Whilst interest in the recent UK judgment in the case of City Inn v Shepherd Construction may be confined to these shores, it is sufficiently important in the UK construction arena to warrant a mention on this Blog. The level of interest generated by this case initially may seem disproportionate to the complexity of issues and the amounts of money at stake. But ever since the option to adjudicate became compulsory for all UK based “construction contracts” in 1996 (Under the Housing Grants, Construction & Regeneration Act – see opsi), there has been a distinct lack of relevant construction UK case law on matters such as causation and delay – as parties choose the quicker, cheaper option of adjudication to settle disputes. If you also take into account the duration of this dispute (the project in question was completed in 1999) you can start to see why everyone (at least in the UK) is looking at the latest City Inn judgement.

This judgment from the Inner House of the Scottish Court of Session is therefore very useful as an indication of the UK Courts’ current approach to causation of delay and extensions of time. Of course, this may not be the end of the story as City Inn still has the chance to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Key Elements

The dispute centred on a late-running project to build a hotel in the city of Bristol. Shepherd was employed by City Inn to carry out this project under an amended version of the 1980 edition JCT contract (a UK standard form of building contract with Quantities). The adjudications which followed the late finish resulted in Shepherd being awarded a 9 week extension of time (“EoT“) made up of 4 weeks awarded by the Architect and a further 5 weeks from the Adjudicator. City Inn was unhappy with this result and took the matter to the Outer House of the Scottish Court of Session. They applied for various orders including
a declaration that Shepherd were not entitled to an EoT; a reduction of the Architect’s award of 4 weeks EoT; and an order for payment of outstanding liquidated damages for delay.

Shepherd counterclaimed for a further 2 weeks EoT and for consequent loss and expense. The matter eventually proceeded to trial and was heard by Lord Drummond Young.

The main elements of the case were a bespoke clause covering entitlement to an EoT (clause 13.8), and the cause of the delay, taking into account the multiple delaying factors which occurred and the extent of their impact.

On the first issue, Lord Drummond Young found that clause 13.8 could not logically apply to instructions which caused delay just because they were in themselves late. Lord Drummond Young also noted that City Inn had not referred to their clause 13.8 rights until this juncture, and that neither of the parties appeared to take the clause into account when acting.

On the second – and more interesting – issue, causation and delay, Lord Drummond referred back to another contract clause (clause 25) to give his judgement. He said that under clause 25 the architect was to exercise his judgment and fix a “fair and reasonable” completion date. He held that an apportionment exercise may be necessary where there is concurrency or no dominant event.

The parties had been unable to locate an electronic, logic linked version of the original programme and so had to use a basic programme showing the activities and durations of the project. Lord Drummond rejected City Inn’s expert evidence which tried to establish, retrospectively, a critical path which led to the conclusion that Shepherd was not entitled to any EoT at all. Instead, he favoured Shepherd’s expert who said that he had attempted to establish a critical path, but that it was impossible to do so accurately. Lord Drummond preferred this common sense approach and found that, using this analysis, Shepherd was entitled to 9 weeks EoT.

City Inn appealed unsuccessfully with most of the judgment concurring with Lord Drummond’s reasoning. The majority opinion was set out by Lord Osborne, and contains five principles relating to the evaluation of a delay and loss plus expense claim. Of course, the Court was examining these issues under clause 25 of the JCT form. However, I think these general principles would have relevance to most construction contracts and illustrate the likely approach that would be adopted by the UK Courts:

1. For an EoT claim to succeed the relevant event must be shown to be likely to cause delay or have caused delay.

2. Whether or not a relevant event causes delay is a matter for common sense.

3. It is for the decision maker to decide what evidence to use in forming his conclusion. This may or may not include a critical path analysis. What matters is that the evidence used is sound, whatever form it takes.

4. If there is one dominant cause, all other causes will be disregarded. The dominant cause must be a relevant event for a claim to succeed.

5. It is for the decision-maker to apportion the delay to completion of works in a “fair and reasonable way” where there are two (or more) causes of delay, but only one of which is a relevant event and neither is dominant.

Although Lord Calloway dissented from the ‘apportionment’ reasoning, all three judges concurred in the result and on the critical path analysis being relevant but not necessary to decide the outcome of an EoT claim.

Implications for future cases

I should have of course stressed that this was a Scottish Judgment. What this means is that the decision is binding on the lower courts of Scotland but not so on the English courts – although given that it is an appeal court decision it will at least be persuasive in England.

What is most striking is that all the judges leaned heavily towards the arguments for being guided by principles of fairness, reasonableness and common sense. Many of the arguments put forward centred on the true meaning and consequences of events being concurrent. However, Lord Osborne stated that the important question was not whether events were truly concurrent, but rather the effects on the completion date of the events. In a similar spirit, Lord Carloway talks about the Architect applying “professional judgment” and “using his and not a lawyer’s common sense“.

In terms of implications for future cases in the UK, the judgment must not be considered an approval of the use only of common sense and fairness at the expense of a critical path analysis. In this case the critical path analysis presented was not considered sound and so was not used to form the judgement. However, that is not to say it may never be used to determine EoT claims, but rather it is up to the decision-maker as to whether he uses the critical path analysis in his “fair and reasonable” decision-making process.

And what of its implications further afield – in the international arena? I think the judgment and the arguments employed would be useful to anyone involved in disputes on causation and EoT’s where there are concurrent events and particularly where there is no critical path analysis or such evidence is flawed.

FIDIC talks about the Engineer making a “fair determination” whenever required to determine any matter under the Contract [Sub-Clause 3.5] and the provision dealing with extensions of time [Sub-Clause 8.4] refers to an extension of time “if and to the extent that completion……..is or will be delayed by any of the [specified] causes“. So the same arguments about causation, apportionment and concurrency could run under a FIDIC based contract.

Similarly, the NEC construction form NEC3, which treats delay events as “Compensation Events”, requires the Project Manager (who has to act “as stated in this contract and in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation”) to assess “the length of time that, due to the compensation event, planned Completion is later than planned Completion” [Core Clause 63.3]. Interestingly, in NEC, assessment of the impact of the event includes “risk allowances for cost and time for matters which have a significant chance of occurring and are at the Contractor’s risk under this Contract” [Core Clause 63.6].

And, of course, I cannot sign off without mentioning that Pinsent Masons acted for Shepherd Construction on this case!

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