Justia Government Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Crosno Construction, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty etc.
North Edwards Water District (the District) selected Clark Bros., Inc. (Clark) as its general or direct contractor on a public works project to build an arsenic removal water treatment plant. Clark hired subcontractor Crosno Construction (Crosno) to build and coat two steel reservoir tanks. The subcontract contained a "pay-when-paid" provision that stated Clark would pay Crosno within a reasonable time of receiving payments from the District, but that this reasonable time "in no event shall be less than the time Contractor and Subcontractor require to pursue to conclusion their legal remedies against Owner or other responsible party to obtain payment . . . ." After Crosno completed most of its work, a dispute arose between the District and Clark halting the project. As Clark sued the District, Crosno sought to recover payments owed under the public works payment bond that Clark had obtained for the project. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review involved Crosno's claim against the bond surety, Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (Travelers). At issue was whether the pay-when-paid provision in Crosno's subcontract precluded Crosno from recovering under the payment bond while Clark's lawsuit against the District was pending. Relying on Wm. R. Clarke Corp. v. Safeco Ins. Co., 15 Cal.4th 882 (1997), the trial court found the pay-when-paid provision here unenforceable because it affected or impaired Crosno's payment bond rights in violation of Civil Code section 8122. With the facts largely undisputed, the court granted Crosno's motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in its favor for principal due plus prejudgment interest. Travelers argued the trial court misconstrued Wm. R. Clarke and erred in failing to enforce the pay-when-paid provision against the bond claim. After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court's analysis and affirmed. View "Crosno Construction, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty etc." on Justia Law
Zolly v. City of Oakland
Oakland requested proposals for franchise contracts regarding garbage and residential recycling services. Following a lawsuit, a settlement provided that WMAC would receive garbage and mixed materials and organics contracts; CWS would receive the residential recycling contract. WMAC and CWS agreed to pay franchise fees to the city, which redesignated part of WMAC’s franchise fee as a fee to compensate the city for the cost of implementing the Alameda County Waste Management Plan, under Public Resource Code 41901. Plaintiffs challenged the fees as improperly imposed taxes under the California Constitution, article XIIIC. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of claims concerning the Redesignated Fee as not ripe for adjudication but reversed dismissal as to the franchise fees. A franchise fee, arguably subject to an article XIIIC, section 1(e) exemption, must still be reasonably related to the value of the franchise to be exempt from the “tax” definition. The court cited Proposition 26: To qualify as a nontax ‘fee’ under article XIII C, as amended, a charge must satisfy both the requirement that it be fixed in an amount that is ‘no more than necessary to cover the reasonable costs of the governmental activity,’ and the requirement that ‘the manner in which those costs are allocated to a payor bear a fair or reasonable relationship to the payor’s burdens on, or benefits received from, the governmental activity. View "Zolly v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law
Uber Technologies Pricing Cases
Taxi companies and taxi medallion owners sued Uber, alleging violations of the Unfair Practices Act’s (UPA) prohibition against below-cost sales (Bus & Prof. Code, 17043) and of the Unfair Competition Law (section 17200). The UPA makes it unlawful “for any person engaged in business within this State to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product, for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition” but does not apply “[t]o any service, article or product for which rates are established under the jurisdiction of the [California] Public Utilities Commission [(CPUC)] . . . and sold or furnished by any public utility corporation.” Uber is a “public utility corporation” under section 17024 and is subject to CPUC’s jurisdiction. CPUC has conducted extensive regulatory proceedings in connection with Uber’s business but has not yet established the rates for any Uber service or product. The trial court ruled the exemption applies when the CPUC has jurisdiction to set rates, regardless of whether it has yet done so, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed, reaching “the same conclusion as to the applicability of section 17024(1) as have three California federal district courts, two within the last year, in cases alleging identical UPA claims against Uber.” View "Uber Technologies Pricing Cases" on Justia Law
Hensel Phelps Construction Co. v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
After Phelps was awarded a public works contract by the CDCR, another bidder successfully challenged the award, obtaining a ruling in a San Diego trial court that Phelps's bid was "non-responsive as a matter of law" due to its inclusion of "non-waivable mathematical/typographical errors." Phelps then filed suit against CDCR, seeking to recover the costs it expended on the project. The trial court held that the San Diego trial court's ruling was itself the result of a defect in the competitive bidding process caused solely by CDCR, and entered judgment in favor of Phelps. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that judgment on the pleadings should have been granted. The court held that the language in Public Contract Code section 5110 provides that the parties to a challenged public contract may enter into that contract pending final resolution of the challenge, but if the challenge is resolved by invalidation because the public entity was at fault, the contractor may recover. Applying section 5110 in this case, the court held that the contract was invalidated for a material error in Phelps's bid, not for any defect in the competitive bidding process, much less a defect caused solely by CDCR. Therefore, section 5110 could not provide a basis for recovery. The court held that application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel would produce the same result, and rejected Phelps's late-raised alternative ground. However, the court affirmed the trial court's denial of recovery on CDCR's cross-complaint for disgorgement. View "Hensel Phelps Construction Co. v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation" on Justia Law
California Taxpayers Action Network v. Taber Construction, Inc.
After Mount Diablo School District hired Taber to modernize eight school campuses, the plaintiffs challenged the District’s use of a lease-leaseback agreement for the construction project. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of most of plaintiff’s claims, except a claim against Taber of conflict of interest. Plaintiff alleged Taber provided preconstruction services regarding the project, so a conflict of interest arose when the District subsequently awarded Taber the contract. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in Taber’s favor, finding no violation of Government Code section 1090(a). Section 1090 only prohibits a contract made by a financially-interested party when that party makes the contract in an “official capacity.” Where the financially-interested party is an independent contractor, section 1090 applies only if the independent contractor can be said to have been entrusted with “transact[ing] on behalf of the Government.” In this case, it cannot reasonably be said that Taber was hired to engage in or advise on public contracting on behalf of the District. The District contracted with Taber for Taber to provide preconstruction services in anticipation of Taber completing the project. Taber provided those services (planning and setting specifications) in its capacity as the intended provider of services, not as a de facto official of the District. View "California Taxpayers Action Network v. Taber Construction, Inc." on Justia Law
City of Anaheim v. Bosler
This appeal involved an effort to "foist" the pension and retiree healthcare costs for city employees who performed redevelopment-related work onto the successor agency to the now-abolished Anaheim Redevelopment Agency (Anaheim RDA). Plaintiff City of Anaheim, in its own right and as the successor agency to the Anaheim RDA, and John Woodhead, who worked for both entities, brought this 2017 petition for a writ of mandate. The petition sought to overturn the determination that an agreement between the City of Anaheim and the Anaheim RDA to reimburse the City of Anaheim for the retirement costs of its employees who worked for the Anaheim RDA was not an enforceable obligation of the Anaheim RDA, and thus payments to the City of Anaheim for this purpose from the successor agency were not permissible. As defendants, the petition identified the director of the Department of Finance, Keely Bosler, in her official capacity; the Department of Finance (a redundant defendant); the auditor-controller for Orange County (a neutral stakeholder); and the oversight board that supervised the operations of the successor agency. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Department, "after issuing a lengthy and cogent ruling." On appeal, petitioners reiterated their claims, which focused on their interpretation of what was a “legally enforceable” required payment from the Anaheim RDA, the purported unconstitutional impairment of contractual rights, and estoppel. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "City of Anaheim v. Bosler" on Justia Law
Koenig v. Warner Unified School District
Ron Koenig was the superintendent and principal of the Warner Unified School District (the district). He and the district entered an agreement to terminate his employment one year before his employment agreement was due to expire. Under the termination agreement, Koenig agreed to release any potential claims against the district in exchange for a lump sum payment equivalent to the amount due during the balance of the term of his employment agreement, consistent with Government Code section 53260. The district also agreed to continue to pay health benefits for Koenig and his spouse "until Koenig reaches age 65 or until Medicare or similar government provided insurance coverage takes effect, whichever occurs first." The district stopped paying Koenig's health benefits 22 months later. Koenig then sued to rescind the termination agreement and sought declaratory relief he was entitled to continued benefits pursuant to his underlying employment agreement, which provided that Koenig and his spouse would continue receiving health benefits, even after the term of the agreement expired. After a bench trial, the trial court determined the district's promise in the termination agreement to pay health benefits until Koenig turned 65 violated section 53261, was unenforceable, and rendered the termination agreement void for lack of consideration. Both Koenig and the district appealed the judgment entered after trial. Koenig contended the trial court properly determined the termination agreement was void but should have concluded he was entitled to continued health benefits until the age of 65. The district contended the trial court erred when it concluded the termination agreement was void; rather, the trial court should have severed the termination agreement's unenforceable promise to continue paying benefits, enforced the remainder of the termination agreement, and required Koenig to pay restitution for benefits paid beyond the term of the original agreement. The Court of Appeal concluded the termination agreement's unlawful promise to pay health benefits in excess of the statutory maximum should have been severed to comply with sections 53260 and 53261, Koenig did not establish he was entitled to rescind the termination agreement, and the district was entitled to restitution for health benefits paid beyond the statutory maximum. Judgment was reversed and the trial court directed to enter judgment in favor of the district for $16,607. View "Koenig v. Warner Unified School District" on Justia Law
A.J. Fistes Corp. v. GDL Best Contractors, Inc.
Fistes appealed from the trial court's judgment sustaining without leave to amend defendants' demurrer to Fistes' third amended complaint, seeking a declaration that the contract the District awarded to GDL for the remediation of school properties was void due to violations of the Public Contract Code and the Government Code. The Court of Appeal held that Fistes alleged facts sufficient to establish standing under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a based on its payment of state taxes that fund the District. The court also held that the district court erred in sustaining the demurrer based on uncertainty without leave to amend. In this case, although Fistes has not adequately alleged a cause of action against the Lopezes, it has made a sufficient showing for leave to amend. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "A.J. Fistes Corp. v. GDL Best Contractors, Inc." on Justia Law
Synergy Project Management, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco
The Subletting and Subcontracting Fair Practices Act governs public works projects, requires a prime contractor to obtain the awarding authority's consent before replacing a subcontractor listed in the original bid (Pub. Contract Code 4107(a)), and limits the awarding authority’s ability to consent. If the original subcontractor objects to being replaced, the awarding authority must hold a hearing. San Francisco entered a contract with prime contractor Ghilotti for a major renovation of Haight Street. Consistent with its accepted bid, Ghilotti entered a contract with subcontractor Synergy for excavation and utilities work. After Synergy broke five gas lines and engaged in other unsafe behavior, the city invoked a provision of its contract with Ghilotti to direct Ghilotti to remove Synergy and substitute a new subcontractor. Under protest, Ghilotti terminated Synergy and identified two potential replacement contractors. Synergy objected. A hearing officer determined that Synergy’s poor performance established a statutory ground for substitution. Synergy and Ghilotti argued that the hearing officer lacked jurisdiction because Ghilotti had not made a “request” for substitution. The trial court agreed. The court of appeal reversed. Although the statute contemplates that the prime contractor will normally be the party to seek substitution, the procedure followed here “complied in substance with every reasonable objective of the statute.” View "Synergy Project Management, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law
Orange County Water Dist. v. The Arnold Engineering Co.
The Orange County Water District (the District) appealed a postjudgment order awarding The Arnold Engineering Company approximately $615,000 in costs of proof under Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.420 based on the District's failure to admit certain fact-specific requests for admission (RFAs) during discovery. The District argued the trial court erred in making the award because: (1) the District had reasonable grounds to believe it would prevail on the matters at issue under section 2033.420 (b)(3); and (2) even if it did not, Arnold did not adequately substantiate its costs with admissible evidence. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court abused its discretion in awarding costs for certain RFAs because the District reasonably relied on percipient witness testimony, undisputed scientific testing, and the opinions of a qualified expert in denying the RFAs. Furthermore, the Court determined certain evidence, namely expert witness invoices, was inadequate to support an award under the circumstances here because it did not distinguish between recoverable and nonrecoverable costs. The case was remanded for a new order awarding reasonable costs of proof. View "Orange County Water Dist. v. The Arnold Engineering Co." on Justia Law