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Washington State Supreme Court upholds award for Brightwater legal fees

Summary

The Washington State Supreme Court upheld a 2013 trial court ruling that awarded King County $14.7 million to cover legal fees stemming from a lawsuit against a Brightwater Project tunneling contractor.

Story

A dispute over legal fees stemming from a lawsuit against joint venture tunneling contractor Vinci/Parsons/Frontier-Kemper (VPFK) and its bond sureties is finally resolved in favor of King County and its sewer utility ratepayers. 

The Washington State Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold a 2013 trial court ruling that awarded King County $14.7 million to cover attorney fees and legal costs associated with the lawsuit. 

VPFK was awarded the $212 million contract to build Brightwater’s two central conveyance tunnels following a competitive bidding process in 2006. 

In December 2012, a jury awarded King County $155.8 million in damages after finding the contractor defaulted on key contractual obligations when two of its tunneling machines broke down, and the contractor was unable to repair the machines and continue tunneling without delaying the project completion. The judgment was adjusted to $129.6 million to reflect the jury’s award of $26.2 million to the contractor. 

The performance bond sureties also breached their duty to complete the project. Joint venture contractor Jay Dee/Coluccio completed mining on the final 1.9-mile section of Brightwater tunnel in August 2011. A post-trial motion in 2013 awarded King County $14.7 million holding the sureties liable for the county’s attorney fees, including the prosecutor’s, experts’ fees and other legal expenses. 

VPFK and the sureties appealed the trial court judgment to the Washington State Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court judgment of $144.3 million, and awarded the county an additional $640,270 in legal fees.  

On Jan. 28, 2016, VPFK and the sureties separately petitioned the Washington State Supreme Court for review. On Sept. 7, the Supreme Court issued an order denying VPFK’s Petition for Review, upholding the 2013 judgment against the contractor in the amount of $129.6 million. In the same order, the Supreme Court accepted the sureties’ Petition for Review, which put at issue the judgment against the sureties for attorneys’ fees. On July 6, 2017, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court judgment holding the sureties liable for attorneys’ fees, establishing King County’s right to the total judgment amount of $144.9 million. 

VPFK had until Aug. 11, 2017 to request reconsideration by the Supreme Court. No request was filed, which ends the litigation for the Brightwater Project.

The fee award against the sureties, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, represents the full amount of legal fees King County sought to recover from the sureties in the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court in 2010 plus fees incurred in the appellate process.  
The tunnel has been in full operation for five years, carrying highly treated effluent from the Brightwater Treatment Plant north of Woodinville to a 600-foot-deep marine outfall in Puget Sound a mile off of Point Wells.

Additional information about the Brightwater project is available online