Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In this case, Fred Zackery sought access to confidential settlement agreements between the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Gadsden ("the Board") and various carpet and chemical manufacturers. Zackery requested these agreements under the Open Records Act. The Board had sued the manufacturers, alleging they contaminated the Board's raw water intake. The Board settled with all the manufacturers and planned to use the settlement funds to build and maintain a new water-treatment facility.Zackery, a citizen of Gadsden and a local radio station manager, intervened in the lawsuit specifically to request disclosure of the settlement agreements. The trial court granted his intervention but ruled that the Board didn't have to disclose the agreements until it had accepted a bid for the construction of the water-treatment facility. This decision was grounded in Alabama's Competitive Bid Law, which is designed to guard against corruption and favoritism in awarding contracts for public projects.The Supreme Court of Alabama upheld the trial court's decision, affirming that the immediate disclosure of the settlements could interfere with the competitive bid process, potentially driving bids upwards and leaving fewer funds for the long-term operation and maintenance of the new facility. This situation, the court reasoned, could cause rate hikes for the Board's customers. Therefore, the court concluded that an exception to the Open Records Act justified nondisclosure of the settlement agreements until the competitive-bid process was complete. View "Zackery v. Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Gadsden" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court judge dismissing the underlying declaratory judgment complaint in this declaratory judgment action regarding the scope of the Department of Housing and Community Development's (DHCD) authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7A, holding that dismissal was warranted.Plaintiffs - location housing authorities (LHAs) of various cities and towns, current and former executive directors of LHAs and others - sought a judgment declaring that DHCD exceeded its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7A by promulgating guidelines that govern contracts between an LHA and its executive director and making compliance with the guidelines a requirement to obtain contractual approval from DHCD. A superior court judge allowed DHCD's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that LHAs have authority to hire executive directors and "determine their qualifications, duties, and compensation, under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7. View "Fairhaven Housing Authority v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Stronghold and the city entered into a 2015 contract to renovate the Monterey Conference Center. Before filing a lawsuit asserting a claim for money or damages against a public entity, the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code 810) requires that a claim be presented to the entity. Without first presenting a claim to the city, Stronghold filed suit seeking declaratory relief regarding the interpretation of the contract, and asserting that the Act was inapplicable.Stronghold presented three claims to the city in 2017-2019, based on its refusal to approve change orders necessitated by purportedly excusable delays. Stronghold filed a fourth amended complaint, alleging breach of contract. The court granted the city summary judgment, reasoning that the declaratory relief cause of action in the initial complaint was, in essence, a claim for money or damages and that all claims in the operative complaint “lack merit” because Stronghold failed to timely present a claim to the city before filing suit.The court of appeal reversed. The notice requirement does not apply to an action seeking purely declaratory relief. A declaratory relief action seeking interpretation of a contract is not a claim for money or damages, even if the judicial interpretation sought may later be the basis for a separate claim for money or damages which would trigger the claim presentation requirement. View "Stronghold Engineering, Inc. v. City of Monterey" on Justia Law

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This appeal related to "electronic-bingo" operations conducted by the Department of Alabama Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States ("the VFW") at some of its Alabama posts. Travis Whaley and Randall Lovvorn contracted with the VFW to superintend and promote its electronic-bingo operations. Between 1997 and 2013, Whaley served the VFW as adjutant, commander, and quartermaster at different times. For his part, Lovvorn served as the VFW's accountant. The VFW contracted with G2 Operations, Inc. ("G2"), to conduct its electronic-bingo operations. Under contract, G2 agreed to conduct electronic-bingo operations at VFW posts throughout Alabama, and the VFW would receive 10% of the gross revenue. All the proceeds from electronic bingo were deposited into a VFW bank account. The VFW also entered into contracts with Whaley and Lovvorn, assigning them specific roles in its electronic-bingo operations. Several years later, after being notified of a tax penalty from the IRS, the VFW discovered a shortfall of $1,782,368.88 from what it should have received under its contracts with G2. The VFW filed a complaint asserting claims against G2 as well as additional claims against other parties, which were eventually whittled down throughout litigation until only claims against Whaley and Lovvorn remained. A jury reached a verdict against Whaley and Lovvorn on VFW's claims of breach of contract, fraudulent suppression, and conversion, awarding $1,782,368.88 in compensatory damages and $2,000,000 in punitive damages. Because the VFW's claims rely upon its own involvement in illegal transactions, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Whaley and Lovvorn. View "Whaley, et al. v. Dept. of Alabama Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States" on Justia Law

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Baldwin County Bridge Company, LLC ("BCBC"), filed suit against John Cooper in his official capacity as Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation ("ALDOT"), seeking to halt construction of a bridge that ALDOT had hired Scott Bridge Company, Inc. ("Scott Bridge"), to build over the Intracoastal Waterway in Baldwin County. That lawsuit spawned three matters before the Alabama Supreme Court. In the first, Cooper sought mandamus relief because the trial court entered an order compelling him to respond to certain discovery requests made by BCBC; he argued the information sought was protected from disclosure by the executive-privilege doctrine. On Cooper's motion, the Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the trial court's discovery order to allow the Court to consider Cooper's privilege argument. Meanwhile, the trial-court proceedings continued and, before the Supreme Court was able to rule on Cooper's mandamus petition, the trial court granted BCBC's motion for a preliminary injunction to halt construction of the bridge. Cooper appealed that injunction, arguing that it was unwarranted and that the $100,000 preliminary-injunction bond put up by BCBC was insufficient. Scott Bridge filed its own appeal challenging the preliminary injunction, while also arguing that the trial court erred by dismissing it from the case and by stating that it was not entitled to the protection of an injunction bond. After reviewing the briefs submitted by the parties in all three of these matters, the Supreme Court concluded BCBC's claim on which the preliminary injunction was based was barred by State immunity. Accordingly, the trial court had no subject-matter jurisdiction over that claim and the preliminary injunction had to be reversed. Although the Court ruled in favor of Cooper on this point, it nevertheless rejected his companion argument that the trial court should have been directed to increase the $100,000 preliminary-injunction bond on remand. The Court also rejected Scott Bridge's argument that that it was entitled to recover on the preliminary-injunction bond. Finally, because the discovery that Cooper sought to withhold based on executive privilege was being sought in conjunction with the claim that is barred by State immunity, the trial court's order compelling Cooper to produce that information was moot, as was Cooper's petition challenging that order. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The City and County of San Francisco (the City) owns and operates San Francisco International Airport (SFO or the Airport). Airlines for America (A4A) represents airlines that contract with the City to use SFO. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City enacted the Healthy Airport Ordinance (HAO), requiring the airlines that use SFO to provide employees with certain health insurance benefits. A4A filed this action in the Northern District of California, alleging that the City, in enacting the HAO, acted as a government regulator and not a market participant, and therefore the HAO is preempted by multiple federal statutes. The district court agreed to the parties’ suggestion to bifurcate the case to first address the City’s market participation defense. The district court held that the City was a market participant and granted its motion for summary judgment. A4A appealed.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court concluded that two civil penalty provisions of the HAO carry the force of law and thus render the City a regulator rather than a market participant. The court wrote that because these civil penalty provisions result in the City acting as a regulator, it need not determine whether the City otherwise would be a regulator under the Cardinal Towing two-part test set forth in LAX, 873 F.3d at 1080 View "AIRLINES FOR AMERICA V. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO" on Justia Law

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Ascendium Education Solutions (“Ascendium”) is a Program guarantor that previously charged debt-collection costs to defaulting Program borrowers who entered loan rehabilitation agreements. Ascendium challenged the Department of Education’s Rule, 34 C.F.R. Section 682.410(b)(2)(i), under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), arguing that the Department of Education and its Secretary (collectively, the “Department”) did not have statutory authority to promulgate the Rule because the Rule conflicts with the Act. The district court ruled that Ascendium lacked standing to challenge the Rule as it applies to borrowers who enter repayment agreements. But the district court held that the Rule exceeded the Department’s authority under the Act with respect to borrowers who enter rehabilitation agreements. Both Ascendium and the Department appealed.   The DC Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court concluded that Ascendium has standing to challenge the entirety of the Rule, that the Rule is consistent with the Act and therefore is lawful, and that the Rule is not arbitrary or capricious. The court explained that the Rule prohibits a guarantor from charging collection costs to a borrower who enters a repayment plan or a rehabilitation agreement during the initial default period: It implicitly deems such costs “unreasonable” under the circumstances. The court concluded that the Rule is consistent with the Act’s requirement that “reasonable” collection costs must be passed on to borrowers. Further, the court explained that the Department’s response to Ascendium’s comment adequately refuted Ascendium’s assumption that the purpose of the Rule should be to incentivize guarantors to enter rehabilitation agreements by allowing them to charge collection costs. View "Ascendium Education Solutions, Inc. v. Miguel Cardona" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court judge granting summary judgment in favor of BSC Companies, Inc., BSC Group, Inc., and the companies' president (collectively, BSC) in this action brought by BSC's former employees alleging claims under the Prevailing Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 26-27H, holding that the contracts at issue were not governed by the Act, and BSC was not required to pay its employees a prevailing wage pursuant to the contracts.At issue were two professional engineering services contracts awarded by the Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to BSC. The contracts were not competitively bid and were not awarded to the lowest bidder, unlike contracts for public works construction projects governed by the Act. Further, the contracts did not specify that BSC's employees would be paid at least a prevailing wage determined by the Department of Labor Standards. The superior court judge granted summary judgment to BSC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs were not entitled to a prevailing wage for their work under the professional services contracts. View "Metcalf v. BSC Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Johnson was the councilman in Cleveland’s Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood for 41 years. Jamison was his executive assistant. For years, Johnson used his position to fraudulently claim federal reimbursements for payments he never made. He also secured employment for his children in federally funded programs, although they were not legally eligible to work in such positions. Johnson deposited their earnings into his own account. In addition, Johnson fraudulently claimed a series of tax deductions. He encouraged and assisted his son Elijah in submitting falsified records for Elijah’s grand-jury testimony. Jamison assisted Johnson in these crimes. Johnson and Jamison were convicted on 15 charges, including federal program theft under 18 U.S.C. 371, 666(a)(1)(A) and (2); tax fraud, 26 U.S.C. 7206(2); and obstruction of justice, 18 U.S.C. 1512(b) and 1519. Johnson was sentenced to 72 months in prison. Jamison was sentenced to 60 months.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the district court’s loss calculations and to sentencing enhancements for being an organizer or leader of a criminal activity involving five or more participants, for using a minor, and for obstructing justice. The district court properly admitted “other acts” evidence of prior misuse of campaign funds. Any other errors in evidentiary rulings were harmless. View "United States v. Jamison" on Justia Law

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The 1996 E-Rate program (Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support program, Telecommunications Act 110 Stat. 56), is intended to keep telecommunications services affordable for schools and libraries in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. The program subsidizes services and requires providers to charge these customers rates less than or equal to the lowest rates they charge to similarly situated customers. Heath brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, alleging that Wisconsin Bell charged schools and libraries more than was allowed under the program, causing the federal government to pay more than it should have. The district court granted Wisconsin Bell summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. While Heath’s briefing and evidence focused more on which party bore the burden of proving violations than on identifying specific violations in his voluminous exhibits and lengthy expert report, Heath identified enough specific evidence of discriminatory pricing to allow a reasonable jury to find that Wisconsin Bell, acting with the required scienter, charged specific schools and libraries more than it charged similarly situated customers. It is reasonable to infer that government funds were involved and that if the government knew of actual overcharges, it would not approve claims. View "Heath v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc." on Justia Law