Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In 2015, defendants AWi Builders, Inc. (AWi), Construction Contractors Corporation, Zhirayr Robert Mekikyan, Anna Mekikyan, and Tigran Oganesian (collectively, the AWI defendants) were under criminal investigation by the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) and the Riverside County District Attorney's Office (RCDA) in connection with AWi's involvement in certain public works projects. Pursuant to search warrants jointly obtained by OCDA and RCDA, a large amount of AWI' s property was taken into OCDA's custody. In 2017, OCDA decided not to pursue criminal charges against the AWI defendants and reassigned the matter to Orange County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby for civil prosecution. In 2018, Ernby filed a civil complaint, on behalf of the State and against the AWI defendants, for violations of the unfair competition law. The AWI defendants were provided with a copy of OCDA's full investigative file, minus privileged documents, and returned documents seized during the criminal investigation to the AWI defendants. In 2020, the AWI defendants filed a motion seeking an order recusing and disqualifying from this case Ernby and the entire OCDA, arguing OCDA had engaged in misconduct by, amongst other things, improperly handling property seized during the criminal investigation that was protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. The AWI defendants also argued that in the UCL action, Ernby had wrongfully threatened one of the AWI defendants, their counsel, and a paralegal with criminal prosecution, a claim Ernby categorically denied. The motion to recuse was denied, and the Court of Appeal affirmed denial: he AWI defendants did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's findings. The Court found the trial court did not err by denying the motion to recuse because the evidence showed that no conflict of interest existed that would render it unlikely that the AWI defendants would receive a fair trial. View "California v. AWI Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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Central Coast Development Company (“Central Coast”) owns a parcel of property within the City of Pismo Beach (“City”). The City approved Central Coast's application for a development permit. The City and Central Coast applied to the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to annex the property. LAFCO denied the annexation application. The Special District Risk Management Authority ("SDRMA"), a public entity self-insurance pool, paid for LAFCO's fees and costs. The City sued Central Coast to recover fees and costs expended in the Central Coast action against LAFCO. LAFCO and SDRMA cross-complained against the City and Central Coast for fees and costs. The trial court granted the City and Central Coast’s judgment on the pleadings against LAFCO and SDRMA (collectively LAFCO). The court denied LAFCO's request for leave to amend its pleadings. LAFCO appealed.The Second Appellate Division affirmed and while the appeal in LAFCO I was pending, the City and Central Coast moved for attorney fees based on section 1717. The trial court granted the motion. The court awarded $172,850 to the City and $428,864 to Central Coast. LAFCO again appealed (“LAFCO II).”The court reversed the judgment order finding that section 1717 cannot apply because it is beyond LAFCO’s powers to bind itself or an applicant to the attorney fee agreement at issue. The lack of such authority renders the contract unenforceable against LAFCO. Further, Central Coast may not recover fees for the same reason that LAFCO could not recover fees. View "San Luis Obispo Local etc. v. Central Coast etc." on Justia Law

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Hospitals provided emergency medical services to members of the county’s health plan, which is licensed and regulated by the state Department of Managed Health Care under the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act, Health & Saf. Code 1340. The county reimbursed the Hospitals for $28,500 of a claimed $144,000. The Hospitals sued, alleging breach of an implied-in-fact or implied-in-law contract. The trial court rejected the county’s argument that it is immune from the Hospitals’ suit under the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code 810).The court of appeal reversed. The county is immune from common law claims under the Government Claims Act and the Hospitals did not state a claim for breach of an implied-in-fact contract. The county does not contest its obligation to reimburse the Hospitals for the reasonable and customary value of the services; the issue is what remedies may be pursued against the county when the reasonableness of the reimbursement is disputed. The Knox-Keene Act provides alternative mechanisms to challenge the amount of emergency medical services reimbursements. A health care service plan has greater remedies against a private health care service plan than it does against a public entity health care service plan, a result driven by the Legislature broadly immunizing public entities from common law claims and electing not to abrogate that immunity in this context. View "County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Drinking water provided by North Edwards Water District (North Edwards) to its customers contained three times the legal limit of arsenic. Using funds earmarked for safe drinking water, the State of California (State) agreed to pay for North Edwards to construct a water treatment facility (the Project) to address this issue. In December 2013, Clark Bros., Inc. (Clark) was awarded the $6.2 million contract (Contract). But almost from inception, disputes arose between Clark and North Edwards. Ultimately in October 2014, while Clark still had three months to perform, North Edwards terminated the Contract. Clark sued North Edwards for breach of contract (and related claims); North Edwards cross-complained against Clark alleging similar theories. A jury unanimously found North Edwards breached the Contract and awarded Clark over $3 million in damages. Clark also prevailed on North Edwards’s cross-complaint. Under Public Contracts Code section 20104.50 (b), a local agency that fails to pay progress payments within 30 days “shall pay interest” on the late payment. Here, as it waited for money from the State, North Edwards frequently took 60 days or more to pay. Based on this statute, which was incorporated into the Contract, the court instructed the jury that North Edwards was contractually “required” to pay Clark within 30 days. On appeal, North Edwards contended the instruction was prejudicially erroneous because (1) section 20104.50 provided for interest on late payments, but did not make late payment a breach of contract; (2) the statute did not apply to State-funded projects; (3) Clark waived its claim by repeatedly accepting late payments; and (4) North Edwards was not required to pay Clark until it received reimbursement from the State for each payment claim. The Court of Appeal agreed with North Edwards’s first argument, but found the error was not prejudicial: the record affirmatively showed the verdict was unaffected by any instructional error concerning prompt payment requirements. In addition, North Edwards contended the trial court prejudicially erred in making several evidentiary rulings. Finding these unpersuasive, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Clark Bros., Inc. v. North Edwards Water District" 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 Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of FESB's petition for writ of mandate seeking to invalidate two one-year contracts between the school district and Just Communities. The court concluded that the trial court applied the correct deferential standard of review to the school district's decision to enter a no-bid contract with Just Communities. The court also concluded that there was no error in finding that Just Communities fell within the "professional services" exemption and the "special services" exemption. Consequently, the court need not determine whether the common law exemption applied in this case. View "Fair Education Santa Barbara v. Santa Barbara Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Tax sharing agreements between the County of San Benito and the City of Hollister require the city to pay the county a fixed fee (the “Additional Amount”) for each residential unit constructed on land that is annexed into the city from the county. Plaintiff entered into development agreements with the city to build residential units on land subject to the city-county tax sharing agreements, and agreed to satisfy certain obligations from the tax sharing agreements, but sued the city and the county seeking a declaration that payment of the Additional Amount is not among plaintiff’s obligations.The court of appeal affirmed a defense judgment. The plaintiff agreed to pay the city the Additional Amount fees as part of the development agreements. Nothing in the tax sharing agreement suggests that obligations created by it would cease to exist merely because a project annexed during its effective period was not constructed until after the agreement expired. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that because the Additional Amount is an obligation of the city to the county under the tax sharing agreement, it cannot be a “Developer’s obligation.” The reference to “Developer’s obligations” in the development agreement did not mean only the capital improvement and drainage fees discussed in the tax sharing agreement; the term includes the Additional Amount. View "Award Homes, Inc. v. County of San Benito" on Justia Law

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A three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Alameda County Superior Court (ACSC), the County, and the Sheriff’s Office governed court security services. The trial court held that the MOU did not obligate the Sheriff to provide a minimum level of court security services of 129 “FTEs” (full-time equivalents) after the MOU's expiration but rather entitled the County and the Sheriff to unilaterally reduce court security services if state funding was not sufficient to pay for 129 FTEs. The decision turned on the court's conclusion that MOU Exhibit C-3 permitted the Sheriff to reduce court security services during the last six months of the three-year MOU period and was the “deployment schedule” that remained in force after the MOU’s expiration.ACSC argued that Exhibit C-1, the deployment schedule that governed the level of court security during the first two years and required a minimum of 129 FTEs, was the only deployment schedule in the MOU, and remained in force after the MOU's expiration. The court of appeal reversed. Exhibit C-1’s provisions remained in force after the expiration of the MOU because Exhibit C-1 is the only portion of the MOU that meets the requirement of Government Code section 699261 that a court security MOU must specify an “agreed-upon level” of court security services. Exhibit C-3 did not satisfy that requirement. View "Superior Court v. County of Alameda" on Justia Law

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Built Pacific, Inc. (BPI) appealed a judgment entered against it and in favor of the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The DLSE issued a Civil Wage Penalty Assessment (CWPA) against BPI for labor law violations on a public works project. BPI entered into a settlement agreement with the DLSE but failed to timely pay the settlement amount. As a result, BPI was not released from liability, the DLSE sought judgment based on the final CWPA, and the superior court entered judgment on the CWPA pursuant to Labor Code section 1742 (d). BPI appealed, arguing that the judgment was based on an unreasonable and unenforceable liquidated damages clause of the settlement agreement under Civil Code section 1671 (b), and should be reversed. The Court of Appeal concluded Civil Code section 1671 did not apply because judgment was entered pursuant to the Labor Code and not a “contract.” Even if section 1671 were to apply, the Court concluded the disputed provision in the settlement agreement was both reasonable and enforceable. View "Department of Industrial Relations, etc. v. Built Pacific, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Edelweiss filed under seal its qui tam complaint, seeking to recover more than $700 million in false claims allegedly paid by the state and political subdivisions. The defendants were entities involved in the marketing of government-issued variable-rate bonds. The Attorney General reportedly received multiple extensions of the 60-day period for investigation and in October 2015, filed a notice declining to intervene. The next day, Edelweiss successfully moved to further extend the seal to January 2016. Edelweiss’s second motion to extend the seal, (to June) was also granted. Edelweiss filed no further motions to extend the seal but, for two years after the seal period expired, did not move to lift the seal despite two admonitions from the court. In June 2018, Edelweiss finally asked the court to unseal the case but did so incorrectly. Ultimately, the clerk of the court informed Edelweiss that it had unsealed the action around December 4, 2018. Weeks later, Edelweiss began serving the defendants.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the defendants. The time from October 2015 to December 2018 is included in the three-year period during which service must be accomplished because, even if Edelweiss was unable to serve the summons until the seal was lifted, the continuing of the seal after October 2015 was not a circumstance beyond Edelweiss’s control, Code of Civ. Proc. 583.240. View "Edelweiss Fund, LLC v. JP Morgan Chase & Co." on Justia Law