The possibility that a LEED-certified project could be “decertified” by USGBC or GBCI in the event that any of the new LEED 2009 Minimum Program Requirements (“MPRs”) are not satisfied presents a variety of novel legal issues which we presented earlier this year here at GRELJ when the first iteration of MPRs was announced by USGBC. Today, Engineering-News Record (“ENR”) published an article that highlights a number of those issues, but also raises the question of who, exactly, would have standing to bring a decertification proceeding. If strictly limited to USGBC or GBCI, a recent comment here at GRELJ from Brian Anderson (“lawsuits are bad for marketing”) suggests that decertification would be a remote possibility. However, in the ENR piece, which is titled Building Rating System Requirement Raises Concern and authored by Nadine Post, my colleague Ujjval Vyas notes that “[a]ny third party has the right to initiate a non-compliance action by USGBC. This creates a huge risk and provides standing to any entity whatsoever to injure a building owner or tenant.” If third parties can compel decertification proceedings, the risks associated with failing to comply with the MPRs are far more serious than if that discretion rests exclusively with USGBC or GBCI.
However, I think it’s important to look at the specific language that provides for decertification in LEED 2009, which reads (in part) as follows: “certification may be revoked from any LEED project upon gaining knowledge of non-compliance with any applicable MPR.” (emphasis added). The way I read this language, USGBC/GBCI is not obligated to revoke certification upon learning of non-compliance, but it is not restricted from receiving information regarding non-compliance from any third party. The question then becomes what, if any, obligations USGBC/GBCI may have to use that information and pursue a decertification proceeding, either conferred elsewhere in the LEED rating system itself or otherwise imposed by law. I don’t know the answer to that question, but perhaps Ujjval or others could chime in below in the comments. I think this is an absolutely critical point to dissect.
Also of import in the ENR article with respect to the MPR requiring access to building performance data (which has been the MPR driving much of the risk discussion here at GRELJ and elswhere), Duane Morris construction attorney Ed Gentilcore emphasizes that “[w]hat was once an initial project-performance milestone now has ongoing tail responsibilities that could create extended obligations for the owner itself and possibly, in turn, design and construction teams.” In addition, Scot Horst told ENR in the same article that the organization is “still developing the best and easiest ways to help owners do this. This is a new requirement and there is a lot to work out over time.” He declined to tell ENR when any addenda to the MPRs might be released.
I think it’s clear that the contract challenges and corresponding risks associated with the new LEED 2009 MPRs are just begin to emerge, particularly if USGBC and GBCI release a second addenda to a document that was just released a few months ago.