The Missouri Court of Appeals decision in Penzel Constr. Co. v. Jackson R-2 School District, No. ED103878 (Mo. Ct. App. Feb. 14, 2017), is an important development for public construction contracting in Missouri. The decision adopts the Spearin Doctrine and approves the use of the Modified Total Cost method for proving damages. While these concepts have been used widely in federal construction contracting, the Penzel decision is the first published decision recognizing them in Missouri.

The Penzel case involved additions to a public high school. The School District hired an architect. The architect retained an electrical engineering sub-consultant. When the project went to bid, the School District furnished bidders with the architect’s plans and specifications. Penzel Construction Company submitted a bid as the general contractor.

Penzel’s electrical subcontractor was Total Electric. Total’s bid was $1,040,444. Neither Penzel nor Total “noticed” any errors, omissions, or other problems with the plans and specifications during the bidding process.

Total encountered delays totaling 16 months, which Total attributed to “defects and inadequacies” in the electrical design. Under a liquidating agreement between Penzel and Total, Penzel sued the District. Penzel alleged that the District impliedly warranted the design. Penzel claimed the design was not adequate for completing the project.

In addition to proving liability, Penzel needed to prove the damages associated with its loss of productivity claim. To do so, Penzel sought to use the Modified Total Cost Method. The claimed damages were comprised of additional project management and supervision costs, wage escalation, unpaid change order work, and consultant’s fees.
Continue Reading The Spearin Doctrine and Modified Total Cost claims on Missouri public projects

The government often blames construction contractors for shortcomings in its own design and unanticipated difficulties encountered at the site. “You’re supposed to be the expert!”  “You should have known what to expect because of the magic language on page 97 of the geotechnical report.” “You’re the design-builder!”

At first glance, these arguments seem persuasive. But when they are presented to a judge at the Court of Federal Claims or a Board of Contract Appeals, their limitations become apparent. Contractors are not ordinarily expected to have the expertise of a designer or geotechnical engineer. And even when contractors have design-build responsibilities, they are entitled to rely on the design components that the government has furnished to them. And that single reference on page 97 of the geotechnical report?  It doesn’t override the interpretation that a reasonable contractor may draw from the boring logs and the geotechnical report as a whole.Continue Reading Contractor expertise as a factor in differing site conditions claims