In MGW Engineering Pty Ltd t/a Forefront Services v CMOC Mining Pty Ltd, the vexed issue of valid service for documents under the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 (NSW) (Act) has been revisited.
The case cautions against assuming a document (e.g. a payment claim or payment schedule) will be considered “served” under s 31 of the Act by handing it to any employee of the claimant or respondent under the Act (as the case may be) on the project site.
The claimant and respondent in the case were parties to four construction contracts for the claimant to provide various services at a NSW mine site.
A representative of the claimant handed four payment claims to an employee of the respondent at 5:15pm on 3 February 2021, claiming a total of over $6M in progress payments. The transaction took place at an “Access Control Room” where the employee of the respondent (who was not the respondent’s representative under the contracts) was on duty.
It was common ground that the respondent’s representative under the contracts was not on site on 3 February 2021 and was not provided the physical payment claims until 4 February 2021. The payment claims were also served electronically via Aconex on 4 February 2021.
The respondent served its payment schedules on 11 February 2021 (being 11 days after 3 February 2021), with a total scheduled amount of only $180,912.05.
The claimant purported to suspend works under s 15(2)(b) of the Act. The claimant applied to court for judgment on the full claimed amount of circa $6M arguing the payment schedules were ineffective, being served one day late. The claimant relied on ss 31(1)(a), (b) and (e) of the Act.
Stevenson J found that service did not occur on 3 February 2021. Accordingly, His Honour rejected the claimant’s application for summary judgment and declared the claimant’s suspension of works invalid.
His Honour held that s 31(1)(a) of the Act, permitting delivery of a document ‘to the person personally’, does not mean that a document will be taken to be served by handing it to any employee of the claimant/respondent. In relation to service on a corporation, some step must be taken to bring the document to the attention of a relevantly responsible person within the company.
Section 31(1)(b) of the Act, permitting service by ‘lodging’ ‘during normal office hours’ to the claimant/respondent’s ‘ordinary place of business’:
- like s 31(1)(a), requires more than giving the document to any employee of the claimant/respondent; and
- requires consideration of the normal office hours of clerical staff at the particular business of the claimant/respondent concerned, not merely when the project site is operational. In this case, though the mine was manned 24/7, the respondent’s normal operating hours at the mine commenced between 7 and 7:30am and concluded around 4 to 4:30pm. Service at 5:15pm in this case was not within “normal office hours”.
Therefore, although the mine site was an “ordinary place of business” under the Act, the other criteria for service were not fulfilled on 3 February 2021.
Service had also not occurred ‘in the manner…provided under the construction contract[s]’ pursuant to s 31(1)(e) of the Act because the contracts in this case provided that documents served after 4:00pm on a day (e.g. at 5:15pm on 3 February 2021) would be taken to be served on the next business day (e.g. on 4 February 2021).
Stevenson J held that the relevant contractual provision was not void by reason of s 34 of the Act because the effect of the provision was “facultative”. If service had been effected on 3 February 2021 via ‘one or other of ss 31(1)(a), (b), (c) or (d), such service would have been effective’ notwithstanding the clause. The clause gave effect to s 31(1)(e) and did not modify the operation of s31(1) generally.
Take home tips
If you intend to serve a payment claim or payment schedule by hand delivery on site, you should consider the following:
- If relying on s 31(1)(a) or (b) of the Act, is the person who you are handing the document to a relevantly responsible person within the corporation? The person the named representative in the contract or a director of the company needs to receive it.
- If relying on s 31(1)(b) of the Act, what are the normal office hours on site? If clerical staff usual work from 7:00am to 4:00pm (for example), service at 4:45pm may not be effective.
- If relying on s 31(1)(e) of the Act, is there a provision in the contract which deems notices given after a particular time on a day served only on the following business day? If so, you must ensure the notice is given prior to the cut off.
We can assist with your queries on validity of your usual service practices and methods to ensure compliance with the Act.
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