Columbia church wins $1.2 million in construction lawsuit

A south Columbia church has been awarded more than $1 million in a over the church's long-running but not-yet-complete construction project.

The First Baptist Church of Guilford, along with its lender, First Mariner Bank, had taken out a $13 million performance bond from Fidelity & Deposit Company of Maryland for the construction of an 80,000-square-foot building in the 7500 block of Oakland Mills Road. That bond was to cover the church's contract with Harbor View Contractors Inc.

But that general contractor became insolvent and left the job in December 2009 before construction was completed, according to a news release from the bank's attorneys. Harbor View soon went out of business, and its owner filed for personal bankruptcy, the news release stated.

The court case went to trial in December. A nine-person jury ruled in favor of the church and the bank. The county Circuit Court ordered the judgment in favor of them on Feb. 1.

The church was awarded nearly $1.65 million, but Fidelity & Deposit was granted more than $484,000 in offsetting costs, which means the church will receive about $1.2 million.

"It was definitely a victory. It wasn't as big of a victory as we would've liked," said Toyja E. Kelley, an attorney representing the church in the case.

He said Fidelity & Deposit should not have been granted offsetting costs because the company didn't fulfill the terms of its bond by replacing a contractor that had left the job.

Kelley and an attorney representing the bank said they are considering appealing the awarding of offsetting costs.

An attorney representing Fidelity & Deposit was not available for comment.

The church ideally would have taken the remaining money that would have gone to the contractor and transferred it to Fidelity & Deposit, which would then ensure construction would be finished, Kelley said. Instead, the church had to bring in a new contractor, increasing the project's price tag.

The church signed a construction contract with Harbor View in 2007 calling for the building to be substantially completed by March 2008.

Several companies that have worked on the site filed lawsuits against the church, claiming they were not paid. Most of those lawsuits have been settled. A few open cases remain, according to online court records.

Harbor View, the general contractor, had stopped working in January 2008 and filed a lawsuit six months later, claiming it was owed $2.1 million. The contractor voluntarily withdrew its suit a month later after being paid some of the money it was owed. Fidelity & Deposit's lawsuit against the church was filed in 2010, and the case had been in court since.

The church's construction is now about 95 percent complete, according to Kelley.

"It's not on-track, from the standpoint that it should've been completed a long time ago," he said. "We've been in litigation for over a year trying to get them to fulfill their obligations. We're turning a page on the litigation and hope to be done soon."

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