The Miller Act is incredibly important to federal construction jobs. Without it, payment bonds wouldn’t be present to protect subs and suppliers. What’s more, without the Miller Act, states would not have passed their own Little Miller Acts creating similar protections on state, county, and municipal jobs. So the Miller Act is kind of a big deal. But what if filing a Miller Act claim isn’t enough? What happens next? Read on to find out what comes after you file a Miller Act claim.
How to Enforce a Miller Act Claim
Just like bond claims on state jobs, bond claims on federal jobs do not require the same formal “filing” of a mechanics lien with the county. You can read more about the Miller Act here, but these are the basic steps for making a claim:
- Deliver the Miller Act claim to the job’s prime / general contractor. Maybe the Surety, too.
- Followup with the contractor and try reaching out to the surety – and maybe even the awarding authority
- Answer any requests from the surety to provide back up and sworn evidence of the claim
- Get paid, or, if your claim is denied, proceed to litigation
That last step is obviously not an ideal situation. But it’s also not that rare. Reasonable minds can disagree on plenty, and a payment dispute is no exception. So what happens if payment doesn’t come after a bond claim is made? A claimant may have to enforce their Miller Act claim.
Step 1: How To File A Miller Act Claim
When should suit be filed?
To make a Miller Act claim, a claimant has 90 days from the last furnishing of labor or materials to the project. But when should suit be filed?
A suit to enforce a Miller Act claim should be filed after the 90 day period to make a claim. Other than that, there’s no clear cut answer when it should be filed. Every dispute is different. If progress towards resolving the dispute can be made without a lawsuit, handling the matter outside the courts will probably be the preferable option. However, a claimant only has a 1 year window to file suit, starting from the last date of furnishing labor and/or materials to the project. This allows a claimant to utilize some time to try and handle the matter between the parties involved. However, if it looks like there won’t be progress towards resolving the dispute – a claimant may want to file suit sooner than later.
Bottom line: when a claimant should file suit differs case by case. But all claimants must file suit within 1 year of last furnishing – or else their right to sue will vanish.
Where to file suit?
Suit must be filed in the federal district court where the project is located. For the purposes of the Miller Act claim, it doesn’t matter where a claimant is located, where the prime contractor is from, or even where the surety calls home.
Who is named in the suit?
This part can get tricky. When suing to enforce a Miller Act claim, suit is brought against the bond. This means that the surety who provided the party will need to be named. The bond beneficiary (the party who secured the payment bond – typically the prime contractor) might also be named, but it’s not necessarily required.
Simple enough right? Well, a suit to enforce a Miller Act claim has an interesting caveat – the suit is brought in the name of the United States, on behalf of the party making the claim. Weird, right?
At the end of the day, enforcing a Miller Act bond claim requires the initiation of a lawsuit – and a federal one at that. This means that hiring a lawyer will be necessary. A lawyer who has experience with Miller Act claims will be able to guide you through the process, so a lot of these ins and outs might not be a huge issue. Remember that deadline, though! If suit to enforce a Miller Act claim is not brought within 1 year of last furnishing, any other requirements and intricacies of making the claim will be irrelevant.