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United States v. Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corp.

June 29, 1962


Author: Smith

Before STALEY, HASTIE, and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

SMITH, C.J.: This appeal is from a judgment for the defendants, and from the denial of a motion for a new trial, in an action on a payment bond furnished pursuant to Section 1 of the Miller Act, 40 U.S.C.A. 270a. The judgment is predicated solely on the determination that the "plaintiff * * * failed to prove its compliance with the Act." We are of the opinion that the trial court erred.

The United States of America entered into a contract with the defendant Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation for the construction of buildings, the installation of utility systems, and other work in connection therewith, at the Signal Corps Depot, Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. The contract provided that materials supplied and work performed were to be in accordance with the plans and specifications. Pursuant to the pertinent provisions of the Act, supra, the said defendant furnished the customary payment bond on which the other defendants named in this action are sureties.

A subcontract was let to one Frederick J. Raff (Frederick Raff Company), who entered into a subcontract with the plaintiff for the installation of an automatic sprinkler system at a cost of $305,000.00. The plaintiff thereunder agreed "to furnish all material and labor for all work * * * in accordance with the general conditions, plans, and specifications" embodied in and made a part of the prime contract.The prime contract was made a part of the subcontract by specific reference.

While the construction work was in progress, and as the result of an authorized revision of the specifications and drawings, a written change order issued. It appears from the evidence that the change order effected a modification of the existing contracts, a modification permissible under the general conditions of the prime contract. The said order required, in addition to other work, the installation of a "water flow alarm detection system." The plaintiff, at the direction of Raff, and pursuant to correspondence which passed between them, undertook the performance of the additional work covered by the revised specifications and drawings. The plaintiff supplied the materials and furnished the labor as required under its subcontract and the modifications thereof.

When Raff failed to pay the balance allegedly due under the subcontract as modified, the plaintiff served upon the defendant Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation a written notice and request for payment. There is no dispute here as to the sufficiency of the notice; in fact, the trial court found the notice adequate. When the said defendant failed to honor the request for payment, the plaintiff brought this action under Section 2 of the Act, 40 U.S.C.A. 270b.

The pertinent provisions of Section 2 are as follows:

"Every person who has furnished labor or material in the prosecution of the work provided for in such contract, in respect of which a payment bond is furnished * * * and who has not been paid in full therefor before the expiration of a period of ninety days after the day on which the last of the labor was done or performed by him or material was furnished or supplied by him for which such claim is made, shall have the right to sue on such payment bond for the amount, or the balance thereof, unpaid at the time of institution of such suit and to prosecute said action to final execution and judgment for the sum or sums justly due him: Provided, however, That any person having direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor BUT NO CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WITH THE CONTRACTOR furnishing said payment bond shall have a RIGHT OF ACTION UPON THE SAID PAYMENT BOND UPON GIVING WRITTEN NOTICE TO SAID CONTRACTOR WITHIN NINETY DAYS FROM THE DATE ON WHICH SUCH PERSON DID OR PERFORMED THE LAST OF THE LABOR OR FURNISHED OR SUPPLIED THE LAST OF THE MATERIAL FOR WHICH SUCH CLAIM IS MADE, stating with substantial accuracy the amount claimed and the name of the party to whom the material was furnished or supplied or for whom the labor was done or performed. * * *."

Under the proviso, a prerequisite to the right of the plaintiff to maintain this action was the service of written notice upon the defendant Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation within the prescribed period.

The necessary allegations as to the plaintiff's compliance with the proviso is contained in Paragraph 11 of the Complaint, which reads as follows:

"On November 5, 1954, within ninety days from the date on which plaintiff did or performed the last of the labor or furnished or supplied the last of the material for which this claim is made, plaintiff, pursuant to the Miller Act, gave written notice to the defendant, Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation, of the amount then owing to it from said Frederick J. Raff, serving said notice by mailing the same by registered mail * * *."

The Answer admits some of the allegations of the Complaint, denies others, and denies "knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief" as to other allegations, except those of Paragraph 11. The Answer contains no reference to Paragraph 11. Since the Answer fails to deny the quoted allegations of the Complaint, they are deemed admitted.Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. rule 8 (d), 28 U.S.C.A.; Biggs v. Public Service Coordinated Transport, 280 F.2d 311, 314 (3rd Cir. 1960); City of Montgomery, Alabama v. Gilmore, 277 F.2d 364, 367 (5th Cir. 1960); Freedom Nat. Bank v. Northern Illinois Corp ., 202 F.2d 601, 605-606 (7th Cir. 1953); Fontes v. Porter, 156 F.2d 956, 957 (9th Cir. 1946).

The action was moved for trial on May 9, 1960. Plaintiff offered evidence sufficient to establish the full amount of its claim and thereupon rested its case. Defendants produced no evidence. Plaintiff adduced no proof as to the date on which the last of the labor was furnished or the last of the material was supplied. No such proof was necessary. The quoted allegations having been admitted, the plaintiff had a right to rely on the admission. Fontes v. Porter, supra; Freedom Nat. Bank v. Northern Illinois Corp., supra .

However, the trial court, erroneously concluding that additional evidence was necessary, reopened the action and ordered a further hearing. The order of the court, entered on October 27, 1960, directed the plaintiff to furnish additional evidence as to the date of the completion of the work. At the hearing, the plaintiff proffered as business records two documents, each of which was entitled "Completion of Contract Report," and bore the notation "Date Work Completed 9-9-54." The exhibits were received in evidence at the ...

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