top of page

Understanding the Miller Act and Little Miller Acts

The Miller Act and the state-level Little Miller Acts constitute pivotal components of the legal framework governing surety bonds in the United States, especially within the construction and public works sectors. These acts ensure a standardized approach to managing and mitigating the risks associated with contractor defaults and project completions, thereby safeguarding the interests of project owners, contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers alike.

The Miller Act: A Federal Mandate

The Miller Act (40 U.S.C. §§ 3131-3134) is a federal law that mandates the requirement of surety bonds for all public construction projects exceeding a certain financial threshold—traditionally set at $100,000. This act is designed to protect the interests of the U.S. government and ensure the completion of federal projects by requiring contractors to furnish two main types of bonds: performance bonds and payment bonds.

Performance Bonds under the Miller Act

Performance bonds, as mandated by the Miller Act, serve as a guarantee that contractors will fulfill their contractual obligations to complete a project according to the stipulated terms, quality standards, and timelines. In the event of contractor default, the performance bond provides the necessary financial resources to complete the project, either through the engagement of a new contractor or by compensating the government for the completion costs incurred.

Payment Bonds and Their Significance

Payment bonds are equally critical under the Miller Act, ensuring that subcontractors, laborers, and material suppliers are compensated for their services and materials. This requirement is crucial for preventing liens against the property and ensuring a smooth flow of operations, free from disputes over non-payment that could potentially derail the project.

The Broader Impact on Federal Construction Projects

The Miller Act's influence extends beyond the immediate parties to a contract, shaping the landscape of federal construction projects as a whole. By instilling a layer of financial security, the Act fosters a more stable and reliable contracting environment. Contractors and suppliers can engage in government projects with confidence, knowing there is a legal avenue for recourse should disputes arise.

General Contractors' Responsibilities

At the heart of the Miller Act's requirements are the general contractors, who bear the responsibility of procuring the necessary bonds. This not only underscores the government's trust in their ability to deliver but also highlights the importance of due diligence in selecting reputable and financially stable subcontractors and suppliers.

Ensuring Compliance and Protection

For subcontractors and suppliers, it's very important to understand the rules of the Miller Act. This understanding allows them to stand up for their rights and act quickly if there are any payment problems. Knowledge of the Act's requirements, such as the need for timely notice and the process for filing a claim, is crucial for dealing with the complexities of federal contracts effectively.

At its core, the Miller Act creates a framework that balances the interests of all parties involved in federal construction projects. It ensures that projects are completed to the government's satisfaction while also providing a robust payment enforcement mechanism for those on the ground, contributing their expertise and resources.

The Scope of the Miller Act

Navigating the terrain of federal construction projects requires a clear understanding of the Miller Act's scope. This pivotal legislation delineates the boundaries within which prime contractors must operate, particularly concerning the procurement of payment and performance bonds.

Unpacking Contractual Coverage

The Miller Act isn't a one-size-fits-all; it specifically targets contracts exceeding the $100,000 mark, focusing on the construction, alteration, or repair of public buildings or works. This threshold isn't arbitrary. It serves as a benchmark to differentiate between minor and significant federal projects, ensuring that the Act's protective measures are reserved for those contracts where the financial stakes—and the potential for disputes—are higher.

Little Miller Acts: State-Level Adaptations

Mirroring the federal Miller Act, the Little Miller Acts are state-specific statutes that apply similar surety bond requirements to state-funded construction projects. While these acts are broadly inspired by the Miller Act, they exhibit variations in terms of threshold amounts, types of projects covered, and specific bond requirements, reflecting the diverse legal and operational landscapes across different states.

In Wisconsin, the Little Miller Act mandates payment and performance bonds for state contract jobs, with specific thresholds outlined in state statutes Chapter 779.1. For jobs over $10,000, payment bonds are required, and for those exceeding $30,000, both payment and performance bonds are necessary.

For another example, the Little Miller Act in Alabama specifies that a payment bond at 50% of the total contract value is required, where most other states require the bond cover the full contract value.

Who's In and Who's Out: Filing a Miller Act Claim

The A-List: First-Tier Subcontractor Rights

First-tier subcontractors, those who have a direct contractual relationship with the general contractor, enjoy a privileged position under the Miller Act. Their direct involvement in federal projects grants them unequivocal rights to seek payment through the Act's mechanisms, provided they adhere to the stipulated procedures. This direct link ensures a smoother process for asserting claims, given their proximity to the general contractor.

Second-Tier Supplier Claims: Navigating the Chain

Supplier in the Miller Act

Second-tier suppliers, although one step removed from the general contractor, are not left unprotected.

The Miller Act extends its coverage to these entities, acknowledging their essential contribution to the completion of federal projects. However, the Act stipulates specific notice requirements for these parties, a crucial step to validate their claims.

Understanding and complying with these requirements is fundamental for second-tier suppliers aiming to enforce their payment rights.

Exclusions and Limitations: Understanding the Boundaries

While the Miller Act casts a wide net of protection, it is not without its boundaries. Certain parties, including lower-tier subcontractors and suppliers beyond the second tier, find themselves outside the Act's protective ambit.

Professionals such as architects and engineers, unless directly contracted by the prime contractor or a first-tier subcontractor for on-site work, may not qualify under the Act. Recognizing these exclusions is vital for all parties to gauge their eligibility and understand their legal standing in the context of Miller Act claims.

Empowering Subcontractors and Suppliers

The Miller Act's provisions empower subcontractors and suppliers, providing a clear framework for payment protection in federal projects. By demystifying the eligibility criteria and procedural requirements, these parties can navigate the complexities of the Act with confidence, secure in the knowledge that the law backs their right to fair compensation.

Miller Act Claim Procedures

In the world of federal construction projects, timing isn't just a factor; it's the foundation upon which successful claims under the Miller Act are built. In 2020, a subcontractor A&C, claimed it was not paid approximately $8.5 million for work. The court found that A&C did not provide notice in a timely manner and affirmed the judgement. Check out the case of A&C Constr. & Installation, Co. v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co. for the full story.

The Clock Starts Ticking: Understanding Key Deadlines

The Miller Act sets forth clear deadlines designed to ensure that claims are made in a timely fashion, promoting efficiency and fairness in the resolution of disputes. For subcontractors and suppliers, recognizing and adhering to these deadlines is non-negotiable.

  • Notice Deadlines: The act stipulates that second-tier subcontractors and suppliers must serve a written notice to the prime contractor within 90 days from the last day of work or supply.

  • Filing Deadlines: Beyond the notice, claimants have up to one year after the last provision of labor or materials to file a formal lawsuit.

The Litigation Threshold: Taking Your Claim to Court

When negotiations stall or disputes remain unresolved, litigation becomes the path forward. The Miller Act specifies that no lawsuit can be initiated until 90 days after the last labor or material contribution.

This cooling-off period is designed to encourage settlement before legal proceedings, but once it expires, the courthouse doors open to aggrieved parties seeking redress.

Miller Act Notice Requirements

For second-tier subcontractors and suppliers, this notice is their ticket to the claims process, and getting it right is non-negotiable. Subcontractors and suppliers who were directly hired by the general contractor do not need to provide notice, because the general contractor will already know they did not make payments to these entities.

The notice must succinctly yet comprehensively detail the nature of the claim, including the amount due and the services or materials provided. Clarity and accuracy are paramount here; a well-drafted notice leaves no room for ambiguity, laying a solid foundation for the claim.

The notice must be in writing and served to the general contractor via certified mail or a similar third party verifier.

Winning Strategies for Navigating Miller Act Claims

Success in the world of federal construction projects under the Miller Act requires more than just understanding the law; it demands strategic application and foresight.

  • Early Engagement and Communication: General contractors should proactively engage with subcontractors and suppliers, establishing clear lines of communication. This can preempt disputes and facilitate smoother project execution.

  • Meticulous Documentation: Keeping detailed records of contracts, communications, work performed, and payments made can be invaluable, especially if a claim arises. Documentation serves as the backbone of any claim under the Miller Act.

  • Understanding Your Role and Rights: Whether you're a first-tier subcontractor with direct rights under the Act or a second-tier supplier needing to navigate notice requirements, knowing your position in the contractual chain is crucial for protecting your interests.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Awareness of common pitfalls can significantly enhance your strategic approach to Miller Act claims.

  • Missing Critical Deadlines: The 90-day notice period and the one-year deadline to file a claim are non-negotiable. Mark these on your calendar as soon as your last day of work or delivery passes.

  • Overlooking State Variations: Don't assume the federal Miller Act covers your project without checking for applicable "Little Miller Acts" at the state level, which can have different requirements and thresholds.

  • Underestimating the Importance of the Notice: The notice isn't just a formality; it's a crucial step in the claims process. Ensure it's detailed, accurate, and delivered properly to the prime contractor.

Federal Construction Project with the Miller Act


Miller Act Statutes

Provided below is the Miller Act Statute 40 USCS §3131-3134.

§3131. Bonds of contractors of public buildings or works

§3132. Alternatives to payment bonds provided by Federal Acquisition Regulation

§3133. Rights of persons furnishing labor or material

§3134. Waivers for certain contracts


FAQs on the Miller Act and Little Miller Acts

What is the Miller Act and what does it require for public construction projects?

The Miller Act is a federal law that mandates performance and payment bonds for any public construction project exceeding a certain threshold, currently set at $100,000.

This act ensures that contractors are financially capable of completing the project and paying their subcontractors and suppliers, protecting the interests of all parties involved and the federal government.

How do Little Miller Acts differ from the federal Miller Act?

Little Miller Acts are state-level versions of the federal Miller Act, enacted by individual states to govern public construction projects within their jurisdiction.

While they are inspired by the federal Miller Act, Little Miller Acts can vary significantly from state to state in terms of threshold amounts, bond requirements, and claim procedures, offering a tailored approach to meet local needs.

What are the bond requirements under the Miller Act?

Under the Miller Act, prime contractors on federal projects exceeding $100,000 must provide two types of bonds: a performance bond, which ensures the completion of the project according to contractual terms, and a payment bond, which guarantees that subcontractors and material suppliers will be paid for their services and goods. The value of these bonds typically equals the total contract amount.

How do Little Miller Acts affect subcontractors and suppliers?

Little Miller Acts provide a layer of financial security for subcontractors and suppliers working on state-funded construction projects. By requiring prime contractors to post bonds, these acts ensure that subcontractors and suppliers have a mechanism for compensation if the contractor fails to pay. The specifics, however, can vary by state, affecting the ease with which claims can be filed and resolved.

What steps should be taken to file a claim under the Miller Act or Little Miller Acts?

To file a claim under the Miller Act or a Little Miller Act, a subcontractor or supplier should first ensure they understand the specific procedures and timelines set forth in the applicable law. Generally, the process involves notifying the prime contractor and the surety company of the outstanding payment, followed by filing a formal claim against the payment bond. It's crucial to adhere to the stipulated timelines, which can vary but often require action within 90 days of the last provided labor or materials. Consulting with a legal expert specialized in construction law is highly recommended to navigate this process effectively.


The Miller Act and Little Miller Acts are fundamental to the construction and public works sectors in the United States, setting forth critical requirements for surety bonds that protect the financial and operational interests of all parties involved in public construction projects. By delving into the intricacies of these acts, stakeholders can better understand their rights and obligations, ensuring compliance and minimizing the risks associated with construction projects.

The Miller Act at Shorewest Surety

Written by Shorewest Surety Services. With over 100 years of combined experience in the surety industry, our commitment to trust, integrity, and unparalleled expertise has made us a trusted partner for construction and manufacturing professionals. We proudly represent over 15 respected surety companies, each holding an A-rating or better from AM Best and T-Listed by the US Department of the Treasury. Our holistic approach goes beyond short-term needs, extending to a thorough evaluation of our clients' overall business strategy. Our proven track record, sound decision-making, and a stellar reputation in the surety field underscore our unwavering commitment to your success. When you choose Shorewest Surety Services, you're choosing unmatched knowledge, experience, and a solid foundation of trust in the world of surety bonds.

Legal Disclaimer:

The information provided on this website and in this guide is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, financial, or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice. Shorewest Surety Services, Inc. makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information, which may be subject to change without notice. Any reliance on the information is at your own risk. We recommend consulting with our qualified professionals for personalized advice suited to your individual circumstances. Shorewest Surety Services, Inc. will not be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, or punitive damages arising out of access to or use of any content on this site, regardless of the accuracy or completeness of any such content.


bottom of page