Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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In 1942-1943, the government contracted with the Oil Companies to rapidly expand aviation gas (avgas) production facilities and sell vast quantities of avgas to the government with an artificially low profit margin. The government assumed certain risks, agreeing to reimburse “any new or additional taxes, fees, or charges” which the Companies “may be required by any municipal, state, or federal law ... to collect or pay by reason of the production, manufacture, sale or delivery of the [avgas].” The increased production led to increased amounts of acid waste that overwhelmed existing reprocessing facilities. The Companies contracted to dispose of the acid waste at the McColl site in Fullerton, California.In 1991, the United States and California sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, seeking to require the Companies to pay cleanup costs. The Ninth Circuit held that the government was 100% liable for the cost of cleaning up the benzol waste (about 5.5% of the waste) at the McColl site. The Companies have borne nearly all of the clean-up costs incurred since 1994; they submitted a contract termination claim, seeking reimbursement. The Claims Court ultimately found the government liable for all cleanup costs at the McColl site and awarded the Companies $99,509,847.32 for costs incurred through November 2015. The government paid. Remediation at McColl remains ongoing. The Companies sought damages incurred after November 2015. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the government is liable for those costs plus interest, rejecting arguments that res judicata bars the claims and that the Claims Court did not have jurisdiction under the Contract Settlement Act of 1944. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) issued a solicitation for the "Deweyville" project, consisting of reconstructing approximately 12 miles of road running through Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The FHA provided a Waste Site Report, which identified sites that a contractor could use to dispose of waste materials and provided access to the “Categorical Exclusion,” prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321–70.2, which stated that waste sites are expected to be sourced at existing quarries identified in the Waste Site Report. The solicitation placed responsibility for licenses and permits on the contractor, including Clean Water Act permits, 33 U.S.C. 1344, and purchasing wetland mitigation credits. Kiewit’s successful bid included approximately $1,000,000 for wetland mitigation fees. Kiewit requested an equitable adjustment for the cost of purchasing mitigation credits for the wetlands it encountered at government-designated waste sites. The Claims Court upheld the denial of that request.The Federal Circuit reversed. The contract documents dictate that, unless a contractor decided to expand the government-designated waste sites, “[n]o further analysis of the environmental impacts of” such sites would be necessary. That the FHA, during the NEPA process, had already assessed the project’s effects on wetlands bolstered Kiewit’s reasonable conclusion that it would not need to conduct further wetlands analysis at designated waste disposal areas. Kiewit reasonably interpreted the documents to mean what they say—that no further environmental impacts analysis would be required if a contractor chose to dispose of waste at government-designated sites. The FHA effected a constructive contract change when it required Kiewit to perform wetland delineation at those sites. View "Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Mittelstadt’s Richland County, Wisconsin land was enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), from 1987-2006. CRP participants agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production in return for annual rental payments from the USDA. In 2006, the agency denied Mittelstadt’s application to re-enroll. After exhausting his administrative appeals, he sued under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 701, and asserting a breach of contract. The district court entered judgment in favor of the agency. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under the regulations governing the CRP, the USDA has broad discretion to evaluate offers of enrollment in the program on a competitive basis by considering the environmental benefits of a producer’s land relative to its costs. Given the agency’s wide latitude, the Farm Services Agency did not abuse its discretion when it denied re-enrollment of Mittelstadt’s land under a new definition of “mixed hardwoods.” Because he never entered a new contract with the agency, there was no breach of contract. View "Mittelstadt v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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In 1942-1943, the Government contracted with the Oil Companies to purchase aviation gasoline, vital to the war effort, permitting a profit margin “between 6% and 7%.” The manufacture of avgas from crude oil uses a 98% purity sulfuric acid as a catalyst in alkylation, a process that dilutes the sulfuric acid such that it turns it into “spent alkylation acid,” which may be used to catalyze the alkylation process again following purification; produce non-avgas petroleum by-products; or be disposed of. If spent alkylation acid is used to produce other petroleum by-products, it becomes "acidic sludge," a secondary waste with a lesser percentage of acid content that can be used to manufacture fertilizer, burned, or disposed of. Unable to reprocess the increased amount of spent alkylation acid given the prioritization of production, the Companies dumped spent alkylation acid and acid sludge in California: 12 percent of the waste was spent alkylation acid, and 82.5% was acid sludge. In 1991, the Government and California sued the Companies under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, for costs of cleaning up the disposal site. The Companies countersued. After years of litigation, the Claims Court granted the Companies partial summary judgment to prevent discovery into insurance settlements; denied the Government’s motion for leave to assert counterclaims in fraud; held that the Government was liable for clean-up costs for nonbenzol waste--$99,509,847.32, including accrued interest. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the Claims Court failed to allocate between recoverable and nonrecoverable costs, wrongfully admitted stipulations to calculate damages, and wrongly refused to allow proof of double recovery by insurance settlements. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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TDY filed a complaint under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9613(f)(1), seeking contribution from the government for its equitable share of the cleanup costs. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of judgment in favor of the United States, which allocated 100 percent of past and future CERCLA costs to TDY. The panel agreed with the district court that some deviation from the allocation affirmed in Shell Oil Co., 294 F.3d at 1049, and Cadillac Fairview, 299 F.3d at 1022–23, was warranted by distinguishing facts. However, the panel held that encumbering a military contractor with 100 percent of CERCLA cleanup costs that were largely incurred during war-effort production was a 180 degree departure from the panel's prior case law, and the out-of-circuit authority that the district court relied upon did not warrant such a sharp deviation. In this case, the district court did not adequately consider the parties' lengthy course of dealings and the government's requirement that TDY use two of the hazardous chemicals at issue. Accordingly, the court remanded for additional proceedings. View "TDY Holdings v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Oak Ridge, Tennessee uranium-enrichment facilities for the Manhattan Project, the World War II effort to build the first atomic bomb, have been inactive since the mid-1980s. The Department of Energy has worked to clean up the hazardous waste and hired Bechtel, a global engineering and construction firm. Bechtel hired Eagle to help decontaminate the complex, which required the demolition of buildings and equipment across the 2,200-acre complex and removal of radioactive nuclear waste, followed by decontamination of the soil and groundwater to make the site safe for redevelopment. Eagle’s work proved significantly more challenging and expensive than either party anticipated. Their contract allowed Bechtel to make changes; if those changes caused Eagle’s costs to increase, Bechtel was to make equitable adjustments in price and time for performance. Eight years after completing its work, Eagle filed suit, seeking compensation for its extra work and for excess waste that Eagle removed. The district court awarded Eagle the full amount of each request, plus interest and attorney’s fees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the award of damages and attorney’s fees, but remanded so that the court can recalculate the interest to which Eagle is entitled under the Tennessee Prompt Pay Act. View "Eagle Supply & Manufacturing L.P. v. Bechtel Jacobs Co." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the United States challenges its liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-75, for a portion of the cost of cleaning up hazardous substances at three California facilities owned by Lockheed. The government acknowledges its own share of CERCLA liability and also that it agreed to reimburse Lockheed’s share via overhead charges on unrelated contracts. At issue is whether the government has a valid claim that the particular mechanism by which the United States will pay its share of the costs of environmental remediation under CERCLA interacts with the parties’ agreed-upon contract-based reimbursement method in a way that impermissibly requires the government to make double payment. The court concluded that the district court’s CERCLA judgment did not create any double recovery and the court rejected the government's arguments to the contrary; the government's protest that the crediting mechanism does not help, but instead harms it further, is unavailing; even assuming the court was in a position to review the equities of the parties’ own choice in their Billing Agreement to resort to the indirect-cost billing and crediting mechanism and their apparent decision to use that mechanism for payment and crediting of future costs, the government has not clearly identified how the crediting mechanism is a source of inequity; and, at this juncture, on appeal from the district court’s judgment imposing no liability on the government for past costs, section 114(b) simply is not implicated. Because the all of the government's claims fail, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Lockheed Martin Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Trona is a sodium carbonate compound that is processed into soda ash or baking soda. Because oil and gas development posed a risk to the extraction of trona and trona worker safety, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the leasing of federal public land for mineral development, indefinitely suspended all oil and gas leases in the mechanically mineable trona area (MMTA) of Wyoming. The area includes 26 pre-existing oil and gas leases owned by Barlow. Barlow filed suit, alleging that the BLM’s suspension of oil and gas leases constituted a taking of Barlow’s interests without just compensation and constituted a breach of both the express provisions of the leases and their implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the contract claims on the merits and of the takings claim as unripe. BLM has not repudiated the contracts and Barlow did not establish that seeking a permit to drill would be futile. View "Barlow & Haun, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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KIF is a Tennessee coal-fired plant generating electricity. In 2008, a KIF coal-ash containment dike failed, spilling 5.4 million cubic yards of coal-ash sludge over 300 acres of adjacent land. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded, pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan. EPA delegated authority to TVA, 42 U.S.C. 9604(a)-(b). TVA engaged Jacobs as the prime contractor for planning and oversight of remediation. Jacobs provided a Site Wide Safety and Health Plan that applies to all construction at the site, and to CERCLA remediation activities in accordance with EPA’s Standard Operating Safety Guide. The Plaintiffs worked on the KIF remediation and, in 2013, sued, alleging that Jacobs improperly monitored fly ash; inadequately trained workers about hazards of inhaling toxic fly ash; inadequately monitored their medical conditions; denied requests for respirators and dust masks; exposed them to high concentrations of flyash toxic constituents; and fraudulently concealed that exposure. The district court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that Jacobs was entitled to government-contractor immunity as a corollary of the discretionary-function exception to the Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2674. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that such immunity is not jurisdictional and that the court should have considered a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. View "Adkisson v. Jacobs Eng'g Grp, Inc" on Justia Law

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In 1943, Congress approved a Compact between Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado to apportion the “virgin water originating in” the Republican River Basin. In 1998, Kansas filed an original action in the Supreme Court contending that Nebraska’s increased groundwater pumping was subject to the Compact to the extent that it depleted stream flow in the Basin. The Court agreed. Negotiations resulted in a 2002 Settlement, which identified the Accounting Procedures by which the states would measure stream flow depletion, and thus consumption, due to groundwater pumping. The Settlement reaffirmed that “imported water,” brought into the Basin by human activity, would not count toward consumption. In 2007, Kansas claimed that Nebraska had exceeded its allocation. Nebraska responded that the Accounting Procedures improperly charged it for imported water and requested that the Accounting Procedures be modified. The Court appointed a Special Master, whose report concluded that Nebraska “knowingly failed” to comply, recommended that Nebraska disgorge part of its gains in addition to paying damages, and recommended denying an injunction and reforming the Accounting Procedures. The Supreme Court adopted the recommendations. Nebraska failed to establish adequate compliance mechanisms, given a known substantial risk that it would violate Kansas’s rights; Nebraska was warned each year that it had exceeded its allotment. Because of the higher value of water on Nebraska’s farmland than on Kansas’s, Nebraska could take Kansas’s water, pay damages, and still benefit. The disgorgement award is sufficient to deter future breaches. Kansas failed to demonstrate a “cognizable danger of recurrent violation” necessary to obtain an injunction. Amending the Accounting Procedures is necessary to prevent serious inaccuracies from distorting intended apportionment. View "Kansas v. Nebraska" on Justia Law