We all do it. We all use multipart agreements, or structure transactions where multiple parties are agreeing to the same set of terms and conditions, or seek to bind remote parties to a unified set of obligations, because it makes sense to do that from any number of perspectives. In construction, the practice has existed beyond memory: use of “incorporation by reference” or “flow-down” clauses to impose consistent contractual obligations down the chain of privity is so common as to be remarkable only in its absence. When done lazily, however, problems can result, particularly in the areas of dispute resolution, as illustrated by recent court decisions concerning arbitration clauses that were “incorporated by reference”.
A recent decision of the Supreme Court of the State of New York reminds us of the importance of using consistent terms when drafting a construction contract. In Clinton Assoc. For A Renewed Envt. Inc. v. Monadock Constr. Inc., defendants, pursuant to a contract (the “Contract”), agreed to provide architectural services and contract administration services to plaintiffs.[i] As part of their work, defendants prepared architectural plans, including specifications for the design system and choice of materials for the exterior masonry wall system. The Certificate of Substantial Completion was signed on March 29, 2006 and, at or about that time, the masonry walls began to fail, causing the walls to bulge and take on water. It was determined that the walls could not withstand the weather cycles to which they were exposed. Following Substantial Completion of the project, defendants worked extensively to cure the flaws in the masonry walls by, among other things, creating an alternate design and supervising the corrective work until August 18, 2008, when an Architect’s Certificate approving the repairs was issued.