Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
by
Petitioners Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the partial summary judgment rulings that an “all risk” insurance policy did not provide coverage for certain losses. At issue in WSDOT’s petition for review was whether the loss of use or functionality of the insured property constituted “physical loss” or “physical damage” that triggered coverage. STP’s petition asked whether the insurance policy excluded coverage for damage to the insured property caused by alleged design defects and whether the policy covers delay losses. This case arose out of a major construction project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. In 2011, STP contracted with WSDOT to construct a tunnel to replace the viaduct. The project started in July 2013. A tunnel boring machine (TBM) used in the project stopped working in December 2013, and did not resume until December 2015. The project was unable to continue during the two-year period while the TBM was disassembled, removed, and repaired. STP and WSDOT tendered insurance claims under the Policy. Great Lakes denied coverage, and STP and WSDOT sued the insurers, alleging wrongful denial of their claims. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding that even if it interpreted “direct physical loss or damage” to include loss of use, no coverage under Section 1 is triggered because the alleged loss of use was not caused by a physical condition impacting the insured property. View "Seattle Tunnel Partners v. Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) PLC" on Justia Law

by
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson retained Respondents Willoughby & Hoefer, P.A., and Davidson, Wren & DeMasters, P.A., (collectively, the Law Firms) to represent the State in litigation against the United States Department of Energy (DOE). Wilson and the Law Firms executed a litigation retention agreement, which provided that the Law Firms were hired on a contingent fee basis. When the State settled its claims with the DOE for $600 million, Wilson transferred $75 million in attorneys' fees to the Law Firms. Appellants challenged the transfer, claiming it was unconstitutional and unreasonable. The circuit court dismissed Appellants' claims for lack of standing, and the South Carolina Supreme Court certified the case for review of the standing issue. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's finding that Appellants lacked public importance standing and remanded the case for the circuit court to consider the merits of Appellants' claims. View "South Carolina Public Interest Foundation, et al. v. Wilson" on Justia Law

by
Kelly Sorenson, acting as a qui tam relator, brought suit on behalf of the United States against his former employer, Wadsworth Brothers Construction Company (“Wadsworth”), under the provisions of the False Claims Act (“FCA”). Sorenson alleged Wadsworth, a contractor working on a federally funded transportation project, falsely certified its compliance with the prevailing-wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act. The district court granted Wadsworth’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion as to presenting a false claim, making a false record to obtain payment on a false claim, and an allegation of a conspiracy to defraud. The district court concluded Sorenson’s complaint failed to satisfy the demanding materiality standard set out by the Supreme Court in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 579 U.S. 176 (2016). Thereafter, the district court granted summary judgment to Wadsworth on Sorenson’s Claim 5, a retaliation claim based on the whistleblower provisions of 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h). The district court concluded Sorenson failed to put Wadsworth on notice his protected activities were related to purported violations of the FCA and, in addition, failed to demonstrate Wadsworth’s actions were retaliatory. Sorenson appealed the dismissal of the first three claims and the grant of summary judgment to Wadsworth on Claim 5. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal. View "Sorenson v. Wadsworth Brothers Construct" on Justia Law

by
The State of North Dakota, ex rel. the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, and the Office of the Commissioner of University and School Lands, a/k/a the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands appealed a judgment dismissing its claim against Newfield Exploration Company relating to the underpayment of gas royalties. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that the district court concluded the State did not establish a legal obligation owed by Newfield. However, the State pled N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 in its counterclaim, which the court recognized at trial. Because the State satisfied both the pleading and the proof requirements of N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1, the Supreme Court held the district court erred in concluding the State did not prove Newfield owed it a legal obligation to pay additional royalties. Rather, as the well operator, Newfield owed the State an obligation under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 to pay royalties according to the State’s leases. The court failed to recognize Newfield’s legal obligations as a well operator under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in dismissing the State's counterclaim; therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for findings related to the State's damages and Newfield's affirmative defenses. View "Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting the State's motion to dismiss this action brought by two Illinois counties challenging the 2021 passage of a law prohibiting State agencies and political subdivisions from contracting with the federal government to house immigration detainees, holding that the district court properly dismissed the action for failure to state a claim.In their complaint, Plaintiffs argued that the law at issue was invalid under principles of both both field and conflict preemption and that it violated the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity. The district denied relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) because it was not preempted by federal immigration statutes the law was not invalid as a matter of field or conflict preemption; and (2) the law did not violate principles of intergovernmental immunity. View "McHenry County v. Raoul" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Thomas Lowell provided piano tuning services to defendant Medford School District and assisted in producing concerts performed in defendant’s facilities. While providing production assistance for a particular concert, plain- tiff noticed an echo near the stage. He complained to the school theater technician, Stephanie Malone, and, later, feeling that Malone had not adequately responded, he followed up with her. Malone reported to her supervisor that plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated, that he “smelled of alcohol,” and that “this was not the first time.” The supervisor repeated Malone’s statements to a district support services assistant. The assistant sent emails summarizing Malone’s statements to three other district employees, including the supervisor of purchasing. The assistant expressed concerns that appearing on district property under the influence of alcohol violated district policy and the terms of plaintiff’s piano tuning contract. Plaintiff brought this defamation action against Malone, the supervisor and assistant, later substituting the School district for the individual defendants. Defendant answered, asserting multiple affirmative defenses, including the one at issue here: that public employees are entitled to an absolute privilege for defamatory statements made in the course and scope of their employment. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on that basis. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding that defendant as a public employer, did not have an affirmative defense of absolute privilege that entitled it to summary judgment. View "Lowell v. Medford School Dist. 549C" on Justia Law

by
A general contractor hired a subcontractor to provide material for a project at a state park. After the project was completed, the general contractor sent the subcontractor a check described as “final payment.” The subcontractor, believing it was owed more, initially refused to accept the check. Months later, the subcontractor cashed the check but then attempted to repay the amount to the general contractor. The general contractor refused repayment, claiming that the subcontractor’s cashing the check constituted satisfaction of its claim of payment. The superior court granted summary judgment to the general contractor, ruling that the evidence established an accord and satisfaction. The Alaska Supreme Court held there was a genuine dispute of material fact about two requirements for an accord and satisfaction: whether the payment was tendered in good faith, and whether there was a bona fide dispute about the amount owed. The superior court's judgment was therefore vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Smallwood Creek, Inc. v. Build Alaska, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In February 2021, the Vermont State Auditor of Accounts, Douglas Hoffer, filed a complaint alleging that defendant OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, had breached various provisions in its contract with the Department for Vermont Health Access (DVHA) by denying the Auditor’s requests for OneCare’s employee payroll and benefits records for fiscal years (FY) 2019 and 2020. The civil division granted OneCare’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Auditor lacked contractual or statutory authority to demand the records, and the Auditor appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Hoffer v. OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, d/b/a OneCare Vermont" on Justia Law

by
Crowley Government Services, Inc. sued the General Services Administration and its Administrator (collectively, GSA), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to halt the GSA’s purported practice of interfering with payments owed to Crowley under its contract with the United States Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). Crowley argued the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the general federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, conferred subject matter jurisdiction on the district court to review the GSA’s alleged violation of the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, and the Transportation Act of 1940. The question this case presented for the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia's review was whether Crowley’s suit against the GSA, whichwasis not a party to Crowley’s contract with TRANSCOM, was “at its essence” contractual, including whether Crowley “in essence” sought more than $10,000 in monetary relief from the federal government such that it was subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States Court of Federal Claims (Claims Court) pursuant to the Tucker Act. The district court answered affirmatively and dismissed Crowley’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals disagreed: Crowley’s action against the GSA in district court was not “at its essence” contractual because Crowley did not seek to enforce or recover on the contract with TRANSCOM. Nor did Crowley “in essence” seek monetary relief from the federal government in district court. Rather, it requested declaratory and injunctive relief that, if granted, would have considerable value independent of (and not negligible in comparison to) any monetary recovery Crowley may ultimately attain in other proceedings. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Crowley Government Services, Inc. v. GSA" on Justia Law

by
The Bergen County Improvement Authority (BCIA) issued a request for qualification (RFQ) for a redeveloper to act as general contractor in the rehabilitation of the Bergen County Courthouse. Nine companies, including plaintiff Dobco, Inc., submitted proposals in response to the RFQ. The BCIA notified four firms that they were selected to proceed, and it notified Dobco and the other firms not selected for the short list. Dobco and plaintiff Hossam Ibrahim, the vice president and a shareholder of Dobco, and a resident and taxpayer of Bergen County, immediately filed separate, but essentially identical, complaints alleging that defendants’ actions violated the Local Public Contracts Law (LPCL) and were arbitrary and capricious. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs’ complaints with prejudice for failure to state a claim, concluding that the project was “not subject to the LPCL because it has been designated a redevelopment project” under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL). The judge determined that plaintiffs were barred from seeking equitable relief because Dobco responded to the RFQ and Ibrahim had not challenged the procurement process or the RFQ prior to filing his complaint. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of Dobco’s complaint, finding “that Dobco is estopped from now complaining that a process in which it willingly participated violated the law.” The Appellate Division, however, reversed as to Ibrahim, determining that he could proceed with his suit as a taxpayer and remanding to the trial court to enter an order permanently restraining the BCIA from proceeding with the procurement process contemplated by the RFQ. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division substantially for the reasons expressed the appellate court's opinion. The Court required that, going forward, a plaintiff claiming taxpayer standing in an action challenging the process used to award a public contract for goods or services had to file a certification with the complaint. As to the merits of this appeal, the Court departed from the Appellate Division’s decision in only one respect: the Court did not rely on the leasing and financing arrangements contemplated by the BCIA and defendant County of Bergen. View "Dobco, Inc. v. Bergen County Improvement Authority " on Justia Law