Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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The Township solicited bids for the demolition of former hospital buildings. ICC, a Detroit-based minority-owned company, submitted the lowest bid. AAI, a white-owned business submitted the second-lowest bid, with a difference between the bids of almost $1 million. The Township hired a consulting company (F&V) to vet the bidders and manage the project. F&V conducted interviews with both companies and provided a checklist with comments about both companies to the Township. ICC alleges that F&V made several factual errors about both companies, including that AAI had no contracting violations and that ICC had such violations; that ICC had no relevant experience, that AAI had relevant experience, and that AAI was not on a federal contracting exclusion list. F&V recommended that AAI receive the contract. The Township awarded AAI the contract. ICC filed a complaint, alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and Michigan law.The district court dismissed the case, finding that ICC failed to state a claim under either 42 U.S.C. 1981 or 42 U.S.C. 1983 by failing to allege the racial composition of its ownership and lacked standing to assert its constitutional claims and that F&V was not a state actor. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. ICC had standing to bring its claims, and sufficiently pleaded a section 1981 claim against F&V. The other federal claims were properly dismissed. View "Inner City Contracting LLC v. Charter Township of Northville" on Justia Law

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Ascendium Education Solutions (“Ascendium”) is a Program guarantor that previously charged debt-collection costs to defaulting Program borrowers who entered loan rehabilitation agreements. Ascendium challenged the Department of Education’s Rule, 34 C.F.R. Section 682.410(b)(2)(i), under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), arguing that the Department of Education and its Secretary (collectively, the “Department”) did not have statutory authority to promulgate the Rule because the Rule conflicts with the Act. The district court ruled that Ascendium lacked standing to challenge the Rule as it applies to borrowers who enter repayment agreements. But the district court held that the Rule exceeded the Department’s authority under the Act with respect to borrowers who enter rehabilitation agreements. Both Ascendium and the Department appealed.   The DC Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court concluded that Ascendium has standing to challenge the entirety of the Rule, that the Rule is consistent with the Act and therefore is lawful, and that the Rule is not arbitrary or capricious. The court explained that the Rule prohibits a guarantor from charging collection costs to a borrower who enters a repayment plan or a rehabilitation agreement during the initial default period: It implicitly deems such costs “unreasonable” under the circumstances. The court concluded that the Rule is consistent with the Act’s requirement that “reasonable” collection costs must be passed on to borrowers. Further, the court explained that the Department’s response to Ascendium’s comment adequately refuted Ascendium’s assumption that the purpose of the Rule should be to incentivize guarantors to enter rehabilitation agreements by allowing them to charge collection costs. View "Ascendium Education Solutions, Inc. v. Miguel Cardona" on Justia Law

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Curtin Maritime Corp. (Curtin) filed suit against its competitor, Pacific Dredge and Construction, LLC (Pacific), asserting one cause of action for violation of the Unfair Competition Law. The parties operated dredging vessels, and competed for contracts awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In its complaint, Curtin alleged Pacific was ineligible for two contracts it was awarded over Curtin because its vessel was not “entirely” built in the United States, a violation of the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as the Jones Act), and Pacific defrauded the Coast Guard in its successful application for certification that the vessel was U.S.-built. These allegations served as the sole basis for Curtin’s UCL claim. In response to the complaint, Pacific brought a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 to strike Curtin’s claim, asserting it arose from protected speech and that Curtin could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. The trial court agreed with Pacific that the claim arose from protected activity, but concluded Curtin had met its burden at this early stage of litigation to show the claim had minimal merit and denied the motion. Pacific appealed the ruling, contending the trial court erred because the claim was preempted by the Jones Act. After Pacific filed its notice of appeal, Curtin dismissed the underlying lawsuit and moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. Pacific opposed the motion, asserting the appeal was viable since reversal of the trial court’s order would provide Pacific the opportunity to seek attorney fees under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal agreed with Pacific that the appeal was not moot, and dismissal of the appeal was not appropriate. Further, the Court concluded Curtin did not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying Pacific’s motion to strike, and directed the trial court to reinstate the case and issue an order granting the anti-SLAPP motion and striking Curtin’s claim. View "Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge etc." on Justia Law

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The 1949 Federal Property and Administrative Services Act is intended to facilitate the “economical and efficient” purchase of goods and services on behalf of the federal government, 40 U.S.C. 101. In November 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, under the supposed auspices of the Act, issued a “Guidance” mandating that employees of federal contractors in “covered contract[s]” with the federal government become fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee and Ohio sheriffs’ offices sued, alleging that the Property Act does not authorize the mandate, that the mandate violates other federal statutes, and that its intrusion upon traditional state prerogatives raises federalism and Tenth Amendment concerns.The district court enjoined enforcement of the mandate throughout the three states and denied the federal government’s request to stay the injunction pending appeal. The Sixth Circuit denied relief. The government has established none of the showings required to obtain a stay. The government is unlikely to succeed on claims that the plaintiffs lack standing and the plaintiffs likely have a cause of action under the Administrative Procedure Act. The court noted the plaintiff’s concerns about disruptions to the supply chain if workers leave their jobs rather than receiving vaccinations and also stated: Given that expansive scope of the Guidance, the interpretive trouble is not figuring out who’s “covered”; the difficult issue is understanding who, based on the Guidance’s definition of “covered,” could possibly not be covered. View "Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Biden" on Justia Law

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In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court properly calculated the “cost” of steel products under the Steel Products Procurement Act (“Steel Act” or “the Act”), which required that “75% of the cost of the articles, materials and supplies [of a steel product] have been mined, produced or manufactured” in the United States. G. M. McCrossin, Inc. (“McCrossin”), a contracting and construction management firm, served as the general contractor for the Lycoming County Water and Sewer Authority (“Authority”) on a project known as the Montoursville Regional Sewer System Waste Water Treatment Plan, Phase I Upgrade (“Project”). In July 2011, McCrossin entered into an agreement with the Authority to supply eight air blower assemblies, which move air from one area to another inside the waste treatment facility. United Blower, Inc. (“UBI”), became a subcontractor on the Project. UBI was to supply the eight blowers required by the original specifications and was to replace the three digestive blowers as required by a change order. UBI prepared a submittal for the blowers which McCrossin in turn submitted to the Authority’s Project engineer, Brinjac Engineering (“Brinjac”). As part of the submittal, McCrossin provided Brinjac and the Authority with a form, which verified that 75% of the cost of the blowers was attributable to articles, materials, and supplies (“AMSs”) that were mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States. The total amount McCrossin paid UBI for the blower assemblies and digestive blowers was $239,800. The amount paid by the Authority to McCrossin for these items was $243,505. Authority employees began to question whether McCrossin and UBI provided products that complied with the Steel Act. The Supreme Court held the Commonwealth Court improperly calculated the cost of the steel products at issue, thereby reversing and remanding for further proceedings. View "United Blower, et al. v Lycoming Water & Sewer" on Justia Law

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Companies that tow or recycle used cars alleged that Milwaukee and its subcontractor, engaged in anticompetitive behavior to self-allocate towing services and abandoned vehicles, a primary input in the scrap metal recycling business. They alleged that an exclusive contract the city entered into with one of the area’s largest recycling providers, Miller Compressing, violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, and that the contract provided direct evidence of an agreement to restrain trade. They cited laws that require a city-issued license to tow vehicles from certain areas, that obligate towing companies to provide various notices, and that cap maximum charges imposed on vehicle owners who have illegally parked or abandoned their vehicles, as having been enacted to squeeze them out of the market.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The arrangement between the city and Miller is not per se unreasonable on the basis of horizontal price-fixing. The court also rejected a claim of “bid-rigging.” View "Always Towing & Recovery Inc. v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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The Council handles contracts for over 200 New Jersey municipalities, police departments, and school districts. Mid-American sells bulk road salt. The Council's members estimated their salt needs for the 2016-17 winter. The Council issued a comprehensive bid package, anticipating the need for 115,000 tons of rock salt. MidAmerican won the contract, which stated: There is no obligation to purchase [the estimated] quantity. As required by the contract, Mid-American obtained a performance bond costing $93,016; imported $4,800,000 worth of salt from Morocco; and paid $31,250 per month to store the salt and another $58,962.26 to cover it. Mid-American incurred at least another $220,000 in finance costs and additional transportation costs. Council members purchased less than five percent of the estimated tonnage. Mid-American claims “several” Council members purchased salt from MidAmerican’s competitors, who lowered their prices after MidAmerican won the contract.Mid-American sued the Council and 49 of its members, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and bad faith under UCC Article 2. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. No valid requirements contract existed here because the contract was illusory. These sophisticated parties were capable of entering into precisely the contract they desired. Neither the Council nor its members ever promised to purchase from Mid-American all the salt they required View "Mid-American Salt LLC v. Morris County Cooperative Pricing Council" on Justia Law

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G4, LLC, entered into a lease in 2009 with the City of Picayune, Mississippi, for land on the grounds of the Picayune Municipal Airport. After the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors assessed ad valorem taxes on the leased land, G4 paid the taxes under protest and petitioned the Board for a refund and for a refund of taxes it had paid on lots in the Tin Hill subdivision. The Board denied G4’s petition, and G4 appealed to the Circuit Court of Pearl River County, which affirmed. G4 appealed, asserting that, according to the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision in Rankin County Board of Supervisors v. Lakeland Income Properties, LLC, 241 So. 3d 1279 (Miss. 2018), it was automatically exempt from paying ad valorem taxes on the airport property. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded the circuit court’s decision that affirmed the Board’s refusal to refund the airport property taxes. The Court affirmed the circuit court’s decision that G4 was not entitled to a refund of taxes paid on the Tin Hill subdivision lots. View "G4, LLC v. Pearl River County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. ("MCG"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its July 30, 2018 order denying MCG's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Madison Circuit Court on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In late 2017, AAL USA, Inc. ("AAL"), a Delaware corporation doing business in Alabama, and Oleg Sirbu, a resident of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (collectively, "the plaintiffs"), sued MCG, asserting a claim of legal malpractice pursuant to the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"), and seeking, among other relief, disgorgement of all attorney fees paid by the plaintiffs to MCG. AAL maintained, repaired, and overhauled helicopters through various government contracts or subcontracts on United States military bases. MCG represented the plaintiffs from 2014 through October 28, 2016; two MCG attorneys, Jon Levin and J. Andrew Watson III, were shareholders of MCG whose allegedly wrongful conduct was performed within the line and scope of their employment with MCG. The events giving rise to this litigation began in September 2016, when AAL received a "base-debarment" letter notifying it that it no longer had access to certain military bases outside the continental United States. MCG chief financial officer Keith Woolford forwarded this letter to MCG, and, according to the plaintiffs, MCG "immediately embarked in a central role in [MCG CEO Paul] Daigle's and Woolford's scheme to steal the assets of AAL." The complaint alleged that Levin worked closely with Woolford and Daigle to draft the APA pursuant to which Black Hall Aerospace, Inc., Daigle, and Woolford would purchase all of AAL's assets, as a way to cure the base-debarment problem. The plaintiffs alleged that MCG knew that the APA would "gut" the plaintiffs –- its current clients –- while simultaneously benefiting Daigle, Woolford, and BHA –- other clients of MCG -- and that this "clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest ... was never disclosed to [the plaintiffs]." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded MCG carried its burden of showing that Madison County's connection to the action was strong and that Jefferson County's connection to the action was weak. Thus, the circuit court exceeded its discretion in refusing to transfer the case to the Madison Circuit Court in the interest of justice. MCG's petition for a writ of mandamus was granted. View "Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C." on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law