deemed bad debt. Businesses write off huge percentages of accounts receivable every year based off this flawed thinking.

There are at least two phases of debt collection, each of which could arguably be broken down into subcategories. You have a pre-debt fact gathering and document filing stage, as the first phase. Then there is the actual debt collection which can consist of many different options and this occurs after the debt is due. So more of a pre/post mindset.

Pre-Collection Phase – Getting Your Ducks In A Row

The pre-collection phase is often over looked and much more important than the post-collection phase. It is the foundation for the collection. This is the fact gathering and organizational portion.

This phase includes the initial fact gathering on the business. Your business should have an in-take sheet whereby it gathers all important information from the other business. Some of my clients even go as far as running credit checks on the business or getting personal guarantees from its senior members.

For contractors, suppliers and equipment lessors that I represent, this pre-collection phase is essential to keeping the accounts receivable low. This phase also includes sending out notices and filing liens, in a timely manner and properly. All of these essential elements make the post-collection process much easier, more efficient and most importantly successful. The old adage that I preach, is an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.

Finally another important aspect of the pre-collection phase is a well written contract between you company and your business client. This contract should have specific default and attorney fee provisions.

Collection Phase – It’s Time To Get Paid

Now your company has all of its intake information, gathered credit reports, personal guarantees, sent your notices, filed your liens, and have a well written contract, but your business client refuses to pay on its obligation to your company, what do you do?

There are a few options here and  only one good solution. Your business could write off the debt, it could try to collect internally, hire a debt collection agency or contact an attorney to collect. Obviously I’m biased here, but I do see this often. Writing off the debt is never good. Collecting internally can be okay but its slightly less successful than a debt collector. Attorneys can do all of the following steps which make the percentage chance of collection go up.

Your commercial debt collection attorney has a number of weapons at his disposal to collect on the outstanding debt. Many of them have time delays built in by law, which slows the process. First is to send a demand letter which includes the Louisiana Open Account Statue language. This is another avenue to get attorney fees and costs associated with the debt collection.

After the demand letter is sent out and thirty (30) days elapse, then its time to file suit against the debtor. Many businesses balk at this option because litigation can be costly and risky. Depending on the size of your debt, you attorney will likely take it on contingency which will minimize the litigation costs. From there your attorney will get a judgment, either by default or after trial.

Once the judgment is obtained, there are a number of possible means of collection. The attorney can examine the assets of the debtor, in a judgment debtor rule hearing whereby the debtor will be sworn-in and give testimony as to what the business owns. Further, the attorney can garnish banking and physical assets of the business. The judgment will be good for ten years and can thereafter be reinscribed. Once a judgment is granted collection chances go up.

Conclusion

In the end, some debts are simply bad and cannot be collected. Others, however may just be tricky or require persistence. Having a good commercial debt collection attorney at your side will greatly increase your collection rates and keep your accounts receivables low.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in:     Collections, Litigation, Louisiana  /  Tags: , , , , ,   /   1 Comment

Why is Louisiana Convenience Store Industry So Regulated?

convenient store

As a construction lawyer there are many industries that I get involved with that are spin-offs of the construction industry. Typically, these are commercial collections, such as when contractors and suppliers are owed money on projects, they hire counsel to collect. Landlord/tenant is another spin-off, due to the fact that many landlords perform construction work on what the own or they build it new and lease it out. In both instances its natural to help clients with the collection or leasing aspects of the construction projects.  There are complicated contractual documents that are associated with these spin-offs, therefore clients need to look out for their best interests.

A not-so-common, spin-off I come across with regularity is the convenience store industry. I have had the fortune of representing owners, developers, suppliers and purveyors in this industry here in the New Orleans area. Most people use the services of these places whether it be a Shell, Velero or an independent without ever knowing what goes on behind the scenes. This is a very heavily regulated industry, with complex deals and transactions happening daily. Savvy business owners are the ones who are prepared.

Construction and Development

There are two ways to begin this type of enterprise and its no surprise that an owner/developer can either build a new store from scratch or they can renovate an existing location. The problem with building new is that the property needs to be zoned properly for the desired business type. You can’t just go around throwing gasoline into the ground, without getting approval from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The property needs to be zoned properly or owners need to seek a variance through the New Orleans City Council.

Even if a development is a renovation of an existing location, there needs to be soil samples and testing done to make sure that the ground is not contaminated. This can be a nightmare for developers, and nearly the kiss of death if the ground is contaminated. Contracts between developers, owners and the installers of the underground tanks is essential. There is an element of passing along the risk that should be addressed in any document between these parties.

Running A Convenience Store Business

The actual business of running a convenience store can be done in the standard ways by either a corporation (Inc) or a limited liability company (LLC). The structure of the business is the same as any other business, and to be successful you have to see what products maximize return on investment.

The more tricky part comes in when you want to sell gas, food, liquor, tobacco and/or have video poker (allowed in Orleans and other surrounding Parishes). All of these aspects are heavily regulated by both local and state government. There is a mountain of paper work that any owner needs to be familiar with when seeking to increase revenue from any of theses sources.

Both the City and State have arms for the the board of health that regulates food. Liquor and tobacco are regulated by the City and the State’s Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). Video Poker (if you have alcohol permit and sell enough food) is regulated by the Louisiana State Police. All of these agencies have different rules and standards that convenience store owners need to be familiar with. Application processes are time consuming and tedious.

Gas Related Regulation

As mentioned above the petroleum industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country. There is regulation with regards from the installation of the pumps and storage tanks. Regulation on the pricing and distribution. Even a mere understanding of the Louisiana Superfund and remediation process if there is ever a site contamination is helpful.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has extensive resources and regulation on the way petroleum or gas is used in Louisiana. This is done so that we preserve the environment for later generations. Nevertheless, there is a huge price tag associated with this process and understanding it can pay dividends for convenient store owners.

A Business Like No Other

There are few businesses that encompass such complex local and state regulation like the convenience store industry. There are few businesses that take on such risk and become involved in complicated contractual schemes that shift risk to other parties and insurers.

So the next time you look at an Exxon, Race Trac or independent convenient store / gas station, know that there are many moving parts, starting back before the first shovel broke ground. Even as each truckload of gasoline is dropped off and each Big Gulp is poured, the government is weighing heavily on an owner’s metaphorical back. There are very complex contractual regimes which exist and countless hours of manpower that have been put in to that establishment and the services it provides.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in:     Construction News, Regulations  /  Tags: , , , , ,   /   1 Comment

Louisiana Litigation Strategy: Offer of Judgment

Final OfferWhen litigating in Louisiana, both in State and Federal court there are some interesting tools that can be deployed by both sides of the dispute in order to encourage settlement.

The Louisiana version of this codification is more robust than the Federal one, but both are appropriate for discussion in this post. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 will be talked about in more detail in future posts. For now we will focus on the Louisiana offer of judgment.

Louisiana Civil Code of Procedure Article 790

Even the title of this code article seems a bit confusing, which must be a precursor to the actual article itself. The Louisiana Civil Code Article 790 is entitled “Motion for judgment on offer of judgment.”

I had to sit down and read through this article a few times and read some case law on it to fully get the gist of what the Louisiana Legislature was trying to do when they passed a vote on the language of this article. Surely, the Legislature wanted to create a rule similar to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. But in true Louisiana fashion, we had to take things a step further.

The most interesting and controversial section is located in subsection C. La CCP 790(c) is creatively written text, it reads:

“C.  If the final judgment obtained by the plaintiff-offeree is at least twenty-five percent less than the amount of the offer of judgment made by the defendant-offeror or if the final judgment obtained against the defendant-offeree is at least twenty-five percent greater than the amount of the offer of judgment made by the plaintiff-offeror, the offeree must pay the offeror’s costs, exclusive of attorney fees, incurred after the offer was made, as fixed by the court.”

Layman’s Reading of Louisiana Offer of Judgment Article

In an effort to clear c0nfusion here, I have broken down the language above into the following formula like sentence:

(1) If the Plaintiff makes an offer to settle to the Defendant, and the final judgment equals more than 25% more than that offer, the Plaintiff is entitled to its costs to be paid by the Defendant for not accepting.

(2) If the Defendant makes an offer to settle and the final judgment equals 25% less than that offer, the Defendant is entitled to its costs to be paid by the Plaintiff for not accepting.

There are a few caveats here. The offer must be made more than 20 days before trial. If a party is awarded costs based on La CCP 970, then its only costs from after the offer is made. Costs are specifically exclusive of attorney fees according to the article.

If the offer is accepted, then the judgement is considered final, but neither party can appeal it due to the fact they both agreed to the offer. In essence, both sides to the litigation can use this article to its favor.

Case Law on Offer of Judgment

The Louisiana Fifth Circuit described the nature of La CCP 970 and what type of costs are included in the Hacienda Construction v. Newman decision from 2010. The court opined:

“These costs refer to costs of litigation, including court costs. Further, the court may include litigation expenses necessary to bring the case to trial after the offer was rejected, which may include the offeror’s evidence, experts, and deposition fees… The function of Article 970 is to compensate the rejected offeror who was forced to incur greater trial litigation costs than he would have if the offeree had accepted his settlement offer. The article is punitive in nature and therefore must be strictly construed.” Hacienda Constr., Inc. v. Newman, 44 So. 3d 333, 337 (La.App. 5 Cir. 2010). [Internal citations omitted]

To add even another twist, if the Defendant prevails in the suit, La CCP 970 does not apply. There is no need if the Defendant wins the suit. If the Defendant wins and is awarded a judgment then the awarding court has discretion to award costs and fees under La CCP 120. See the Broussard v. Martin Operating P’ship, 103 So. 3d 713, 741 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2012), case for further explanation. The court there looked at FRCP 68 case law and did not stray from previous jurisprudence.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in:     Construction News, Litigation, Louisiana  /  Tags: , ,   /   Leave a comment

Home Improvement Contracting – Things Have Changed

Louisiana State Senate Chamber

Louisiana State Senate Chamber (Photo credit: jimmywayne)

Often times, people ask why it is referred to as the “practice of law.” Quite simply, the answer is because the law is always changing. In May of this year, I wrote about potential changes that could impact the construction industry following the 2013 Session of the Louisiana Legislature. Suffice it to say, the legislature did not go out of its way to amaze the populace with any widespread change in any field (insert general cynicism here). In the past calendar year, though, it has done some things that are immediately relevant in the construction field. Importantly, with regards to home improvement contracting, things have changed.

Casting a Wider Net

Before a discussion on the changes to home improvement contracting, I would direct you to previously written articles on this blog home improvement contracting generally. In March 2012, Seth Smiley wrote a very succinct article, outlining the most important aspects of the home improvement contracting articles, found at Louisiana Revised Statutes 37:2175.1 – 2175.6. From this article, we see that one of the most important aspects of determining the applicability of the home improvement contracting provisions rests on the definition of home improvement contracting. Previously, La. R.S. 37:2175.1 stated:

[e]very agreement to perform home improvement contracting services, as defined by this Part, in an amount in excess of seventy five hundred dollars, but not in excess of seventy-five thousand dollarsshall be in writing…

Since then, things have changed. During the 2012 legislative session, the Governor signed Act 193, which expanded the range of home improvement contracting projects to include any project between one thousand five hundred dollars and seventy-five thousand dollars. This very tightly limited the amount of work a person could contract to do without needing to be registered as a home improvement contractor with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors (LSLBC). Compounded upon the price range limitation, is the incredibly broad definition of “home improvement contracting,” which according to La. R.S. 37:2150.1(7) means :

the reconstruction, alteration, renovation, repair, modernization, conversion, improvement, removal, or demolition, or the construction of an addition to any pre-existing owner occupied building which building is used or designed to be used as a residence of dwelling unit, or to structures which are adjacent to such residence or building.

Given the fact that the LSLBC is not one to define these terms with much specificity, it can be argued that almost any type of work or home repair you contracted to perform from August 2012 to the present time calls for a home improvement contractor certificate. If you do not already have one, now might be the time to consider speaking with an attorney or contacting the LSLBC.

Expanding the Exceptions

At the same time that the home improvement contracting statutes have been made more restrictive with regards to contracts to perform certain work, certain exceptions have recently been expanded upon to make it easier on the handy homeowner. As I discussed in my May article, Senate Bill 81 proposed to expand the rights of homeowners that wished to perform certain home improvement contracting services upon their own property. After some tweaking, this exception will not become the law, effective August 1, 2013, albeit in slightly different form. The idea of relaxing the requirements for homeowners prevailed, but in different language. The statute governing exceptions to the home improvement contracting part (La. R.S. 2175.5), will now read, in part:

A. The following persons are excepted from the provisions of this Part:

(2)(a) A homeowner who physically performs the home improvement work on his personal residence.

(b) An individual who physically performs home improvement work on other property owned by him when the home improvement work has a    value of less than seven thousand five hundred dollars.

Summary of Things Changed

Essentially, the following questions will need to be asked:

  • First, am I the person contracting to perform any of the type of work as defined by 37:2150.1(7)? If I am the person that will be performing that work, is the amount in writing and am I getting paid for it? If I am getting paid for it, is it more than $1,500 but less than $75,000? If it is, you need to be registered.
  • Second, am I the person that is performing the defined work? Is that work being performed on my person residence? If yes, I do not need to be registered. If not, is that work being performed on propert I own that is not my residence? If that is the case, is the work to be performed valued at more than $7,500? If it is, I need to be registered as a home improvement contractor.

Confusing? Hopefully not. As always, though, the safest thing to do is consult an attorney because, as practitioners of law, we necessarily need to keep ourselves, and our clients, updated in changes to the law. The above is a perfect illustration of that point.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in:     Construction News, Law Changes & Updates, Licensing, Louisiana, Regulations  /  Tags: , , ,   /   1 Comment