On April 18, 2023, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in two consolidated cases that have the potential to upend False Claims Act (FCA) litigation. Oral argument on both sides and questioning from the Justices indicated tensions and sincere disagreement over the complexities of applying the False Claims Act’s scienter element in areas of ambiguity.Continue Reading SCOTUS Signals Likely Reversal in SuperValu, Arguments Reflect Concerns over Application to Other FCA Cases
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are long-lasting chemicals that are quickly gaining notoriety for both their persistence in the environment and their ubiquity in water, air, and soil. Developed in the 1950s, PFAS are used in a wide range of products including firefighting foam, stain-resistant and water-repellant fabrics, nonstick cookware and many others. Concerns over PFAS contamination are mounting and the associated caselaw is growing. Federal contractors could be impacted by PFAS in two primary ways: first, contractors may face PFAS-related litigation resulting from the manufacture and distribution of affected products and second, contractors may have to adjust specifications to comply with the government’s shift away from products containing PFAS.
Continue Reading PFAS and Federal Contracting: What Contractors Should Know and Why
In Seventh Dimension, LLC v. United States, No. 21-2275C (May 11, 2022), the Court of Federal Claims provided detailed guidance concerning the question of “whether, and under what circumstances, the government may cancel a Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) part 15 procurement and start over from scratch.” Seventh Dimension, LLC was, as the court put it, “the last offeror standing in this contractor edition of Survivor” after filing multiple successful protests of an Army procurement. However, Seventh Dimension was unable to reap the benefits of its hard-fought success because the agency ultimately “decided to pull the plug on the show, cancelling the procurement following a two-year process.” Seventh Dimension challenged the agency’s cancellation decision as arbitrary and capricious, and the Court of Federal Claims agreed.
Continue Reading When can the government cancel a solicitation? 5 things contractors need to know.
In today’s world, there is a tendency to believe that everything must be preserved forever. The common belief is that documents, emails, text messages, etc. cannot be deleted because doing so may be viewed as spoliation (i.e., intentionally destroying relevant evidence). A party guilty of spoliation can be sanctioned, which can include an adverse inference that the lost information would have helped the other side. But that does not mean that contractors have to preserve every conceivable piece of information or data under all circumstances. There are key differences between routine document destruction (when done before receiving notice of potential claims or litigation) and spoliation.
Continue Reading The difference between routine document destruction and spoliation
The Military Housing Privatization Initiative was intended to address the availability and adequacy of housing for military service members and their families. As a result of the MHPI, approximately 99 percent of military family housing in the United States is now operated and maintained by private developers. MHPI developers have recently been the target of litigation seeking to hold them responsible for mold and other environmental contamination. Plaintiffs are not only seeking damages for personal injury. They are seeking class certification. In one case they are seeking injunctive relief that would require changes to how the MHPI project is managed.
In this post, we provide some background on the MHPI program, the environmental contamination litigation filed so far, and some perspective on the legal issues presented in these cases. We explain why MHPI developers have a basis to assert derivative sovereign immunity and why the federal enclave doctrine presents an obstacle to some state law claims. We also point out why plaintiffs may face insurmountable hurdles in achieving certification to proceed in a class action.
Continue Reading How MHPI developers can defend against class actions for environmental contamination
Arbitration is often seen as a way of getting a more predictable result in complex construction disputes. The subject matter expertise available with experienced arbitrators and the finality of the arbitration process itself are certainly important considerations. But resolving disputes in arbitration can sometimes lead to surprising results, even ones that might be inconsistent with the underlying contract or with applicable state law.
The Eighth Circuit’s recent decision in Beumer Corp. v. ProEnergy Services, LLC, No. 17-2862 (8th Cir. Aug. 9, 2018), is an example of such a case. The arbitrator in this case awarded attorney’s fee of nearly a million dollars more than the liability cap in the contract. Despite the possibility that this result was inconsistent with state law, the Eighth Circuit let the award stand.Continue Reading Why getting the wrong result in arbitration may be what you bought
Every government contract contains implied duties, such as the duty to cooperate and the duty of good faith and fair dealing. Such implied duties generally prohibit one party from interfering with the other’s performance or taking actions that undermine the other’s expected benefit of the bargain.
Implied duties offer important protections when an issue is not clearly addressed in the text of the agreement. But courts have been reluctant to apply them in a way that overrides express contract language. A party generally does not breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing, for example, simply by exercising a right that is expressly provided in the contract.
But the government does not have carte blanche. Even if there is express language that gives the government a certain right, the government cannot exercise that right unreasonably or in a way that interferes with the contractor’s performance. In Agility Public Warehousing Company KSCP v. Mattis, No. 2016-1265 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 4, 2017), for example, the Federal Circuit explained that the government can breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing even if its conduct is otherwise consistent with the express terms of a contract.
Claims for personal injuries that can be connected in some way to construction work often include allegations that the contractor was negligent. Even if the injured party sues only the property owner, the owner will often seek to pass this liability through to the contractor. In many states, such negligence claims are barred by the acceptance doctrine, which limits contractor liability to third parties for injuries that occur after the owner has accepted the work.
A recent decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals illustrates and applies this rule. In Wilson v Dura-Seal and Stripe, Inc., No. ED 104570 (Mo. Ct. App. Mar 21, 2017), the plaintiff alleged that she tripped in an area paved by Dura-Seal and Stripe, Inc. Dura-Seal paved a drive lane, but the paving did not extend all the way to the curb. The result was a gutter area and a resulting height differential. Ms. Wilson claimed she tripped on and because of the height differential. Ms. Wilson sued the school district for which Dura-Seal did the work. The school district then sued Dura-Seal.
The trial court granted summary judgment for Dura-Seal because the work had been accepted. The court of appeals affirmed. Under Missouri law, a contractor is not liable for third party personal injuries after the owner accepts the work. The acceptance doctrine is founded on the assumption that the owner has made a reasonably careful inspection of the work of the contractor and the owner knows of the defects, if any. The owner then “accepts the defects and negligence that caused them as his own.”
Continue Reading How the acceptance doctrine protects Missouri contractors from personal injury liability
Most court cases filed on the heels of a Department of Labor investigation focus on misconduct by a contractor. In that respect, the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Gate Guard Services, L.P. v. Perez, 792 F.3d 554 (5th Cir. 2015), is unusual. The case is the result of an action by a contractor challenging misconduct by the Department of Labor. According to the decision, DOL investigators and attorneys acted unethically, frivolously, and in bad faith. Ultimately, DOL was forced to close the investigation by making a $1.5 million payment to the contractor.
What happened? Gate Guard provides gate attendants at remote drilling sites for oilfield operators. The gate attendants remain at the drilling sites and record the license plates of vehicles entering and leaving the site. Because many locations are isolated, attendants often live on site and Gate Guard hires service technicians to deliver supplies to them. Gate Guard considers attendants to be independent contractors and pays them between $100 and $175 per day.
In July 2010, DOL investigator David Rapstine received a tip that Gate Guard had misclassified its gate attendants as independent contractors instead of employees. If that were true, Gate Guard would be violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying overtime and by not keeping detailed time records. Rapstine had little training or experience in contractor misclassification cases, but he decided to open an investigation.
Continue Reading Gate Guard Services—the 1.5 million consequences of bad faith conduct by DOL investigators and attorneys
The first Board of Contract Appeals to fully enter the digital age is the Postal Service Board of Contract Appeals, which recently issued new rules on electronic filing. Although the PSBCA hears claims against the agency that provides U.S. Mail, that method of filing will no longer be allowed (absent permission). The Postal Service, however, is not a Luddite agency and has embraced modern technology in running its business.
Effective July 2, 2015, PSBCA filings must be made electronically unless permission to submit physical filings is requested and obtained. The website for electronic filing is https://uspsjoe.justware.com/JusticeWeb. Online filers must use this exact web address. Omitting the initial “https://” – or the final “justiceweb” – results in an error message. To assist users, the Board has created a PSBCA tutorial on electronic filing.
Continue Reading U.S. Postal Service board enters the digital age