"My Trusty Gavel" by steakpinball is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On April 7, 2021, the Brigantine (Atlantic County) City Council unanimously approved a settlement agreement under which it agreed to pay $210,000 to a Camden County construction company that it awarded a water treatment plant construction contract to in 2015. Under the settlement agreement, the engineer hired by the city to manage the construction project also agreed to pay the construction company $440,000.

In its lawsuit, Clyde N. Lattimer & Son Construction Co., Inc. (CNL) claimed that on March 17, 2015, the city awarded it a lump-sum contract to construct a water treatment plant. The contract called for CNL to drill a replacement well, install permanent pumping equipment and construct a masonry well house with treatment facilities. According to the lawsuit, on April 1, 2015 the city engaged the firm of Remington, Vernick & Walberg (RVE) as Project Design Engineer and Construction Manager. (See note below.)

CNL alleged that “the project was plagued by delays throughout its lifecycle, from beginning to end.” CNL claimed that city officials, at an April 16, 2015 pre-construction meeting, decided that no well construction could take place until after Labor Day because they “did not want to inconvenience vacationers.” CNL alleged that the city’s decision delayed them for 158 days during which CNL could have obtained other contracts that would have helped it absorb ongoing overhead expenses. CNL also claimed that the delay required construction to be done during winter months which caused an additional 58-day delay in 2016 and another 22 days in 2017.

CNL further alleged that a design error by RVE caused the well’s generator to not operate under a “loss of power” situation. CNL claimed that it “lost a total of 227 days between June 20, 2016, and February 2, 2017, as it attempted to find a solution to [RVE’s] design issue.” In addition, CNL claimed that during construction the city “recognized and admitted that the delays . . . were compensable by agreeing to consider them for additional compensation.” The lawsuit alleged that at the end of the project the city “denied all claims to extra money incurred by CNL on account of the delays” as well as for additional work CNL said it performed at the city’s request.

On December 6, 2017, the city filed a counterclaim against CNL and a third party complaint against RVE. In its filing the city claimed that CNL breached the contract by not completing the project within the specified 365-day period and that any damages CNL sustained “were the proximate result of the negligence of [RVE].” The lawsuit claimed total damages of $1,202,908.

As part of the settlement, CNL agreed to not to bid on any city contracts or proposals for six months. Brigantine agreed that it would not take the lawsuit into consideration when evaluating any future bids CNL submits.

(Note: The lawsuit refers to the engineering firm as Remington, Vernick & Walberg while the counterclaim/third party complaint and settlement agreement refer to it as Remington & Vernick.)

The case is captioned Clyde N. Lattimer & Son Construction Co., Inc. v. City of Brigantine, Docket No. ATL-L-002165-17 and CNL’s attorneys were Shawn R. Farrell and Matthew L. Erlanger of Philadelphia. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants. All that is known for sure is that Brigantine or its insurer and RVE or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay CNL $210,000 and $440,000 respectively than take the matter to trial. Perhaps their decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and they wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]