Justia Government Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Nutt v. United States
Nutt was hit and killed by a U.S. Army soldier driving an Army truck in 1983. His family filed a claim under 28 U.S.C. 2674, the Federal Tort Claims Act. A 1985 Agreement provided that the government “agrees to purchase annuities which will pay:” $60,000 per year to Cynthia; lump-sum payments on specified anniversaries to Cynthia; lump-sum payments on specified anniversaries to James; plus $240,000 to Cynthia and a payment to the Nutts’ attorneys. The Agreement provided that “[t]he payments by the United States set forth above shall operate as full and complete discharge of all payments to be made to and of all claims which might be asserted.” The government purchased a structured annuity ELNY. ELNY went into receivership in 1991. In 2011, the New York State Liquidation Bureau informed the Nutts that their benefit payments would be reduced. In 2013, they began receiving payments reduced to approximately 45% of their expected benefits. They were informed that, as of 2015, they would not be receiving the anniversary payments. The Nutts alleged breach of the agreement. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal, finding that the government “was not obligated to guarantee or insure that annuity; its obligation ended at the initial purchase of the ELNY annuity.” View "Nutt v. United States" on Justia Law
United States v. Gorski
These interlocutory appeals were from a district court order that, inter alia, compelled a law firm (Mintz Levin) to produce documents relating to a fraud allegedly committed by David Gorski in his operation of Legion Construction, Inc. in order to qualify for and obtain government contracts. Gorski and Legion appealed the portion of the order that required attorney-client privileged documents connected with Mintz Levin’s representation of Legion to be produced under the crime-fraud exception. The government cross-appealed the portion of the district court decision to exclude communications between Gorski and his personal attorney from the production order. The First Circuit (1) dismissed Gorski’s appeal for want of appellate jurisdiction, holding that the Court did not have jurisdiction over Gorski’s appeal but did have jurisdiction over Legion’s appeal and the government’s cross-appeal; (2) affirmed the production order as to Mintz Levin, holding that a prima facie case for the crime-fraud exception had been made; and (3) vacated the district court’s decision to exclude Gorski’s communications with his personal attorney from the production order, holding that the district court employed incorrect legal reasoning with regard to these documents. View "United States v. Gorski" on Justia Law
Adkisson v. Jacobs Eng’g Grp, Inc
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
Hill v. City of Horn Lake
The City of Horn Lake contracted with Phillips Construction Company and its owner Michael Phillips to work on a sewer project. Two employees of Phillips, Bertram Hill and David Mooneyhan, were working near the bottom of a trench that was seventeen feet deep when the walls of the trench suddenly collapsed. Mooneyhan was killed, and Hill was injured. Mooneyhan's beneficiaries and Hill (collectively "Plaintiffs") sued the City for Phillips' negligence under respondeat superior and also alleged that the City had negligently hired Phillips. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the City. Plaintiffs appealed. Finding that the City only acted in a supervisory role over the project, the Supreme Court concluded that was not enough to trigger a master-servant relationship for the elements of respondeat superior. The Court found that the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City was proper, and therefore affirmed the judgment. View "Hill v. City of Horn Lake" on Justia Law
Patton v. Worthington Associates
In this case, the trial and intermediate courts determined that a general contractor was not a statutory employer relative to an employee of its subcontractor. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on the tension between such rulings and the Supreme Court’s longstanding jurisprudence that conventional subcontract scenarios serve as paradigm instances in which the statutory-employment concept applies. Appellant Worthington Associates, Inc., was hired as the general contractor for an addition to a Levittown church. Worthington, in turn, entered into a standard-form subcontract with Patton Construction, Inc., of which Appellee Earl Patton was the sole shareholder and an employee, to perform carpentry. While working at the construction site, Mr. Patton fell and sustained injuries to his back. Subsequently, the Pattons commenced a civil action against Worthington contending that the company failed to maintain safe conditions at the jobsite. Worthington moved for summary judgment on the basis that it was Mr. Patton’s statutory employer and, accordingly, was immune from suit. After the motion was denied, trial proceeded during which Worthington reasserted its claim to immunity in unsuccessful motions for a nonsuit and a directed verdict. "Having set up an errant dichotomy for the jurors, the [trial] court proceeded to instruct them concerning the differences between independent contractors and employees at common law. In doing so, the trial court compounded the underlying conceptual difficulties it had engendered, because [the Supreme] Court has long held that, for the salient purposes under Sections 203 and 302(b) of the WCA, the term 'independent contractor' carries a narrower meaning than it does at common law." The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Pattons in the amount of $1.5 million in the aggregate. Post-trial motions were denied, and Worthington appealed. A Superior Court panel affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Mr. Patton’s relationship with the owner here was undeniably a derivative one, arising per a conventional subcontract with a general contractor (Worthington). "[U]nder longstanding precedent, neither Patton Construction, Inc., nor Mr. Patton was an 'independent contractor' relative to Worthington." View "Patton v. Worthington Associates" on Justia Law
Harris v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc.
During the Iraq War, the U.S. military established the Radwaniyah Palace Complex as a base of operations. Staff Sergeant Maseth was stationed there and assigned to live in a barracks building that predated the war and was known to have significant electrical problems. In 2008, Staff Sergeant Maseth died by electrocution while taking a shower in the barracks. The shower was electrified by an ungrounded, unbonded water pump. Maseth’s estate and his parents sued KBR, a military contractor hired to perform maintenance services at the barracks. The district court dismissed, holding that the case was nonjusticiable and, alternatively, that the claims were preempted by the federal policy embodied in the Federal Tort Claims Act’s combatant activities exception, 28 U.S.C. 2680(j). The Third Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the claims are not preempted by the combatant activities exception and reasoning that the political question issue requires a preliminary determination of which state’s law controls. View "Harris v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc." on Justia Law
Berrien v. United States
Berrien worked for a civilian contractor (TECOM) at a military base in Michigan. He was fatally injured by a gutter that fell from the liquor store on the base while he was working alone, behind the store. The district court awarded $1.18 million in damages for failure to warn, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1). The Sixth Circuit reversed. Because the Act does not waive the immunity of the United States for acts of independent contractors, liability could only be based on the negligence of government employees. There was no evidence that government employees actually knew of the dangerous condition of the liquor store, so that, under applicable Michigan law, any liability for failure to warn an invitee of a dangerous condition would have to have been based on a negligent failure to discover the dangerous condition. Even though the United States retained the right to conduct spot checks under its contract with TECOM, this right does not subject it to FTCA liability. View "Berrien v. United States" on Justia Law
Ruppel v. CBS Corp.
Ruppel sued CBS in Illinois alleging CBS’s predecessor, Westinghouse, caused the mesothelioma from which he suffers. Westinghouse had included asbestos in the turbines it supplied to the U.S. Navy, and Ruppel was allegedly exposed to it during his Naval service and later when he worked on an aircraft carrier as a civilian. CBS removed the case under the federal officer removal statute, which permits removal of certain suits where a defendant that acted under a federal officer has a colorable federal defense, 28 U.S.C. 1442(a)(1). Ruppel moved to remand and, without allowing response, the district court granted the motion. The district court concluded Ruppel only sued CBS for failing to warn about the dangers of asbestos for which there is no federal defense. The Seventh Circuit reversed. CBS’s relationship with Ruppel arises solely out of CBS’s duties to the Navy. It also has a colorable argument for the government contractor defense, which immunizes government contractors when they supply products with specifications approved by the government. View "Ruppel v. CBS Corp." on Justia Law
Couch v. United States
Couch was employed as a truck driver by B&B, a private company that has Highway Contract Route contracts with the Postal Service. While Couch was making a delivery to a postal facility in Illinois, a U.S. Postal Service employee ran over his foot with a forklift. Two years later, Couch died, allegedly as a result of complications from the injury. After her husband died, plaintiff sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which provides a cause of action for personal injuries negligently caused by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1). The district court granted the United States summary judgment, finding that Couch was a “borrowed employee,” so that workers’ compensation would provide Couch’s only remedy against both the borrowing and lending employers. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The private trucking company does not merely “lend employees” to the Postal Service but provides mail transportation and delivery services. The company trains, equips, pays, and supervises its own employees using its own equipment to provide these services. View "Couch v. United States" on Justia Law
Shrivinski v. United States Coast Guard, et al.
In this case, a subcontractor to a subcontractor to a prime contractor with a federal agency brought a procedural due process claim against that agency and tort actions against a separate contractor for allegedly causing the termination of his at-will consulting agreement. The court concluded that plaintiff's case involved both the wrong defendants and the wrong claims. Because permitting these claims to go forward would reward artful pleading and impermissibly constitutionalize state tort law, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants. View "Shrivinski v. United States Coast Guard, et al." on Justia Law