Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Starting in 2002, Smith sought a place on Beloit’s “tow list,” to be called when police required towing services. Chief Wilson denied these requests. Smith, who is African-American, attributed his exclusion to racial bias. In 2008, Wilson’s subordinates made allegations that, in everyday conversation, Wilson referred to “niggers,” “towel heads,” and “spics.” Several officers specifically recalled that Wilson used such slurs about Smith. Smith filed claims under Title VI, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, 42 U.S.C.1981, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. A jury returned a verdict finding that race was a “motivating factor” in Wilson’s decision not to include Smith on the list, but that Wilson would not have added Smith to the list even if race had played no part in Wilson’s thinking. The district court concluded that the mixed verdict precluded relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the jury’s second finding (that his company would have been left off the tow list regardless of race) was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence; that Smith was entitled to some relief because he succeeded in demonstrating that improper racial considerations at least partially motivated Wilson; and that instruction on the allocation of the burden of persuasion was incorrect. View "Smith v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature passed Act 10, a budget repair bill proposed by recently-elected Governor Walker. Act 10 significantly altered state public employee labor laws, creating two classes of public employees: “public safety employees” and all others, “general employees.” The Act prohibited general employees from collectively bargaining on issues other than “base wages,” imposed rigorous recertification requirements on them, and prohibited their employers from deducting union dues from paychecks. The Act did not subject public safety employees or their unions to the same requirements. The enactment was controversial and received nationwide publicity. Unions filed suit, challenging the limitations on collective bargaining, the recertification requirements, and a prohibition on payroll deduction of dues, under the Equal Protection Clause. They also challenged the payroll deduction provision under the First Amendment. The district court invalidated Act 10’s recertification and payroll deduction provisions, but upheld the limitation on collective bargaining. The Seventh Circuit held that the Act is valid in its entirety. Act 10 is viewpoint-neutral and, while “publicly administered payroll deductions for political purposes can enhance the unions’ exercise of First Amendment rights, [states are] under no obligation to aid the unions in their political activities.” The classifications and recertification requirement survive rational basis review. View "WI Educ. Ass'n v. Walker" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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Medicare pays teaching hospitals for work by residents when a teaching physician supervises. During the 1990s, HHS concluded that many hospitals were billing for unsupervised services and began to audit invoices. There was also a GAO report and private litigation: qui tam suits under the False Claims Act, allowing relators to collect a bounty. Under 31 U.S.C. 3730(e)(4)(A), suits cannot be based upon public disclosure of allegations or transactions in public agencies’ official reports unless the relator is an original source of information. A prior case concluded that the 1998 GAO report and similar public documents disclosed that billing for unsupervised work was common practice. The district court dismissed a suit filed against a teaching hospital in 2004, claiming to describe conduct, such as inadequate supervision, not previously disclosed. The Seventh Circuit vacated. No one who read the GAO report, or followed the progress of the audits, would suspect that Rush University was misrepresenting "immediate availability" of teaching physicians during concurrently scheduled procedures. The complaint alleged a kind of deceit that the GAO report does not attribute to any teaching hospital. View "Goldberg v. Rush Univ. Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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The State of Illinois, facing a significant and unprecedented fiscal deficit, brokered a series of compensation agreements with the exclusive bargaining representative for 40,000 state employees. The parties trimmed several hundred million dollars in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 by deferring general wage increases and instituting a voluntary furlough program. Despite these measures, the fiscal year 2012 budget did not contain sufficient appropriations for deferred wage increases due employees of 14 state agencies. The state froze the pay of those employees, repudiating agreements with the union. The district court dismissed a suit that alleged violations of the Contracts Clause and the Equal Protection Clause and state law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the Contracts Clause claim barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The court noted that the state’s actions did not bar a breach of contract suit. There was a rational relationship between those actions and a legitimate governmental purpose, precluding an equal protection claim. View "Council 31 of the Am. Fed. of St., Cty. & Mun. Employees v. Quinn" on Justia Law

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Following published stories about an investigation of their business practices, principals of a waste-management company improved their chances of winning a bid for a contract to refurbish garbage carts for the City of Chicago by slashing their bid. They encouraged other companies to bid in hopes of being hired as a subcontractor if another company won the bid. Each bidder had to certify that it had not entered into any agreement with any other bidder or prospective bidder relating to the price, nor any agreement restraining free competition among bidders. The company won the bid, and after a Justice Department investigation for antitrust violations, the principals were convicted of mail and wire fraud. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that the purpose of "colluding" with other potential bidders had not been to prevent them from underbidding but to provide insurance against the bid being rejected based on the earlier investigation. There was no harm as a result of the company encouraging additional bidders. View "United States v. Fenzl" on Justia Law

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Illinois law provides that workers at public works projects must be paid not less than general prevailing rate of hourly wages for work of a similar character on non-federal public works in the locality, 820 ILCS 130/3. The public body awarding the contract is required to determine prevailing wage, but the Department of Labor conducts annual investigations of prevailing wage for each type of construction and demolition work in each locality and, in practice, public bodies simply adopt that determination. Landscape contractors who do non-federal public works projects sued the Department, arguing that it violated the due process clause by delegating ascertainment of prevailing wage to private entities, namely a labor union and contractors with which it has a collective bargaining agreement. The district judge granted summary judgment in favor of the Department. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the contractors did not object to the prevailing wage determination. View "Beary Landscaping, Inc. v. Costigan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, certified by the city as a minority-owned business eligible for favored treatment, sells a variety of products. The city is virtually its only customer. Early in 2005 the city began to suspect that plaintiff was a broker rather than a wholesaler, which would make it ineligible to bid for contracts as an MBE. Plaintiff had only six employees, though it claimed to have a warehouse. The city never completed its investigation, so plaintiff retains its certification. The city also believed that the company had shorted it on a shipment of aluminum sign blanks, and ultimately debarred it from dealing with the city. The company sued immediately and obtained a temporary restraining order; debarment was in effect for only eight days. The city abandoned its attempt to debar the company. The district court then ruled in favor of defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Claims by the principals in the company were frivolous, given that they continued to be employed by the company. The temporary diminution in business did not amount to destruction of the company nor did it constitute retaliation. Plaintiff did not prove breach of contract. View "Chicago United Indus. v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In 2000 the Tribe received funding under the Hazardous Fuels Reduction program, created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to gradually reintroduce the beneficial aspects of fire into ecosystems such as densely-wooded forests. After obtaining BIA approval, the Tribe began HFR work in December 2000, and began invoicing BIA in 2001. Reports of diversions of funds prompted an inspection. Inspectors concluded that the invoices overstated the work done and that some of the work actually increased the risk of fire. A second inspection led to the conclusion that the defendants were submitting false invoices. After further investigation and failed settlement negotiations, the government filed a False Claims Act suit, 31 U.S.C. 3729-33, in 2007. After a nine-day trial, the defendants prevailed; they moved for attorney's fees under Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), or sanctions under Rule 37(c)(2). The district court denied both motions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, acknowledging its discomfort with apparent "government overreaching." The government’s position throughout trial was substantially justified, so the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the EAJA motion. View "United States v. Pecore" on Justia Law