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Security Of Payment Reminder: Christmas Is Coming, But Adjudicator Shopping Is Not Permitted

The Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act (NSW) (‘SOPA’) is touted as establishing a scheme of “pay now, argue later” which promotes the speedy payment of progress claims and resolution of disputes. While these objects do not prevent parties from serving multiple payment claims in respect of the same amount,[1] they do dictate that parties will not be permitted to reagitate the same issues at multiple adjudications. It is necessary to examine the circumstances in which a previous adjudicator’s finding will be binding in a subsequent adjudication.

 

Section 22(4) of SOPA

Section 22(4) of the SOPA provides a helpful starting point for this analysis. This section provides that where one adjudicator has determined the value of any construction work or of any related goods or services under a construction contract, an adjudicator in a subsequent adjudication must give the work (or goods or services) the same value as previously determined, unless satisfied that the value has since changed.

 

Back in 2009, the New South Wales Court of Appeal considered the effect of section 22(4) of the SOPA in the decision of Dualcorp Pty Ltd v Remo Constructions Pty Ltd.[2] Macfarlan JA held that section 22(4) is not an exhaustive statement of the matters determined by an earlier adjudication which are binding on a subsequent adjudicator. His Honour held that the Act as a whole “manifests an intention to preclude reagitation of the same issues”.[3]

 

Objects of SOPA

Section 3 of the SOPA sets out the objects of the Act: promoting the prompt making and payment of progress claims and speedy resolution of disputes. In Dualcorp, the court held that it would be inconsistent with this objective to allow a claimant who was dissatisfied with the outcome of an adjudication to obtain a fresh reconsideration of its claim by simply serving an identical payment claim. If this were possible, there would be no limit to the number of times a claimant could seek to reagitate the same issues at adjudication.[4] Clearly, such abuse would be inconsistent with the object of the legislation.

 

Did the previous adjudicator determine the merits of the issue?

A claimant will only be barred from reagitating an issue addressed in a previous adjudication where the adjudicator decided the merits of the issue. This point was emphasised by the New South Wales Supreme Court in Arconic Australia Rolled Products Pty Ltd v McMahon Services Australia Pty Ltd.[5] In that case, McMahon made three contentious payment claims describing costs for delay and variations. In a fourth adjudication between the parties, Arconic argued that McMahon was not entitled to reagitate its claim since it had been determined by the previous adjudicator.[6]

 

The Court followed the approach in Dualcorp[7] but clarified that the objects of the SOPA would only be frustrated where the first adjudicator had heard and decided the merits of the claim.[8] Here, the adjudicator had rejected the relevant payment claim as it was made prematurely by McMahon. Given that the adjudicator did not consider the merits of the claim, McMahon was entitled to reagitate the issues raised in that payment claim in a subsequent adjudication.[9]

 

Take home tips

Parties should be wary that they are not entitled to raise the same issues at multiple adjudications.

If you are claimant considering whether to proceed with a second adjudication application, you should carefully consider whether the merits of your claim has been determined by a previous adjudicator.

We can assist with advice regarding a previous adjudication determination and the prospects of seeking a further determination.

[1] SOPA s 13(6).

[2] [2009] NSWCA 69 (‘Dualcorp’).

[3] At [67].

[4] At [52].

[5] [2017] NSWSC 1114.

[6] At [3]–[9].

[7] At [13]–[15].

[8] At [29].

[9] At [31]–[32].