Last month, in its decision in Transtar Electric, Inc. v. A.E.M. Electrical Services, Corp., Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-3095, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the inclusion of term "condition precedent" in a contractual payment provision was an explicit statement of the parties' intent to transfer the risk of the project owner's non-payment from the general contractor to the subcontractor. This decision is significant for Ohio, a state that enforces the validity of pay-if-paid provisions, unlike other states that have found them void as against public policy.
Transtar involved a contract between a general contractor and an electrical subcontractor for the construction of a pool at a Holiday Inn. The subcontractor fully performed its work under the subcontract, but the general contractor failed to pay the last three of the subcontractor's invoices because the owner had not paid the general contractor for the work reflected in those invoices. The subcontractor filed suit alleging both breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and both sides moved for summary judgment. While the general contractor did not dispute the facts asserted by the subcontractor, it argued that, under the contract, it did not have to pay the subcontractor until it received payment from the owner. The trial court agreed with the general contractor, but the appeals court reversed, stating that the contract's payment provision was not sufficient to shift the risk of non-payment by the owner to the subcontractor. The Ohio Supreme Court then reinstated the judgment of the trial court.
The contract between the general contractor and the subcontractor contained the following language:
RECEIPT OF PAYMENT BY CONTRACTOR FROM THE OWNER FOR WORK PERFORMED BY SUBCONTRACTOR IS A CONDITION PRECEDENT TO PAYMENT BY CONTRACTOR TO SUBCONTRACTOR FOR THAT WORK
The Ohio Supreme Court acknowledged that, for a pay-if-paid clause to be valid, the parties' intent to transfer the risk of owner non-payment must be clear. The court held that the language in the contract at issue satisfied this standard because the use of the term "condition precedent" negates the need for additional language to demonstrate the parties' intent to transfer the risk.
For parties contracting in Ohio - and perhaps other jurisdictions that enforce pay-if-paid provisions - the Transtar opinion makes clear that special attention should be given to the term "condition precedent" when negotiating a payment provision. And going forward, understanding this bright-line rule announced by the Ohio Supreme Court could simplify payment disputes between contractors and subcontractors.