Contract disputes and civil litigation can rapidly become complex, especially when the underlying circumstances are complex. Witness the contract dispute that has arisen in Griggs County concerning the construction of a new courthouse.

The politics of the situation highlight problematic nature of the dispute. The county courthouse is the oldest in North Dakota that is still a working courthouse, dating from 1884. Mold was found in the building and there are structural and access issues, as one would expect from a 132-year-old building. 

The county commissioners proposed building a new courthouse, but bonding for the project was rejected by voters three times. The county commissioners created a special non-profit to fund and operate the project, which led to all five commissioners being recalled by voters.

To further complicate matters, the courthouse is part of the project, with the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) housed in the other half. Payment delays caused contractors to stop work last year.

And there are deadlines for Department of Homeland Security grant that need to be met. This leaves the County suing the Building Authority. There are concerns that the delays have increased the cost of the project by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The more moving parts in any project contains always increases the risk. Careful planning and proper setting of expectations of all parties to a contract is essential. Ideally, the contract helps to set those expectations and properly explicates the rights and responsibilities of the parties.

If disputes arise, it is important to consider all the costs of bringing the dispute to court and determine the full economic costs of the action. In a situation like the one in Griggs County, it is likely the dispute is deeper than four corners of the contract document.

Source: jamestownsun.com, “Griggs County goes to court in courthouse case,” Kevin Bonham, August 21, 2015