Labor Under the Federal Miller Act: The Known Unknown

Here’s what we know. On federal projects, the Miller Act requires prime contractors to furnish a payment bond “for the protection of all persons supplying labor and material in carrying out the work provided for in the contract for the use of each person.” The Act authorizes “every person that furnished labor or material in carrying out work provided for in a contract” who has “a direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor but no contractual relationship, express or implied, with the contractor furnishing the payment bond may bring a civil action on the payment bond.”

Further, we know that the Act is “highly remedial in nature” and “entitled to a liberal construction and application in order properly to effectuate the Congressional intent to protect those whose labor and materials go into public projects.” However, while liberally construed in favor of subcontractors, the Miller Act is not without limit.

Beyond notice, timeliness, and venue requirements, which are all necessary elements to state a prima facie claim for relief under the Miller Act, many forget to analyze the obvious: whether the subcontractor performed “labor” within the purview of the Miller Act. Despite the ostensibly inclusive language in the Miller Act requiring a bond for the protection of all persons supplying labor and materials in carrying out the work, several federal courts have imposed limits on the types of work constituting “labor” on construction projects.

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Court Enforces Subcontractor’s Demand for Arbitration of General Contractor’s Claim

The Court of Appeals recently enforced an arbitration agreement between a contractor and its subcontractor in a dispute involving indemnity and insurance coverage for a claim by subcontractor’s injured worker. (Spence Bros. v Kirby Steel, March 2017). In this case, the general contractor, Spence Brothers, was the project manager overseeing the University of Michigan’s expansion of the Crisler Arena. Spence subcontracted with Kirby Steel to provide structural and metal work. Spence’s letter accepting Kirby’s proposal directed Kirby to list Spence as an additional insured. The parties’ subcontract contained a standard indemnity clause requiring Kirby to defend and indemnify Spence against all losses. The subcontract also required that Kirby’s insurance policy name Spence as a named insured.

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Captive Insurance Changes for 2017

On December 18, 2015, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) was signed into law. Proponents and sponsors of captive insurance structures often refer to the tax benefits of I.R.C. Section 831(b), which allows eligible insurance companies to make an election to be taxed only the company’s taxable investment income.

In effect, the 831(b) election allows such insurance companies to collect a set amount of insurance premium without having to pay tax on said premiums. Effective January 1, 2017, insurance companies electing taxation under 831(b) can collect up to $2.2 million in insurance premiums while being taxed only on the taxable income generated from the collection and retention of such premiums.

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Captive Insurance Structures Designed for Different Needs, Goals and Funding Abilities

Captive insurance entities can be structured in a variety of ways depending on the participant’s needs, goals, and funding abilities. The following are some of the more common structures that can be used.

Pure Captive
In this model, a captive insurance company is typically a wholly-owned subsidiary of a parent company. These captives are usually closely controlled by the parent company and are generally used by companies that have insurance and risk management needs that are significant enough to justify the financial costs of being solely responsible for the captive’s operational costs. Companies that consider forming a pure captive generally do so to improve risk management and to maximize the benefits of I.R.C. 831(b) election thereby sheltering up to $2.2 million in taxes.

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