The defendant procured the services of the plaintiff for upgrades to some of the city’s drainage sites. Following the defendant’s non-payment – pursuant to the issuing of several interim payment certificates by the project manager – the plaintiff terminated the contract, upon which time a final certificate was issued by the project manager for work hitherto completed, in observance of the agreement’s termination procedure. The defendant objected to the payable figures outlined in the final certificate due to its apparent failure to factor in alleged performance anomalies on the part of the plaintiff. The defendant unilaterally reviewed the certificates before issuing a final certificate with a reduced outstanding fee. Establishing which set of certificates was legally enforceable formed the heart of the dispute.
The court ruled in favour of the plaintiff, finding the defendant’s claims to be substantially impaired on several grounds. The regulations impacting the issue and review of payment certificates came into force after the conclusion of the contract, so general legal principles and the agreement’s terms took precedence in the court’s analysis. The defendant’s unilateral amendment of the final certificate did not accord with the parties’ General Conditions of Contract; it was not delivered to the plaintiff nor agreed to in writing thereby.
The issuing of final certificates creates a liquid debt – discrepancies ought to have been raised prior to certification and resolved by adjudication or arbitration as per the parties’ agreement. Failing this, the court found that the set-off sought by the plaintiff ought to have been raised in the current suit via counter-claim and not through unilateral adjustment of the final certificate.
The defendant was found further to have misrepresented a final certificate of completion to the plaintiff, following the project manager’s issuing thereof, and consequently estopped from raising the erroneous conduct of its project manager as a justification for its non-payment. The plaintiff was awarded damages with interest reflecting the conventional rate for commercial banking.