Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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TVA, wholly owned by the U.S. government, 16 U.S.C. 831, operates Tennessee's Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant. A containment dike that retained coal-ash sludge failed in 2008, causing 5.4 million cubic yards of coal-ash sludge to spill to adjacent property. TVA and the EPA responded under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan. TVA, as the lead agency, engaged Jacobs as its “prime contractor providing project planning, management, and oversight,” including evaluating potential hazards to human health and safety. Jacobs submitted a Safety and Health Plan. More than 60 of Jacobs’s former employees sued, claiming that they were exposed to coal ash and particulate “fly ash” during this cleanup. The suits were consolidated.The district court denied Jacobs’s motions seeking derivative discretionary-function immunity, reasoning that Jacobs would be entitled to immunity only if it adhered to its contract and there were genuine disputes of material fact as to whether Jacobs acted within the scope of its authority. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs but did not designate any particular theory, as listed in the jury instructions, for which Jacobs could be held liable, broadly finding that Jacobs “failed to adhere to the terms of its contract," or the Plan. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Jacobs is immune from suit only if TVA is immune; TVA would not have been immune from suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims raise either “inconsistency” or “grave-interference” concerns. View "Greg Adkisson v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc" on Justia Law

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USN4U brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, alleging that Wolf Creek and its employees submitted falsely inflated project estimates to NASA for facilities maintenance, resulting in the negotiation of fraudulently induced, exorbitant contract prices. USN4U alleged that “[t]he Government paid Wolf Creek and its union employees for labor not actually performed,” described specific projects, and alleged that when Wolf Creek performed NASA projects, workgroup leads instructed “participating union employee[s]” to falsely report their labor hours to “justify the inflated [labor] estimate.” USN4U identified several Wolf Creek employees who were allegedly active members of the fraudulent schemeCiting NASA’s subsequent decision to pay the invoices and continue to contract with Wolf Creek, and the government’s decision not to intervene in USN4U’s claim, the district court dismissed the suit.The Sixth Circuit reversed. USN4U adequately alleged fraud. NASA asked Wolf Creek for estimates and always awarded the contracts for the quoted amount, which could indicate that NASA trusted and relied upon the purported accuracy of Wolf Creek’s estimates. NASA plausibly would not have agreed to pay Wolf Creek the quoted amount if NASA knew that it was being grossly overcharged. View "USN4U, LLC v. Wolf Creek Federal Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The 1938 Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act prioritized purchasing products from suppliers that employed blind individuals; 41 U.S.C. 8501–06, establishes a procurement system in which the government procures certain commodities and services from nonprofit agencies that employ the blind or otherwise severely disabled. The “AbilityOne Program” regulations govern the procurement system. 41 C.F.R. 51 and reiterate the Program's mandatory nature. The DLA, within the Defense Department, issued a Solicitation that contemplated awards for a Rifleman Set with Tactical Assault Panel (TAP) and Advanced TAP (ATAP). Before an ATAP award was made, SEKRI, a nonprofit agency qualified as a mandatory source of ATAP under the AbilityOne Program, sought an injunction prohibiting the federal government from procuring ATAP from any other source.The Claims Court dismissed for lack of standing, reasoning that SEKRI cannot claim to be a prospective bidder because the solicitation period had ended and the only action SEKRI took before filing its complaint was contacting DLA, through a third party, to inform DLA that SEKRI was a mandatory ATAP source. SEKRI did not submit a bid before the deadline despite DLA’s invitation. The Federal Circuit reversed. SEKRI qualifies as a prospective bidder for standing purposes under the Tucker Act. Given DLA’s awareness during the bidding process that SEKRI is the mandatory ATAP source, SEKRI has not waived its right to bring its bid protest action under the “Blue & Gold” standard. View "SEKRI, Inc. v. United States" 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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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the trial court and remanded this case for further remand to the superior court with instructions to reinstate its earlier order granting summary judgment in favor of the Attorney General, holding that the New Hanover County Board of Education's amended complaint did not suffice to support a claim pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 147-76.1.This case arose from the Board of Education's challenge to the Attorney General administration of an environmental enhancement grant program funded by payments made by Smithfield Foods, Inc. and its subsidiaries pursuant to an agreement between the companies and the Attorney General. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Attorney General and dismissed the Board of Education's allegations that the payments received from the Smithfield companies under the agreement constituted civil penalties that should have been made available to public schools pursuant to N.C. Const. Art. IX, 7. The Supreme Court upheld the trial court's judgment, holding that the court of appeals erred by concluding that the Board of Education’s complaint sufficed to support a claim for relief pursuant to section 147-76.1. View "New Hanover County Board of Education v. Stein" on Justia Law

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Southern Power and Cleveland County, North Carolina executed an “Incentive Development Agreement” in July 2007, providing that if Southern built and operated a natural gas plant — a decision left to Southern’s sole discretion — the county would make substantial cash payments to Southern. The North Carolina legislature enacted a new law (Subsection H) 37 days later, imposing more stringent requirements on such agreements, including a mandate that they include a recapture provision allowing a municipality to recover cash incentives already paid if the private entity breaches the agreement. In November-December 2008, Southern secured contracts to supply utility companies with electricity produced at the plant. Southern then asked the county to reaffirm its commitment to the Agreement. Cleveland County adopted a resolution at its January 6, 2009, meeting stating that it was committed to the incentive grants. Southern broke ground on the plant in October 2009 and began commercial operations in December 2012. Cleveland County, however, refused to pay Southern any cash incentives, arguing that the Agreement failed to comply with Subsection H.The district court dismissed the case as barred by North Carolina governmental immunity. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Cleveland county never waived its governmental immunity from suit. View "Southern Power Co. v. Cleveland County" on Justia Law

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Childs leased military family housing at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, which was owned by SDFH, a public-private venture created by statute, in which the U.S. Navy is a minority LLC member. Lincoln managed the property. Childs reported water and mold problems to SDFH and Lincoln. The problems were not resolved. SDFH and Lincoln moved to dismiss Childs's subsequent lawsuit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing they were government contractors acting at the direction of the federal government, and therefore had derivative sovereign immunity. The district court denied their motion.The Ninth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The district court’s order was not immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine, under which an order that does not terminate the litigation is nonetheless treated as final if it conclusively determines the disputed question, resolves an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. While the first two prongs were satisfied, the denial of derivative sovereign immunity was not effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment because denying an immediate appeal would not imperil a substantial public interest. The public interest underlying derivative sovereign immunity is extending the federal government’s immunity from liability, in narrow circumstances, to government agents carrying out the federal government’s directions. That interest could be vindicated after trial. View "Childs v. San Diego Family Housing LLC" on Justia Law

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Bird and other blind vendors filed a formal complaint with Oregon Commission for the Blind (OCB) seeking arbitration, prospective relief, and attorney’s fees as a consequence of OCB’s alleged mishandling of vending contracts and representation of blind vendors’ interests. The arbitration panel denied relief. The district court held that sovereign immunity did not apply to an arbitration panel’s decision under the Randolph-Sheppard Act (RSA), which creates a cooperative federal-state program that gives preference to blind applicants for vending licenses at federal facilities, 20 U.S.C. 107, and that the Eleventh Amendment did not protect OCB from liability for damages. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Neither the RSA nor the parties’ operating agreements unequivocally waived a state’s sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages, attorney’s fees, or costs. Citing the Supreme Court’s 2011 "Sossamon" decision, the court rejected a “constructive waiver” argument, reasoning that a waiver of sovereign immunity must be explicit. An agreement to arbitrate all disputes simply did not unequivocally waive sovereign immunity from liability for monetary damages. The operating agreements incorporated the text of the RSA and contained no express waiver of immunity from money damages. Because no provision of the RSA or the operating agreements provided for attorney’s fees, Bird was not entitled to attorney’s fees. View "Bird v. Oregon Commission for the Blind" on Justia Law

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Ingham, Jackson, and Calhoun County, Michigan (collectively, the Counties) filed an action alleging that they had a right to receive a decade’s worth of surplus contributions (surplus equity) made to the Michigan County Road Commission Self-Insurance Pool (the Pool). The Counties believed they were the successors in interest to their dissolved road commissions and, as such, were entitled to the surplus equity that the commissions might have received had they not been dissolved and withdrawn from the Pool. Jackson County made one other argument: because its road commission never formally withdrew from the Pool, the county said it had a right to receive surplus equity on the same terms as any current member. The Pool disagreed, contending the Counties had no right to surplus equity because the documents governing the Pool’s operations and its contracts with its various members provided the Pool with discretion in distributing surplus equity. This included, the Pool contended, the power to exclude former members should a distribution be made. The Court of Appeals sided with the Counties, holding that the Counties were the successors in interest to their dissolved road commissions and, as a matter of public policy, the Counties had a right to receive surplus equity for fiscal years in which their road commissions were members of the Pool. The Court of Appeals also determined that the dissolution of the Jackson County Road Commission did not disqualify Jackson County from membership in the Pool, and therefore, the county could receive surplus equity regardless of any public-policy considerations. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed. The Court agreed with the Pool that the Counties did not have a contractual right to receive surplus equity and that such an arrangement was not contrary to public policy. For Jackson County, the Court held that the dissolution of its county road commission did not transfer membership in the Pool from the road commission to the county itself, so the Pool could exclude Jackson County from post-dissolution distributions. View "County Of Ingham v. Michigan County Road Commission Self-Insurance Pool" 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