What is a Change Order in a Construction Contract?

“No prudent individual would make a contract for the construction of a building of any magnitude without incorporating a provision somewhere making specific and definite arrangements concerning extra work.” City Street Improvement Company v. Kroh, 158 Cal. 308, 321 (1910).

Previously on our blog, we discussed how changes to construction contracts are often unavoidable, but that there are limitations to how much a construction contract can change. In this article, we will discuss the proper tool for acceptable change requests: the “change order.”

A change order is essentially an amendment to a construction contract. It represents the mutual consensus between the parties on a change to the schedule, price, work, or other contract term.  Like any other contract amendment, a change order has to meet the requirements of valid contract formation (offer, acceptance, reasonable identification of changed terms, exchange of consideration, and be signed by both parties).

A change order should always be accompanied by documentation, such as original contract documents, emails discussing the change, revised plans and specifications, meeting minutes, and any other reports that might be related to the change order.  Change orders and associated documents should be kept on file with all other project records.  Moreover, since the statute of limitations for most construction claims is ten years, every contract, change order, and supporting document for a change order should be kept at least that long. Finally, it is especially important to determine and document the cost of a change order.

If you have questions about construction contract claims, consult an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Obtaining a Variance to a Zoning Restriction

In order to build a development, home, or addition that does not comply with local zoning ordinances or restrictions, a property owner or developer must obtain a variance. The exact process of obtaining a variance will vary based on applicable city or county laws, and can vary depending on the scope of the project and the type of variance sought.

For example, there could be different processes or requirements for “residential use” variances versus “residential area” variances.  Generally speaking, there are two types of variances: an “area variance” and a “use variance.” An area variance can be requested by a property owner or developer who is seeking an exception to a regulation dealing with land configuration or physical structure improvements.  A use variance, on the other hand, seeks an exception to the type of use of land permitted by a zoning ordinance or restriction.

Similarly, the process or requirements for residential variances differ as compared to variances for agricultural, industrial, recreational, or commercial property.  Once you have determined the type of variance you will need, the next step will be to contact the local city or county government office that handles development in the area where the property is located.  The local government office will usually have an application that must be completed, and typically require copies of relevant site plans, floor plans, and elevation drawings, as well as the payment of any fees associated with application submission.  Once complete, a city board will review your application and may require public hearings on the application.  If the variance request is denied, there is generally an appeals process.

If you have questions about obtaining a variance, consult an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Defining Changed Conditions in a Contract

It is prudent for parties to a contract to include a clause that addresses “changed conditions.” A provision in a contract discussing changed conditions should broadly identify  altered circumstances from the time the contract was signed and how these new circumstances will be addressed.

A changed conditions clause is frequently found in construction contracts. This is because construction projects rely on so many variables, including weather, labor, and materials, that can be subject to unpredictable changes. Sometimes certain conditions of a construction site may go undetected prior to construction, which will necessitate new plans, supplies, or timelines. Sometimes a contractor will run into unanticipated snags after construction commences, such as the discovery of hazardous materials in the soil. These changes can impact the cost and scheduled completion of a project, which is otherwise outlined in the construction contract. It is therefore important to have a provision that dictates how costs and schedules will be moved when changed conditions arise.

Generally, a changed condition clause in a construction contract will detail a contractor’s liability in bearing any additional cost that stem from unforeseen changes in the condition of the construction site. The provision will usually also outline the process to be followed when changed conditions are noticed, including scheduling consults with an engineer and whether contract changes will have to be made.

One of the most important terms in a changed conditions clause is the requirement and meaning of “notice.”  A changed conditions clause may give a fixed amount of time, such as fourteen days, in which the contractor is given a window to notify the owner of a changed condition.  If an owner is not notified within that contractual window, the contractor may be stuck with extra costs associated with the changed condition, and perhaps even penalties if the project will not be completed on time as a result.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your real estate, business, or contract law needs.

What is a Flow-Down Clause in a Contract?

A flow-down clause (also referred to as a pass-through or conduit clause) is usually found in a construction contract and provides that subcontractors will be bound to the general contractor in the same fashion as the general contractor is bound under its contract with the property owner.

Flow-down provisions are important to protect parties to a construction contract by spelling out that a subcontractor’s obligations to the general contractor are identical to the ones a contractor has to the property owner. The specific obligations that “flow-down” generally involve the scope of work to be performed, and often also the timelines in which the work will be completed.

Flow-down clauses may also include terms about dispute resolution and payment. For example, a flow-down payment clause may state that a subcontractor will be paid by the general contractor when the general contractor is paid by the owner. Likewise, if an owner has agreed to resolve disputes with the general contractor through arbitration, a subcontractor may be required to resolve disputes through arbitration as well.

It is in an owner’s interest to have a subcontractor bound by the same obligations and requirements as the general contractor.  Subcontractors, on the other hand, commonly dispute or try to limit the scope of responsibility attributed to them through a flow-down clause, particularly when the subcontractor has limited involvement in a project. It is therefore especially important for contractors and subcontractors to look for a flow-down clause, and understand the full scope of the agreement they are signing. If a flow-down clause is particularly broad and a subcontractor cannot determine which contractual obligations will actually flow down, the clause may be found unenforceable.

If you have any questions about contract terms, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your real estate, business, or contract law needs.

How to Modify a Contract

Varying circumstances may require parties to a contract to modify their original agreement.  For example, contract modification may be necessary if parties want to extend a contract, change its duration, alter the quantity of goods to be sold or delivered, change a delivery time or place, or change a payment amount or type.

Parties typically can modify a contract at any time, as long as all the parties agree to the changes.  Minor changes in a contract can often be handwritten into the original document, and then signed or initialed by the parties. For example, a purchase order may be modified to provide for additional items and initialed and signed by the seller and buyer evidencing an agreement to the modification.

Major changes to a contract will often have to be re-negotiated and added to the agreement as an addendum.  Oftentimes, a well drafted contract will outline terms explaining how a modification may be effected. Typical terms include that the contract may only be modified in a writing that is signed and executed by all parties. Valid contract modifications will be enforced and are binding on the parties.

It is always best to ensure that all contract terms are accurate before the agreement is signed. Sometimes, modifying a contract after it has been signed can be complicated or impractical, particularly if one or both parties have already begun performing their contractual duties.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and  businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

Dissolving a Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the most common business form because it is simple to establish and easy to maintain.  For the same reasons that it is easy to start a sole proprietorship, and dissolving a sole proprietorship is relatively simple as well.  If you own your own business and run it as a sole proprietorship, you can close your business in a few simple steps.

Because only one person can own a sole proprietorship, dissolving one is relatively simple.  For example, there is no need to consult other partners or obtain a majority vote to dissolve the sole proprietorship.  A sole proprietor, however, will have to notify any individuals with whom he or she has outstanding contracts, including rental and vendor agreements. It is also a best practice to notify all clients of your plans to close your business.

Because there is no separate legal entity with a sole proprietorship, entity organization documents do not have to be filed with the Secretary of State, and therefore the State does not have to be notified upon dissolving a sole proprietorship.  However, depending on the business of the sole proprietorship, a business license may have been required.  If that is the case, the business owner will want to cancel the license and notify the proper issuing authority.

The same is true for any permit associated with a “doing business as” (DBA) or fictitious business name.  If the sole proprietorship did business using a name different from that of the sole proprietor, a Fictitious Business Name Statement should have been filed.  It would be prudent for the owner to contact the local or state office where the statement was filed and inform them that you are dissolving a sole proprietorship.

The finals steps to dissolving a sole proprietorship will be to close any business bank accounts. Bank and credit card accounts in the business’ name are the last thing that evidence the existence of a sole proprietorship, and continued use may suggest the business is still in operation.

If you have any questions about closing your business, including dissolving a sole proprietorship, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us  to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

Corporate Officer Compensation

The procedures for compensating a corporate officer and setting corporate officer compensation will depend on the type of business entity in operation, the industry, the entity’s profitability, and the corporate bylaws and/or operating agreement.  In general, corporate officer compensation is permitted so long as it is “reasonable” for their efforts in carrying on a trade or business.  In such cases, a corporate officer is often considered an employee of a corporation, and is paid as such.  For corporate officers who are not employees, they will have a different compensation structure, or none at all.

Employees must be paid, and usually an officer is an employee of the corporation.  If a case concerning corporate officer compensation goes before a court, it will usually concern whether a corporate officer’s pay was “reasonable.”

Courts consider the following factors in determining if the corporate officer compensation is reasonable:

  • Training and experience
  • Duties and responsibilities
  • Time and effort devoted to the business
  • Dividend history
  • Payments to non-officer employees
  • Timing and manner of paying bonuses to key people
  • What comparable businesses pay for similar services
  • Compensation agreements
  • The use of a formula to determine compensation

A corporate officer’s base salary is usually dependent on the growth and profitability of the company. In many modern corporate pay structures, there is a set base salary and an additional year-end bonus based on profits.  The base salary is generally a figure based on the competitive rate of pay for people in similar jobs in the same industry and in similar sales-volume companies, and the year-end bonus is based on the productivity and success of the corporation in any given year.

Smaller enterprises may have different methods of determining corporate officer compensation, and what is “reasonable” to them will vary from larger C-Corporations. For example, small S-Corporations and LLCs may pay out all of the company profits to the owners, whereas larger operation may only pay out corporate revenue.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

Misrepresentation in a Contract

If a party was dishonest about a material fact during the drafting process of a contract, the other party may be able to take the contract to court and argue that it should be rescinded, or cancelled, due to misrepresentation.  Moreover, if the honest party performed the contract because he, she, or it justifiably relied on the misrepresentation in a contract of material fact, he, she, or it may be able to collect damages if a court finds that the non-breaching party was damaged by the misrepresentation, or that the misrepresentation was intentional.

Misrepresentation in a contract circumstance occurs when a party to a contract makes a representation, using either words or conduct that communicates a false or misleading understanding, thereby inducing another party to sign a contract.  For example, if a seller of goods makes false statements or promises about the quality or nature of a product to get a consumer to agree to purchase it, that could constitute misrepresentation.

There are different types of misrepresentation in a contract, including fraudulent misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation.

Fraudulent misrepresentation may be found where a knowingly false representation was made with the intent to deceive.  As mentioned earlier, if an individual justifiably relies on an intentionally made fraudulent misrepresentation and is harmed as a result of this reliance, they may recover damages to be compensated for their harm, which may include punitive damages.

Negligent misrepresentation occurs when a representation is made carelessly. Damages are generally available for negligent misrepresentation, however punitive damages will not be awarded in a negligent misrepresentation case.   Additionally, in the event that misrepresentation can be proven, rescission may be granted, which would release the parties from their contractual obligations.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

What Constitutes a Trade Secret?

Unlike patents and trademarks, trade secrets are protected without any procedural formalities associated with the benefits of registration with a government agency. The benefit to this is that a trade secret can be protected for an unlimited period of time and requires no public disclosure. The downside is that defining and protecting a trade secret can be trickier.

There are different definitions of what constitutes a “trade secret.” California law has adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act definition, qualifying a trade secret as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process” that meets two qualifications. The first qualification is that the information must derive “independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use.”  The second qualification is that the trade secret owner must take reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the information.

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, an international agreement administered by the World Trade Organization, similarly defines a trade secret.  According to the TRIPS Agreement, trade secret information cannot be generally known among, or readily accessible to, circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question.  It must also have commercial value because it is a secret, and it must have been subject to reasonable steps by the rightful holder of the information to keep it secret.

Thus, if a company deals with third parties who are privy to a company’s trade secret, it is important to always have them sign confidentiality agreements to make sure they understand that the information is a secret.  Taking those steps not only gives the company a cause of action for breach, but also evidences reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret.  Information that constitutes a trade secret can include processes that make production more efficient, a formula (like the Coca-Cola soft drink formula), customer lists, and proprietary business plans.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business needs.

California Shareholder Rights

“Economic” Shareholder Rights

Shareholders invest in corporations primarily for economic gain or profit.  The two main ways shareholders can profit from a corporation are by receiving distributions of the company’s profits and by selling all or part of their interest in the corporation. These correspond with the two main “economic” shareholder rights: the right to receive dividends and the right to sell shares. Notably, shareholders only have the right to receive dividends as they are declared by the corporation’s board of directors, and directors are not obligated to declare dividends.  In addition, some investments and receipt of shares may come with limitations on transferability of the shares.

Shareholder Voting Rights

A company’s board of directors has the right to manage the company’s business. However, shareholders have the right to vote on important matters relating to the business, which gives them some control over the corporation as well. Most importantly, shareholders have the right to elect directors.

Shareholder Inspection Rights

Under California Corporations Code Section 1601, shareholders also have right to inspect the corporate documents, such as the incorporation record, accounting books, and meeting minutes.

Derivative Actions and Shareholder Rights

Derivative actions are brought by a shareholder on behalf of a corporation. Officers, directors, and majority shareholders owe a corporation a fiduciary duty. Someone who owes a fiduciary duty and who breaches that duty can be held liable to the corporation for damages.  Thus, in a derivative action a shareholder seeks judicial enforcement of, and redress for breach of, management’s fiduciary duties to the corporation and its shareholders by means of derivative litigation.

Involuntary Dissolution of the Corporation

Under California law, one-half of the directors or one-third of company shareholders can sue for involuntary dissolution of a corporation. A corporate dissolution may consist of a court approved liquidation or sale of corporate assets. However, the involuntary dissolution of a corporation may be avoided if at least 50% of its shareholders elect to purchase, for cash, the shares owned by the shareholders initiating the dissolution proceeding.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business needs, or visit our Shareholder Rights page for more information.