DOES YOUR REQUEST FOR EQUITABLE ADJUSTMENT (REA) COMPLY WITH THE CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT?

unknownUnder a federal construction contract, a contractor MUST comply with the Contract Disputes Act and request a final decision from the contracting officer in order for the United States Court of Federal Claims to have jurisdiction over the claim.  This means that in most instances a request for an equitable adjustment (REA) will not meet the requirements of the Contract Disputes Act, meaning the Court of Federal Claims will not have jurisdiction to resolve a disputed REA. This is an important distinction for contractors that work on federal construction projects that submit requests for equitable adjustments and best articulated by the Court of Federal Claims:

  

Under the CDA [Contract Disputes Act], the Court only has subject matter jurisdiction over a contract action against the Government if the action is filed within twelve months after receipt of a contracting officer’s final decision on the claim.  Therefore, both a contractor’s claim and the contracting officer’s final decision on that claim are jurisdictional requirements. Logically, there can be no contracting officer’s final decision on a claim if the contractor has not requested such a decision from the contracting officer. A request for a contracting officer’s final decision need not be explicitly labeled as such. For example, an REA under certain circumstances can be construed as a request for a contracting officer’s final decision.  However, a request for a contracting officer’s final decision must, at minimum, be a written demand that includes (1) adequate notice of the basis and amount of a claim and (2) a request for a final decision.

Zafer Taahut Insaat ve Ticaret, A.S. v. United States, 2016 WL 7176723, *3 (Fed.Cl. 2016) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

In Zafer Taahut Insaat ve Ticaret, a contractor submitted an REA for unanticipated costs in incurred on a foreign construction project.  In the REA, the contractor simply asked the government to review and evaluate the REA at the earliest convenience.   The REA was not sent directly to the contracting officer.  The government did not pay the REA and the contractor filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims.  The government moved to dismiss the lawsuit based on the contractor’s failure to comply with the Contract Disputes Act.  The Court granted the motion to dismiss because (1) the REA was not sent directly to the contracting officer and (2) the REA did not request the contracting officer issue a final decision under the Contract Disputes Act.   Hence, the Court did not have jurisdiction to resolve the claim.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

SUBCONTRACTOR PASS-THROUGH CLAIMS AND THE CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT

imagesA prime contractor submitting a subcontractor’s pass-through claim MUST still comply with the certification requirements in the Contract Disputes Act.  And, the prime contractor cannot sponsor a pass-through claim unless it remains liable to the subcontractor for the claim, a doctrine known as the Severin doctrine based on the decision Severin v. U.S., 99 Ct.Cl. 435 (Ct.Cl. 1943).  These are important concepts for a prime contractor and subcontractor to understand and appreciate on federal projects.

 

Certification of Pass-Through Claims

 

For claims of more that $100,000  (including subcontractor pass-through claims) submitted to the federal government, the contractor must certify:

 

(A) the claim is made in good faith;

(B) the supporting data are accurate and complete to the best of the contractor’s knowledge and belief;

(C) the amount requested accurately reflects the contract adjustment for which the contractor believes the Federal Government is liable; and

(D) the certifier is authorized to certify the claim on behalf of the contractor.

40 U.S.C. s. 7103(b).

 

The certification of the claim is defective if it does not include these four elements (set forth in (A) through (D) above).

 

However, if the certification is defective, this can be cured prior to final judgment by a court or a final decision by a federal agency. See M.K. Ferguson Co. v. U.S., 2016 WL 1551650 (Fed.Cl. April 14, 2016).   On the other hand, a failure to certify (versus a defective certification) cannot be cured meaning the contractor has not submitted a proper claim under the Contract Disputes Act. Id.

 

Severin Doctrine

 

According to the Severin doctrine, “a prime contractor may not sponsor a pass-through claim unless it remains liable to its subcontractor on the underlying claim.” M.K. Ferguson, supra, at *13. If the federal government is relying on the Severin doctrine:

 

(1) the burden is on the government to prove that the prime contractor is no longer liable to its subcontractor on the pass-through claim; and

(2) the Severin doctrine generally requires an ‘iron-bound release or contract provision immunizing the prime contractor completely from any liability to the sub.

Id. at *14 quoting E.R. Mitchell Constr. Co. v. Danzig, 175 F.3d 1369, 1370-71 (Fed.Cir. 1999)

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TERMINATING FOR DEFAULT “SEPARABLE” CONTRACT

UnknownIf a contractor is terminated for default on a federal project (really, any project), the objective for the contractor is to convert that termination for default into a termination for convenience so that the contractor can get paid for work performed and associated profit on that work through the date of the termination. For more information on termination for defaults and convenience, check out this article and this article.

 

The Armed Service Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) decision, Nelson, Inc., ASBCA No. 57201, 2015 WL 959241 (ASBCA 2015), provides an example of the government terminating a prime contractor for default where the prime contractor argued the termination was improper.  The prime contract called for the construction of stone dikes at four sites along the Mississippi River.  Each site had separate pricing, separate notices to proceed, and separate performance periods and durations for the construction of the stone dikes. After the prime contractor had started to perform at two of the four sites, the government terminated the prime contractor for default based on the prime contractor’s failure to timely perform in accordance with the schedules for those sites. 

 

The prime contract included the F.A.R. 52.249.10 clause (set forth in full at the bottom of this posting) relating to termination for defaults.   Applicable here, F.A.R. 52.249-10(a) and (c) provide:

 

(a) If the Contractor refuses or fails to prosecute the work or any separable part, with the diligence that will insure its completion within the time specified in this contract including any extension, or fails to complete the work within this time, the Government may, by written notice to the Contractor, terminate the right to proceed with the work (or the separable part of the work) that has been delayed. In this event, the Government may take over the work and complete it by contract or otherwise, and may take possession of and use any materials, appliances, and plant on the work site necessary for completing the work. The Contractor and its sureties shall be liable for any damage to the Government resulting from the Contractor’s refusal or failure to complete the work within the specified time, whether or not the Contractor’s right to proceed with the work is terminated. This liability includes any increased costs incurred by the Government in completing the work.

***

(c) If, after termination of the Contractor’s right to proceed, it is determined that the Contractor was not in default, or that the delay was excusable, the rights and obligations of the parties will be the same as if the termination had been issued for the convenience of the Government.

 

This case focused on the language “separable part” in F.A.R. 52.249-10(a) to determine whether the government properly terminated the prime contractor from ALL four of the sites along the Mississippi River when the termination focused on the prime contractor’s delay at only two of those sites. 

 
The government has the burden of proving that the termination for default was justified.”  Nelson, Inc., supra, citing Libson Contractors, Inc. v. U.S., 828 F.2d 759, 764 (Fed. Cir. 1987).   When a contract is separable, or divisible, “and a contractor is delinquent only as to a separable part of the contract work, it is improper for the contracting officer to terminate for default the entire contract.”  Nelson, Inc., supra, citing Overhead Electric Co., ASBCA No. 25656, 1985 WL 16703 (1985). 

 

The ASBCA found that the four sites were separable because each site had separate performance periods, notices to proceed, and pricing.  The commencement of the prime contractor’s work at one of the sites was not dependent on or related to its completion of work at another site. (To support the divisibility of the work, the ASCBA stated: “Work at each of the locations did not involve sequential or incremental and interdependent progression of construction, e.g., of one building or levee at one contiguous site.” Nelson, Inc., supra.)   Therefore, the ASBCA found that terminating the prime contractor for default from all four of the sites was improper since the prime contractor’s work was separable (and the government based the termination on delay of two of the four separable sites).

 

Importantly, even when a prime contractor challenges a termination for default claiming it should be converted to a termination for convenience, the prime contractor needs to comply with the Contract Disputes Act.  In other words, the prime contractor needs to submit its termination for convenience costs / claim. For more information on this important issue, check out this article

 

 

F.A.R. 52.249-10 Default (Fixed-Price Construction)

(a) If the Contractor refuses or fails to prosecute the work or any separable part, with the diligence that will insure its completion within the time specified in this contract including any extension, or fails to complete the work within this time, the Government may, by written notice to the Contractor, terminate the right to proceed with the work (or the separable part of the work) that has been delayed. In this event, the Government may take over the work and complete it by contract or otherwise, and may take possession of and use any materials, appliances, and plant on the work site necessary for completing the work. The Contractor and its sureties shall be liable for any damage to the Government resulting from the Contractor’s refusal or failure to complete the work within the specified time, whether or not the Contractor’s right to proceed with the work is terminated. This liability includes any increased costs incurred by the Government in completing the work.

(b) The Contractor’s right to proceed shall not be terminated nor the Contractor charged with damages under this clause, if—

(1) The delay in completing the work arises from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor. Examples of such causes include (i) acts of God or of the public enemy, (ii) acts of the Government in either its sovereign or contractual capacity, (iii) acts of another Contractor in the performance of a contract with the Government, (iv) fires, (v) floods, (vi) epidemics, (vii) quarantine restrictions, (viii) strikes, (ix) freight embargoes, (x) unusually severe weather, or (xi) delays of subcontractors or suppliers at any tier arising from unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of both the Contractor and the subcontractors or suppliers; and

(2) The Contractor, within 10 days from the beginning of any delay (unless extended by the Contracting Officer), notifies the Contracting Officer in writing of the causes of delay. The Contracting Officer shall ascertain the facts and the extent of delay. If, in the judgment of the Contracting Officer, the findings of fact warrant such action, the time for completing the work shall be extended. The findings of the Contracting Officer shall be final and conclusive on the parties, but subject to appeal under the Disputes clause.

(c) If, after termination of the Contractor’s right to proceed, it is determined that the Contractor was not in default, or that the delay was excusable, the rights and obligations of the parties will be the same as if the termination had been issued for the convenience of the Government.

(d) The rights and remedies of the Government in this clause are in addition to any other rights and remedies provided by law or under this contract.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

SUBCONTRACTORS MAY (LIKELY) BE REQUIRED TO STAY THEIR MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND CLAIMS PENDING THE OUTCOME OF THE CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT RESOLUTION PROCESS

UnknownIf you are a subcontractor on federal construction projects, the opinion by the District Court of Alaska in U.S. f/u/b/o Brice Environmental Services Corp. v. Bhate Environmental Associates, Inc., 2016 WL 544406 (D.Alaska 2016),  provides an interesting or not-so-interesting outlook on subcontractors that participate (perhaps by choice) in the request for equitable adjustment (REA) and Contract Disputes Act dispute resolution process.  (See this article for more on this outlook that creates a conflict between a subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond rights and a prime contractor’s participation in the Contract Disputes Act dispute resolution process.) 

 

In this matter, a soil remediation subcontractor submitted an REA to the prime contractor for approximately $3 Million associated with the prime contractor’s standby and additional work directives.  The subcontractor claimed that most of the REA was unrelated to issues caused by the owner, but rather, caused by the prime contractor.  The subcontractor and prime contractor agreed to a mutual termination of the subcontractor and the subcontractor reduced its REA to approximately $1.1 Million (to include only incurred costs versus anticipated costs).  The prime contractor then submitted a change order request to the federal government.  The subcontractor shortly thereafter sued the prime contractor and its Miller Act payment bond surety.

 

The prime contractor and its Miller Act payment bond surety moved to stay the lawsuit pending the completion a Contract Disputes Act resolution and, if required, completion of arbitration thereafter.  The subcontractor did not oppose staying its Miller Act payment bond claim pending arbitration with the prime contractor, but opposed staying the case pending the resolution of the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act claim. However, the subcontractor acknowledged that claims attributable to the federal government are passed through to the government and that the subcontractor shall not maintain any proceeding against the prime contractor with respect to government-related (owner) claims until resolution of Contract Dispute Act claims.  Moreover, the subcontract provided for the completion of the Contract Disputes Act resolution process between the prime contractor and federal government before the subcontractor could maintain any proceeding against the prime contractor in connection with any omission, default, or act by the federal government.   

 

 

Here, the subcontractor could not establish that the federal government’s acts did not contribute to its claims against the prime contractor; and, the prime contractor submitted a change order to the federal government that included the subcontractor’s costs supporting its position that the federal government’s acts were connected to the subcontractor’s claim.  Nonetheless, the subcontractor argued it would be unfair if it had to bear the brunt of waiting for the resolution of any Contract Disputes Act claim between the prime contractor and federal government before the subcontractor could pursue its claim against the prime contractor.  The Court dismissed this argument and stayed the action pending the outcome of the Contract Disputes Act resolution process between the prime contractor and federal government expounding:

 

The economic strain of awaiting resolution of the CDA procedures between Defendant Bhate [prime contractor] and AFCEC [federal government] is, while burdensome, still a reasonably foreseeable event under the Subcontract. Furthermore, denying the Motion to Stay and allowing this matter to proceed would bifurcate the matter, creating parallel proceedings involving many of the same facts and witnesses. Additionally, it could potentially force Defendants [prime contractor and surety] to take inconsistent positions in the simultaneous proceedings, supporting Plaintiff’s claims against AFCEC while defending against them in the arbitration between the parties. An order staying this matter is supported not only by the contract, but also the promotion of judicial economy and efficiency.

Bhate Environmental Associates, supra, at *4. 

 

This is undoubtedly a harsh ruling for a subcontractor that is now forced to wait a potentially long time while the prime contractor participates in the Contract Disputes Act resolution process. While harsh, the subcontractor agreed to bear this risk in its subcontract.  And, from the Court’s rationale, even if the subcontractor did not bear this risk, the Court still found that staying the subcontractor’s claims promoted judicial economy since it prevented the prime contractor from dealing with simultaneous disputes (one with the subcontractor and another with the federal government) and taking inconsistent positions.  

 

From the prime contractor’s perspective, this language that requires the subcontractor to bear this risk and stay any dispute pending the outcome of the Contract Disputes Act resolution process is extremely important language (based on the precise reasoning by the Court quoted above). 

 

From the subcontractor’s perspective, this reinforces the notion that it is imperative for parties to appreciate the risks they are agreeing to in their contracts, particularly as it relates to the resolution of disputes.  Also, this reinforces the risk that a subcontractor performing federal construction work may have to bear irrespective of the subcontract.  

 

Although the subcontractor is now in a wait-and-see mode while the Contract Disputes Act process runs its course, the subcontractor was smart by perfecting its Miller Act payment bond rights by timely filing suit.  Even though the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act resolution process may take some time, the prime contractor and its payment bond surety will ultimately have to deal with this dispute if the outcome of its Contract Disputes Act claim does not fully resolve the subcontractor’s claim to the subcontractor’s satisfaction.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

ILLUSTRATION OF HOW BANKRUPTCY CAN IMPACT CONTRACTOR – SUBCONTRACTOR DISPUTE

UnknownThe case of Ground Improvement Techniques, Inc. v. U.S., 2015 WL 4603693 (Fed.Cir. 2015) is an interesting case that highlights the impact of a contractor filing for bankruptcy during a construction dispute

 

In this case, a subcontractor was terminated for default on a federal project.  The subcontractor sued the prime contractor for wrongful termination and during the course of the litigation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Once the subcontractor filed for bankruptcy, its claims against the prime contractor became an asset of the bankruptcy estate.  The subcontractor’s Reorganization Plan in the bankruptcy stated it will assign its rights and claims in its litigation against the prime contractor to certain secured creditors.  The subcontractor’s secured creditors then continued the litigation against the prime contractor, obtained a judgment, but then the prime contractor filed for bankruptcy. During the administration of the prime contractor’s bankruptcy estate, the subcontractor was ordered to submit a certified claim in the name of the prime contractor to the contracting officer (per the Contract Disputes Act).  The subcontractor received no response (to its pass-through claim) and filed a lawsuit against the federal government in its name.

 

There were two issues raised in this action against the federal government.

 

First, the subcontractor was no longer the real party interest that possessed claims relating to the project by virtue of its bankruptcy.  Such rights and claims had been assigned to its secured creditors that became the real parties in interest. When the subcontractor filed for bankruptcy, its assets, inclusive of its claims, became part of the bankruptcy estate.  The subcontractor’s Reorganization Plan stated it will assign such rights and claims to its secured creditors; thus, the Reorganization Plan clearly transferred the subcontractor’s claims to its secured creditors meaning the subcontractor no longer owned the very claims it asserted against the federal government.

 

Second, and unrelated to the bankruptcy, the subcontractor could not sue the federal government because it was not in privity of contract with the government. “Because a subcontractor ordinarily lacks privity with the government, the Court of Federal Claims generally lacks jurisdiction over claims brought by a subcontractor against the government….”   Ground Improvement Techniques, supra, at *7.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

 

CONFLICT BETWEEN A SUBCONTRACTOR’S MILLER ACT PAYMENT BOND CLAIM AND A PRIME CONTRACTOR’S CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT CLAIM

Unknown-1The recent opinion in U.S. f/u/b/o Marenalley Construction, LLC v. Zurich American Insurance Co., 2015 WL 1137053 (E.D.Pa. 2015) is a great example as to what could happen when a prime contractor submits a Contract Disputes Act claim to the federal government that includes subcontractor amounts and then a subcontractor simultaneously pursues the same amounts from the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond surety. The question becomes should the subcontractor’s lawsuit against the Miller Act payment surety be dismissed or stayed pending the outcome of the resolution of the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act claim.  The ruling in this case held that the subcontractor’s Miller Act claim could proceed, and would not be dismissed or stayed, pending the outcome of the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act claim.  This was a great ruling for the subcontractor and obviously puts the prime contractor in an uncomfortable position, to say the least, since it becomes hard to dispute a subcontractor’s claim when the merits of that claim have been packaged (or passed through) to the federal government in a certified Contract Disputes Act claim.

 

In this case, both the prime contractor and subcontractor agreed that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) caused additional work that increased the cost of the work.  As a result, the prime contractor submitted a Contract Disputes Act claim to the VA that included claims and amounts from subcontractors.  While the prime contractor’s claim was pending with the VA, a subcontractor sued the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond surety. This was a subcontractor that also had its claims and amounts packaged (or passed through) to the VA in the prime contractor’s Contract Disputes Act claim.

 

The prime contractor argued that the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond claim should be dismissed or stayed pending the resolution of the Contract Disputes Act claim.  In particular, the prime contractor argued that because the subcontract incorporated a dispute resolution clause (that incorporated the requirements of the Contract Disputes Act), the subcontractor was required to exhaust this administrative process before proceeding with a Miller Act payment bond claim.

 

Dismissal of  Miller Act Payment Bond Claim?

 

The ruling to deny the prime contractor and surety’s motion to dismiss the Miller Act payment bond claim was an easy decision.  To begin with, a Miller Act payment bond claim needs to be instituted within a year from the subcontractor’s last furnishing so if the court dismissed the claim it would potentially be depriving the subcontractor of its rights under the law without any certainty as to if the subcontractor re-filed the lawsuit it would be within the statute of limitations or the statute of limitations would otherwise be tolled.  And, pursuant to the Miller Act, a subcontractor cannot contractually agree to waive its Miller Act rights before the subcontractor performed any work.  A waiver of Miller Act payment bond rights is only enforceable if the waiver is: 1) in writing, 2) signed by the party waiving its payment bond rights, and 3) “executed after the person whose right is waived has furnished labor or material for use in the performance of the contract.  See 40 U.S.C. s. 3133.

 

Stay of Miller Act Payment Bond Claim?

 

The real determination was whether the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond lawsuit should be stayed until the completion of the prime contractor’s dispute resolution with the VA. The court held No!:

 

“The Miller Act entitles Marenalley [subcontractor] to bring suit ninety days after the completion of its work…not when and if Nason [prime contractor] recovers from the VA. Conditioning Marenalley’s right to recover from the [Miller Act] Payment Bond on the completion of Nason’s CDA [Contract Disputes Act] process would be inconsistent with the terms of the Miller Act.

***

Nason and Zurich [surety] protest that they will be prejudiced in the absence of a stay due to the costs of dual litigation and the risk of inconsistent decisions.  The Court is not overly troubled by these arguments.  Ordinarily the fact that a prime contractor has a claim for the same amount pending under the disputes clause of the [incorporated] prime contract, does not affect Miller Act cases.

***

The CDA process will determine the VA’s liability to Nason.  The VA, however, has no jurisdiction over the amount that Nason must pay Marenalley and no interest in how that amount is determined. Thus, a stay would subject Marenalley to a substantial, indefinite delay as Nason’s claim passes through the administrative process and court review, only to be left at the end of that process to begin again here to litigate its rights against Nason.”

 

Marenalley, supra, at *6 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

UnknownHow Does a Prime Contractor Account for this Risk?

 

So, based on this ruling, how does a prime contractor account for this business risk? And, this is a business risk because there may be value to a subcontractor to pursue the Miller Act payment bond claim rather than wait an indefinite period of time for the Contract Disputes Act process to resolve itself and then hope that the prime contractor pays the subcontractor the portion of the subcontractor’s claim that was passed through to the federal government.

 

Well, there is authority that would entitle the prime contractor to a stay of a subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.  But, this authority is predicated on language in the subcontract that any action filed by the subcontractor will be stayed pending the exhaustion of administrative remedies.

 

For example, in U.S. f/u/b/o Trans Coastal Roofing Co. v. David Boland, Inc., 922 F.Supp. 597, 598 (S.D.Fla. 1996), the subcontract contained the following language:

 

“[s]ubcontractor shall first pursue and fully exhaust [the procedures set forth in the standard disputes clause of the primary contract] before commencing any other action against Contractor for any claims it may have arising out of its performance of the Work herein.”

***

“[Contractor shall] prosecute all claims submitted by Subcontractor under the contractual remedial procedure of the Prime Contract on behalf of and to the extent required by the Subcontractor.”

***

 “[Subcontractor] agree[d] to stay an action or claim against [the prime contractor’s Miller Act bond] pending the complete and final resolution of the Prime Contract’s contractual remedial procedure.”

 

Because the subcontractor failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, the court dismissed the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond claim.  Importantly, this case was decided before there were amendments to the Miller Act that now prevents a subcontractor from waiving a Miller Act payment bond claim prior to performing work.  Thus, if this case were decided today, the court likely would have stayed the Miller Act payment bond claim instead of dismissing it unless, of course, it was clear that the statute of limitations for pursuing a Miller Act payment bond claim would be tolled pending the exhaustion of the administrative remedies.

 

Similarly, in U.S. v. Dick/Morganti, 2007 WL 3231717 (N.D.Cal. 2007), the prime contractor and surety moved to stay a subcontractor’s payment bond claim based on the following subcontract language:

 

“If the Owner [GSA] and the Contractor [Dick/Morganti], pursuant to the General Contract or by agreement, submit any dispute, controversy, or claim between them to arbitration or some other dispute resolution procedure specified in the General Contract and such a matter involves or relates to a dispute, controversy, or claim between the Contractor and the Subcontractor, Subcontractor agrees …to stay any action filed by the Subcontractor until the dispute resolution and appeals process between the Contractor and the Owner is exhausted.”

 

The prime contractor argued it “intended” to submit a claim to the federal government [GSA] that will include the subcontractor’s amounts and, as such, the provision should operate to stay the subcontractor’s Miller Act payment bond claim.  The court agreed provided that the prime contractor did actually submit the claim.

 

Thus, a prime contractor should absolutely incorporate language in a subcontract consistent with the language in these decisions that reflects that any action filed by the subcontractor, including an action against the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond surety, will be stayed pending the complete resolution of any dispute resolution between the prime contractor and federal government that involves or includes the claims and amounts sought by the subcontractor. 

 

And a subcontractor, even if this language is included in the subcontract, should still move forward and timely file any Miller Act payment bond lawsuit.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

SUBMITTING A “CLAIM” UNDER THE CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT

UnknownThe case of Delaware Cornerstone Builders, Inc. v. U.S., 117 Fed.Cl. 539 (Fed.Cl. 2014) exemplifies what happens if a federal government contractor fails to properly submit a claim in accordance with the Contract Disputes Act (41 U.S.C. s. 7101 en seq.).  As reflected below, the failure of the contractor to comply with the Contract Disputes Act will strip the United States Court of Federal Claims of jurisdiction to resolve the contractor’s claim with the federal government.

 

In this case, the contractor disputed the scope of the government’s punchlist.  The contractor sent a letter to the contracting officer that included a good faith certification requesting payment in the amount of $143,390.39 pursuant to its resubmitted payment application #14.  The contracting officer denied the payment request stating that the amount exceeded the value of punchlist work. Due to the delay in the contractor completing the punchlist items, the government advised that it would hire another contractor to complete the items and deduct the costs from the contractor’s contract balance.  However, the government did not hire the replacement contractor.  Years later the contract was still not closed out. The contractor was still trying to get paid its contract balance and was communicating with the government’s legal counsel.   The government’s counsel advised the contractor to submit a formal claim (per the Contract Disputes Act), but the contractor failed to do so.  Instead, the contractor filed a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims for $200,760.39.  The government moved to dismiss the complaint based on the contractor’s failure to comply with the Contract Disputes Act prior to filing the lawsuit.  The Court of Federal Claims agreed:

 

The CDA [Contract Disputes Act] permits a contractor to appeal the final decision of a contracting officer to this Court within 12 months of receiving the decision on a claim. A contractor may also seek review in this Court if the contracting officer fails to respond to a contractor’s claim within 60 days, as provided in the CDA. As such, the predicate for jurisdiction under the CDA is an appeal of either a contracting officer’s final decision on a claim or a deemed denial of a claim.

***

The CDA does not define the term “claim,” but the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) [in F.A.R. 2.101] defines a claim as a written demand or written assertion by one of the contracting parties seeking, as a matter of right, the payment of money in a sum certain, the adjustment or interpretation of contract terms, or other relief arising from or relating to the contract. Thus, the elements of a claim are: (i) a written demand, (ii) seeking, as a matter of right, (iii) the payment of money in a sum certain. Additionally, all claims requesting relief greater than $100,000 must be certified by the contractor.

***

An action brought before the Court of Federal Claims under the CDA must be based on the same claim previously presented to and denied by the contracting officer.

Delaware Cornerstone Builders, supra, at 545-47 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

While the contractor arguably submitted a certified claim for the $143,390.39 per its resubmitted payment application #14, this amount was different than the $200,760.39 it was seeking in its Complaint.  Thus, the amount it was seeking was not based on the same potential claim denied by the contracting officer which was a condition precedent to the contractor filing a lawsuit against the government in the Court of Federal Claims.

 

If a prime contractor wants to pursue a claim against the federal government, it needs to properly prepare and submit that claim pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act.  Notably, this is also memorialized in the disputes clause in F.A.R. 52.233-1 that is likely incorporated into the prime contract.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

FEDERAL CONTRACTING AND COMPLIANCE WITH THE CONTRACT DISPUTES ACT

images-1Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.233-1 (48 CFR 52.233-1) contains a dispute clause that is incorporated into prime contracts for federal construction projects.  This regulation is set forth at the bottom of this article and provides that the prime contract is subject to the Contract Disputes Act (41 U.S.C. s. 7101 en seq.).  The Contract Disputes Act is a vital part of federal contracting.

 

The Contact Disputes Act—containing similar language to FAR 52.233-1—requires prime contractors to submit claims relating to the prime contract in writing to the contracting officer for a decision within six years after the accrual of the claim.  41 USC s. 7103 (a).  Claims of more than $100,000 need to contain a certification that:

 

“(A) the claim is made in good faith;

(B) the supporting data are accurate and complete to the best of the contractor’s knowledge and belief;

(C) the amount requested accurately reflects the contract adjustment for which the contractor believes the Federal Government is liable; and

(D) the certifier is authorized to certify the claim on behalf of the contractor.”

41 USC s. 7103(b). 

 

(It is imperative that the prime contractor not misrepresent or fraudulently submit a certified claim as it could expose the contractor to liability.  41 USC s. 7103(c).)

 

The contracting officer will then render a decision for claims of $100,000 or less within “sixty days from the contracting officer’s receipt of a written request from the contractor that a decision be rendered within that period.”  41 USC s. 7103(f)(1).  With respect to claims of more than $100,000, the contracting officer “shall, within 60 days of receipt of a submitted certified claim…(A) issue a decision; or (B) notify the contractor of the time within which a decision will be issued.”  41 USC s. 7103(f)(2). If the contracting officer notifies the prime contractor that it needs more time to render a decision, which is not uncommon, he/she is simply required to issue a decision within a reasonable period of time factoring in the size and complexity of the claim with the back-up information submitted by the prime contractor.  41 USC s.7103(f)(3).  “Failure by a contracting officer to issue a decision on a claim within the required time is deemed to be a decision by the contracting officer denying the claim and authorizes an appeal or action on the claim….However, the tribunal concerned may, at its option, stay the proceedings of the appeal or action to obtain a decision by the contracting officer.” 41 USC s. 7103(f)(5).

 

Once the contracting officer renders a decision on the claim, this decision is final unless the prime contractor (i) appeals the decision to the applicable agency board within 90 days from the date of receipt of the contracting officer’s decision or (ii) initiate an action in the United States Court of Federal Claims within twelve months from the date of receipt of the contracting officer’s decision. 41 USC s. 7104.

 

 

The opinion in The Hanover Insurance Company v. U.S., 2014 WL 2192148 (Fed.Cl. 2014), illustrates the importance for prime contractors to comply with the Contract Disputes Act and corresponding Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.233-1 (governing disputes and incorporated into the prime contracts) prior to instituting litigation against the federal government.

 

imagesIn this case, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) engaged a prime contractor to perform work for an Everglades upgrade project.  The Corps default terminated the prime contractor due to issues pertaining to the prime contractor’s dewatering plan.   The Corps made a demand on the prime contractor’s performance bond surety to either complete the balance of the unperformed contract work or tender a new contractor to complete the contract work.  The Corps also denied claims the prime contractor submitted for additional costs relating to the dispute over the dewatering plan (that ultimately led to the default termination).  The performance bond surety tendered a completion contractor and executed a tender and release agreement with the Corps that obligated the surety to pay the Corps many millions of dollars which represented the difference between the amount to be paid to the completion contractor to complete the contract work minus the unpaid balance of the original prime contractor’s contract. The tender and release agreement provided that the prime contractor and surety could ultimately challenge the Corps’ default termination.

 

Subsequently, the prime contractor and its surety filed separate complaints against the federal government in the Court of Federal Claims challenging the default termination.  Ultimately, the prime contractor wanted the Corps’ default termination converted into a termination for convenience; this would, in turn, result in the federal government reimbursing the surety the many millions the surety tendered plus other related costs incurred by the contractor in the performance of the project.  (The prime contractor also sued the federal government to recover its costs tied to the claims it submitted to the Corps relating to the dewatering dispute that the Corps denied.)  These lawsuits were all consolidated.

 

The federal government moved to dismiss the claims for monetary damages asserted by the prime contractor and surety challenging the default termination.  The federal government’s motion was based on the prime contractor and surety’s failure to comply with the Contract Disputes Act. The Court of Federal Claims explained:

 

The CDA [Contract Disputes Act] provides that in the event of a dispute between a contractor and the government ‘relating to a contract,’ all contractor claims are to be submitted in writing to the contracting officer for decision and all government claims are to be the subject of a contracting officer decision.  A claim [under Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.233-1(c)] is ‘a written demand or written assertion by one of the contracting parties seeking, as a matter of right, the payment of money in a sum certain, the adjustment or interpretation of contract terms, or other relief arising under or relating to [the] contract.’  Upon receipt of a claim, the contracting officer must issue a written decision containing his or her reasoning for the outcome and advising the contractor of its right to appeal.  If a contracting officer fails to issue a decision ‘within the period required’ by the statute, the failure is deemed to be a decision denying the claim.  The decision of the contracting officer is final unless the contractor makes an authorized appeal.  A valid claim, a contracting officer’s decision or deemed denial, and a proper appeal are all jurisdictional requirements under the CDA [to file a complaint in the Court of Federal Claims].”

The Hanover Insurance Company, supra, at *4 (internal citations omitted).

 

Neither the prime contractor nor its performance bond surety submitted a claim to the contracting officer due to the default termination in accordance with the Contract Disputes Act.  Based on this failure, the federal government argued that the Court of Federal Claims did not have proper jurisdiction to hear the merits of the dispute.  The Court of Federal Claims agreed and dismissed the claims for lack of jurisdiction stating:

 

In the absence of a final contracting officer decision regarding termination for convenience costs or other money damages related to the default termination,

whether premised on a contractor claim or on a government claim, the court must dismiss the claims for money damages…. This ruling, however, does not foreclose Hanover and Lodge from pursuing these claims. To the contrary, by dismissing these claims for lack of jurisdiction, the court is removing the obstacle preventing the contracting officer from entertaining plaintiffs’ claims for default termination-related money damages.”

The Hanover Insurance Company, supra, at *7.

 

In other words, the prime contractor and surety will need to submit a written claim, await the contracting officer’s obvious denial of the claim, and then re-institute the action in the Court of Federal Claims based on the denial.

 

Since the contracting officer’s decision converting a default termination into a termination for convenience seems fairly transparent, the prime contractor and surety argued, as they should, that it would be futile to comply with the Contract Disputes Act when the contracting officer is going to obviously deny the claim.  Notwithstanding this transparent fact, the Court of Federal Claims relied on case law where a prime contractor sitting in a similar default termination situation was required to submit a claim pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act challenging the default termination in order for the Court of Federal Claims to have jurisdiction.

  

48 CFR 52.233-1

(a) This contract is subject to 41 U.S.C. chapter 71, Contract Disputes.

(b) Except as provided in 41 U.S.C. chapter 71, all disputes arising under or relating to this contract shall be resolved under this clause.

(c) Claim, as used in this clause, means a written demand or written assertion by one of the contracting parties seeking, as a matter of right, the payment of money in a sum certain, the adjustment or interpretation of contract terms, or other relief arising under or relating to this contract. However, a written demand or written assertion by the Contractor seeking the payment of money exceeding $100,000 is not a claim under 41 U.S.C. chapter 71 until certified. A voucher, invoice, or other routine request for payment that is not in dispute when submitted is not a claim under 41 U.S.C. chapter 71. The submission may be converted to a claim under 41 U.S.C. chapter 71, by complying with the submission and certification requirements of this clause, if it is disputed either as to liability or amount or is not acted upon in a reasonable time.

(d)(1) A claim by the Contractor shall be made in writing and, unless otherwise stated in this contract, submitted within 6 years after accrual of the claim to the Contracting Officer for a written decision. A claim by the Government against the Contractor shall be subject to a written decision by the Contracting Officer.

(d)(2)(i) The Contractor shall provide the certification specified in paragraph (d)(2)(iii) of this clause when submitting any claim exceeding $100,000.

(ii) The certification requirement does not apply to issues in controversy that have not been submitted as all or part of a claim.

(iii) The certification shall state as follows: “I certify that the claim is made in good faith; that the supporting data are accurate and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief; that the amount requested accurately reflects the contract adjustment for which the Contractor believes the Government is liable; and that I am authorized to certify the claim on behalf of the Contractor.”

(3) The certification may be executed by any person authorized to bind the Contractor with respect to the claim.

(e) For Contractor claims of $100,000 or less, the Contracting Officer must, if requested in writing by the Contractor, render a decision within 60 days of the request. For Contractor-certified claims over $100,000, the Contracting Officer must, within 60 days, decide the claim or notify the Contractor of the date by which the decision will be made.

(f) The Contracting Officer’s decision shall be final unless the Contractor appeals or files a suit as provided in 41 U.S.C. chapter 71.

(g) If the claim by the Contractor is submitted to the Contracting Officer or a claim by the Government is presented to the Contractor, the parties, by mutual consent, may agree to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR). If the Contractor refuses an offer for ADR, the Contractor shall inform the Contracting Officer, in writing, of the Contractor’s specific reasons for rejecting the offer.

(h) The Government shall pay interest on the amount found due and unpaid from (1) the date that the Contracting Officer receives the claim (certified, if required); or (2) the date that payment otherwise would be due, if that date is later, until the date of payment. With regard to claims having defective certifications, as defined in (FAR) 48 CFR 33.201, interest shall be paid from the date that the Contracting Officer initially receives the claim. Simple interest on claims shall be paid at the rate, fixed by the Secretary of the Treasury as provided in the Act, which is applicable to the period during which the Contracting Officer receives the claim and then at the rate applicable for each 6–month period as fixed by the Treasury Secretary during the pendency of the claim.

(i) The Contractor shall proceed diligently with performance of this contract, pending final resolution of any request for relief, claim, appeal, or action arising under the contract, and comply with any decision of the Contracting Officer.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.