Massachusetts General Law c. 30, § 39F is designed to ensure prompt payment to subcontractors on public works projects. The statute allows certain subcontractors on public works projects to obtain direct payment from the awarding governmental authority in the event the general contractor does not pay them promptly. A recent decision by the Massachusetts Superior Court entitled, Harold Brothers Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Town of Braintree, has confirmed that Massachusetts Courts will strictly construe the timing requirements set forth in the statute. In Harold Brothers, the Court ordered the awarding governmental authority – the Town of Braintree – to pay to the subcontractor all amounts included within the subcontractor’s demand for direct payment because the Town failed to timely remit payment of any monies within the time period required by the statute. This decision will reaffirm subcontractors’ right to direct payment from an awarding authority and underscore the necessity of an awarding authority’s timely compliance with the statute.
In brief and in relevant part, under the statute, within ten days after a subcontractor has properly provided a demand to the awarding authority with a copy to the general contractor, the general contractor may reply to the demand. Within fifteen days after receipt of the demand by the awarding authority, the awarding authority shall make direct payment to the subcontractor of the balance due under the subcontract, less certain amounts allowed by the statute, inclusive of any amount disputed by the general contractor in its reply.
In Harold Brothers, the general contractor did not provide a reply to the subcontractor’s demand within ten days nor did the Town make a direct payment to the subcontractor within fifteen days. It was not until after fifteen days had passed following receipt of the subcontractor’s demand did the general contractor provide a reply, which partially disputed the amount the subcontractor claimed to be owed under its subcontract. Relying on the untimely reply of the general contractor, the Town made a partial direct payment to the subcontractor and offered to deposit the amount disputed by the general contractor in a joint bank account. The subcontractor thereafter brought suit against the Town demanding that the withheld monies be paid.
The Court held that the Town was not entitled to rely on the general contractor’s untimely reply to the subcontractor’s demand for direct payment and that the statute obligated the Town to make full payment to the subcontractor as set forth in its demand. Accordingly, the Court ordered the Town to pay the subcontractor all monies it had included in its demand for payment.
The Superior Court’s decision in Harold Brothers will reinforce the mandatory timing requirements imposed on awarding authorities as set forth in the statute and will give further assurances to subcontractors that their demands for direct payment cannot and will not be ignored.