The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Tarco, Inc. v. Conifer Metropolitan District on Thursday, April 25, 2013.
Breach of Contract—Summary Judgment—CRS § 38-26-106.
In this breach of contract action, plaintiff Tarco, Inc., a construction contractor, appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for defendant Conifer Metropolitan District (CMD). The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.
In 2005, Tarco and CMD entered into a series of contracts for construction projects related to the development of a shopping center. Tarco alleged that the work on two of the contracts was substantially complete and that CMD wrongfully withheld payment on them.
Tarco sued, based on nonpayment, and CMD counterclaimed, alleging material breach by Tarco. After two years of litigation, CMD moved for partial summary judgment, asserting that Tarco couldn’t recover under the contracts because it did not satisfy CRS § 38-26-106 (the bond statute). The district court granted the motion. Tarco did not dispute that it did not provide a bond, and the district court concluded that the bond statute barred recovery by contractors failing to post bond.
On appeal, Tarco argued that the court erred by granting summary judgment. Tarco contended that there was a genuine disputed issue of material fact as to whether the contracts at issue were for “public works” projects. If they were not, they were not subject to the bond statute. The Court of Appeals found there was no disputed issue that the projects were public works. The bond statute applies to “any building, road, bridge, viaduct, tunnel, excavation, or other public works for any . . . political subdivision of the state.” The Supreme Court has interpreted “public works” extremely broadly. The contracts at issue were for the construction of a highway overpass and infrastructure components around the shopping center, including sewers, fire hydrants, retaining walls, paving, and roadways. The Court found these clearly to be public works subject to the bond statute, noting that there was no disputed issue of material fact in this regard.
CMD asserted that the bond statute is a “nonclaim statute” that creates an absolute bar to recovery or destroys the claim for relief itself, thus precluding Tarco’s equitable claims of waiver and estoppel. The Court disagreed. Nonclaim statutes deprive a court of subject matter jurisdiction. The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA) is a nonclaim statute. CRS § 15-12-803 in the Colorado Probate Code is another. They are rare. The bond claim statute merely provides that unless a bond is provided, “no claim in favor of the contractor arising under the contract shall be audited, allowed, or paid.” It is not a nonclaim statute, and therefore Tarco’s noncompliance does not preclude its assertion of equitable defenses.
Tarco claimed there was a genuine and material factual dispute as to whether CMD affirmatively waived the bond requirement. CMD countered that, as a special district, it did not possess the power to waive the requirement. The Court agreed that a special district does not possess the power to waive the requirement of the bond statute. CRS § 32-1-1001 provides the express common powers of special districts, but does not include the power to waive the bond requirement. The Court will not imply such a power. Therefore, there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether CMD waived its rights under the bond statute, because it could not.
The Court concluded that there was such an issue of material fact as to whether the doctrine of equitable estoppel applied to CMD’s conduct. A party asserting equitable estoppel must establish that the party to be estopped knew the facts and either intended the conduct to be acted on or so acted that the party asserting estoppel must have been ignorant of the true facts, and the party asserting estoppel must have reasonably relied on the other party’s conduct with resulting injury. Based on the evidence presented, the Court concluded that Tarco had demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the foregoing facts were established. Therefore, CMD was equitably estopped by its conduct from asserting the bond statute as a defense to Tarco’s contract claims. The judgment was reversed as to the determination that the bond statute is a nonclaim statute and as to the dismissal of Tarco’s equitable estoppel claim, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
Summary and full case available here.