GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING AND TREATING EXTENDED FIELD OVERHEAD AS A DIRECT OR INDIRECT COST

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Prime contractors working on federal government projects, or any project for that matter, have job site or field overhead / general conditions.  Incurring extended field office overhead on a federal government project happens and, in many instances, is due to differing site conditions or another impact  (e.g., design issue, change order work, etc.) caused by the government.  There are also times the government acknowledges the time impact and agrees to pay the prime contractor extended field office overhead. 

 

How is the prime contractor supposed to compute its extended field office overhead?

 

Federal Acquisition Regulation (F.A.R.) 31.105(d)(3) provides:

 

Costs incurred at the job site incident to performing the work, such as the cost of superintendence, timekeeping and clerical work, engineering, utility costs, supplies, material handling, restoration and cleanup, etc. [e.g. field office costs], are allowable as direct or indirect costs, provided the accounting practice used is in accordance with the contractor’s established and consistently followed cost accounting practices for all work.

 

Stated differently, F.A.R. allows the prime contractor to treat its field office overhead  as a direct cost or an indirect cost provided the prime contractor does so consistently throughout the project.  However, the prime contractor cannot change its methodology midstream because it learns it can better maximize its extended field office overhead damages by switching methodologies to compute its extended field overhead.

 

What is a direct cost versus an indirect cost? 

 

A direct cost is a cost that is identified specifically with a contract whereas an indirect cost is not identified specifically with a single contract, but identified with two or more contracts.

 

F.A.R. 2.101 defines both direct costs and indirect costs as follows:

 

Direct cost means any cost that is identified specifically with a particular final cost objective [e.g., contract]. Direct costs are not limited to items that are incorporated in the end product as material or labor. Costs identified specifically with a contract are direct costs of that contract. All costs identified specifically with other final cost objectives of the contractor are direct costs of those cost objectives.” See also F.A.R. 31.202.

 ***

Indirect cost means any cost not directly identified with a single final cost objective [e.g., contract], but identified with two or more final cost objectives or with at least one intermediate cost objective.

***

Indirect cost rate means the percentage or dollar factor that expresses the ratio of indirect expense incurred in a given period to direct labor cost, manufacturing cost, or another appropriate base for the same period (see also “final indirect cost rate”).” See also F.A.R. 31.203.

 

When field office overhead is treated as a direct cost, it is computed on a per diem or daily rate (e.g., $10,000 per day for each day of delay). 

 

When field office overhead is treated as an indirect cost, it is computed based on a percentage markup (e.g., adding an overhead markup of 10% on the work). 

 

The key is that the prime contractor typically has to live or die with the methodology it chooses. 

 

An example of this “live or die” approach can be found in the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals decision in Appeal of—Watts Constructors, LLC, 2015 WL 566315, ASBCA NO. 59602 (January 26, 2015).  Here, the government hired the prime contractor to relocate a sewer lift station at a Marine Corps base.  During construction, the prime contractor encountered a differing site condition. The government did not dispute the differing site condition and instructed the prime contractor to await a contract modification (change order) before proceeding with the additional work.  The prime contractor submitted a cost proposal to the government for the additional work.  The proposal included a percentage markup for overhead as the contractor had also done under a previous cost proposal for additional work. Thus, the contractor had treated its field overhead as an indirect cost.

 

However, the government did not immediately issue the contract modification (change order) to the prime contractor authorizing the contractor to proceed with the additional work due to the differing site condition.  For this reason, the prime contractor wanted to recover its extended field office overhead as a direct cost (as it would give the prime contractor an additional approximate $40,000 and cover its costs due to the government’s delay in issuing the contract modification).  The prime contractor’s position was that when it submitted its original proposal for the changed work with the overhead percentage markup it was not anticipating a time impact, but now that it realized a time impact caused by the government, it should be entitled to its direct costs associated with the impact.  The government, however, denied this request because by the contractor tacking an overhead markup percentage to its proposals it had treated its field office overhead as an indirect cost, not a direct cost. Thus, the prime contractor couldn’t switch its methodology during the course of the project. 

 

The prime contractor submitted a claim pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act; the contracting officer issued a final decision denying the claim.  The prime contractor then appealed the contracting officer’s final decision to the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals.  The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals agreed with the government concluding, “[W]e conclude the fact that the contract performance period was extended and that the use of the percentage mark-up might not fully compensate appellant [prime contractor] for all field office overhead costs incurred does not, per se, entitle appellant to change its distribution base.”

 

The underpinning issue regarding field office overhead and whether to apply an overhead percentage markup to modifications (change orders) that do not result in a time impact and a daily rate to modifications that do result in a time impact was the exact issue the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals dealt with in Appeals of M.A. Mortenson Co., 1998 WL 151792, ASBCA No. 40750 (March 30, 1998). In this matter, the prime contractor tacked an overhead percentage markup for field office overhead for changes that did not result in a time impact and then tacked on a daily rate for changes that did result in a time impact.  Hence, for changes that did not delay the job, the contractor treated its field office overhead as an indirect cost and for changes that did delay the job, the contractor treated its field office overhead as a direct cost. 

 

The government did not challenge the contractor’s daily rate for changes that impacted time, rather, it challenged the overhead percentage the contractor applied on changes that did not actually impact the completion of the project (since the field office was not actually extended by these changes).  The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals agreed with the government concluding the prime contractor “cannot recover the claimed job site overhead percentage markup in these appeals because, under the facts of these cases, such a markup is inconsistent with appellant’s [prime contractor] per diem distribution base for charging job site overhead on changes that extended the contract period.”

 

Prime contractors working on federal construction projects need to be wary of how to treat changes and if they apply an overhead percentage markup on their changes it could later impact their application of a daily rate for extended field office overhead and vice versa.   Sometimes, the overhead markup benefits the contractor because it is getting a markup for overhead when the job is not otherwise delayed.  However, if the job is delayed, the government may try to deny the extended overhead based on a daily rate methodology that better compensates the contractor for its actual costs since the contractor previously treated such overhead as an indirect cost.

 

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.

 

 

 

SUING FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ON A CONTRACT CLAIM; EQUITABLE SUBROGATION CLAIM BY LIABILITY INSURER AGAINST GOVERNMENT NOT ALLOWED

imagesEquitable subrogation is a doctrine that liability insurers rely on when paying a claim on behalf of an insured.  Under this doctrine, the insurer equitably subrogates—steps in the shoes—to the rights of the insured and sues as an equitable subrogee of the insured in order to seek reimbursement for the claim it paid.

 

What if the liability insurer tried to pursue an equitable subrogation claim against the federal government?  In other words, what if the insurer paid out insurance proceeds on behalf of its insured-prime contractor and then tried to recoup the insurance proceeds from the federal government as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor?  The United States Court of Federal Claims in Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Underwriters v. U.S., 2014 WL 6491835 (Fed.Cl. 2014) explained that a liability insurer CANNOT sue the federal government as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor in order to recoup insurance proceeds paid out on a claim.

 

In this case, the government hired a prime contractor to abate asbestos at a post office.  The prime contractor was having difficulty obtaining CGL liability insurance to specifically cover asbestos removal for a reasonable premium and the government, through the contracting officer, agreed to execute an addendum to the prime contract that required the government to save harmless and indemnify the contractor from personal injury claims attributable to the asbestos removal work.

 

More than ten years later, a former government employee sued the prime contractor claiming he contracted cancer from his exposure to asbestos while it was being removed and abated at the project.  The prime contractor demanded that the government defend and indemnify it for this claim; however, the government refused.  The prime contractor then tendered the claim to its CGL liability insurer and its insurer settled the claim.  After the settlement, the prime contractor once again demanded that the government reimburse it by honoring the indemnification language in the addendum; again, the government refused.

 

The prime contractor’s liability insurer then filed suit against the federal government as the equitable subrogee of the prime contractor in order to recoup the insurance proceeds it paid to the former government employee.  The thrust of the claim was that the government breached the indemnification provision.  The government moved to dismiss the lawsuit contending that the Court of Federal Claims does not have subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the lawsuit because the liability insurer is not in privity with the government and, therefore, cannot sue the government.  The Court of Federal Claims agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  Why? Because a plaintiff suing the federal government on a contract claim must be in privity of contract with the federal government with limited exceptions to this rule:

 

The Federal Circuit has recognized limited exceptions to the requirement that parties seeking relief for breach of contract against the government under the Tucker Act must be in privity of contract with the United States. These limited exceptions include (1) actions against the United States by an intended third-party beneficiary; (2) pass-through suits by a subcontractor where the prime contractor is liable to the subcontractor for the subcontractor’s damages; and (3) actions by a Miller Act surety for funds that the government improperly disbursed to a prime contractor [after the surety financed completion of a defaulted subcontractor]. As the court of appeals has observed, the common thread that unites these exceptions is that the party standing outside of privity by contractual obligation stands in the shoes of a party within privity.

Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Underwriters, supra(internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

Since none of the limited exceptions applied to allow a liability insurer to sue the government as an equitable subrogee of its insured-prime contractor, the Court of Federal Claims lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

 

This ruling does not prevent the prime contractor from suing the government directly for breaching the indemnification provision; it simply prevents the liability insurer from suing as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor. Even though the insurer paid the claim, perhaps it can enter into an agreement with the prime contractor whereby the prime contractor sues the government directly for breach of contract.

 

 

The case demonstrates the limited exceptions available to a claimant on a construction project that wants to pursue a claim directly against the government when the claimant is not the prime contractor hired by the government.  While prime contractors can sue the government for breach of contract, subcontractors, in particular, that want to pursue a claim against the government can only do so as a pass-through claim, meaning they are suing in the name of the prime contractor and will require the cooperation of the prime contractor.

 

Also, as an aside, the indemnification provision from the government and the prime contractor required the government to save harmless and indemnify the prime contractor.  I always like to include the word “defend” in an indemnification provision so it is crystal clear that the indemnitor’s indemnification obligations extend to its contractual obligation to defend the indemnitees for any 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.

“NO DAMAGE FOR DELAY” PROVISIONS AND THE EXCEPTIONS

UnknownContractors and subcontractors should be familiar with “no damage for delay” provisions.  These are contractual provisions that limit the contractor’s remedies for a delay to an extension of time ONLY, and disallow the contractor from being entitled to extended general conditions (overhead) for an otherwise excusable, compensable delay.   

 

There are numerous variations of the “no damage for delay” provision; however they usually contain language that provides as follows:

 

“The contractor’s sole and exclusive remedy for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work shall be an extension of time and contractor shall not be entitled to any damages for a delay, interference, or hindrance with its Work.”

 

 or

 

“The contractor shall not be entitled to any compensation whatsoever for any delay, interference, hindrance, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work and its sole and exclusive remedy for any delay, interference, acceleration, or inefficiency with its Work shall be an extension of time.”

 

In Florida, “no damage for delay” provisions are enforceable on private and public projects.  However, there are EXCEPTIONS that would prevent the provision’s harsh application and entitle a contractor to its extended general conditions for an excusable, compensable delay.  These exceptions are fraud, willful concealment of foreseeable circumstances, and active interferenceSee Triple R Paving, Inc. v. Broward County, 774 So.2d 50 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).  In other words, if the hiring party (owner) does not willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the application of the “no damage for delay” provision will preclude the hired party (contractor) from recovering its extended general conditions associated with the delay.  See id.  On the other hand, if the hiring party does willfully or knowingly delay construction, then the hired party has an argument around the “no damage for delay” provision.

 

Even with a “no damage for delay” provision in the contract, it is imperative for the hired party (contractor) to properly and timely request additional time and money in accordance with the contract.  There are typically provisions that require the hired party (contractor) to notify the hiring party (owner) of delaying events or claims and to request time and money associated with the event or claim.  If a contractor fails to timely preserve its rights under the contract to seek additional time or money, it may preclude itself from recovering extended general conditions for a delay that would otherwise serve as an exception to the “no damage for delay” provision.  See Marriot Corp. v. Dasta Const. Co., 26 F.3d 1057 (11th Cir. 1994) (contractor’s failure to request time pursuant to the contract prevented it from recovering delay damages associated with an owner’s active interference).

 

On federal construction projects, “no damage for delay” provisions are perhaps less common based on Federal Acquisition Regulations (F.A.R.) that would otherwise entitle the contractor to recover delay-related damages if it properly and timely preserves its rights.  These “no damage for delay” provisions are more frequently found in subcontracts between the prime contractor and its subcontractors.  There is authority that would hold an unambiguous “no damage for delay” enforceable on federal construction projects:

 

Nevertheless, given their potentially harsh effect, no damages for delay provisions should be strictly construed, but generally will be enforced, absent delay (1) not contemplated by the parties under the provision, (2) lasting an unreasonable period and thereby amounted to an abandonment of the contract, (3) caused by fraud or bad faith, or (4) amounting to active interference or gross negligence.

Appeal of-The Clark Construction Group, Inc., GAOCAB No. 2003-1, 2004 WL 5462234 (November 23, 2004); accord Grunley Construction Co. v. Architect of the Capitol, GAOCAB No. 2009-1, 2010 WL 2561431 (June 16, 2010).

 

In drafting a “no damage for delay” provision, I always like to include language that specifically states that the application of the “no damage for delay” provision is not conditioned on the hired party (contractor) being granted additional time to substantially complete or finally complete the project.  I also like to include language that the hired party (contractor) understands this “no damage for delay” provision and has factored this provision into the contract amount.  It is important that this provision clearly reflects the intent because the hiring party will want to rely on this provision in the event there is a delaying event and it is a provision that will be strictly construed.

 

Conversely, if you trying to avoid the harsh consequences of a “no damage for delay” provision, it is advisable to consult with counsel that understands the recognized exceptions to the provision and can assist you in negotiating and presenting your claim based on these recognized exceptions.

 

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.

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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.

RECOVERING COMPENSATION FOR UNREASONABLE DELAYS UNDER THE SUSPENSION OF WORK CLAUSE

UnknownFederal government construction contracts for fixed-price contracts contain a suspension of work clause found in F.A.R. 52.242-14 (a copy of this clause can be found at the bottom of this posting).   This clause allows the government, through the contracting officer, to order the suspension, interruption, or delay of the construction work.  This clause further permits the contractor to obtain an equitable adjustment for the increased costs it incurs associated with the delay / suspension of its work for an unreasonable period of time. George Sollitt Const. Co. v. U.S., 64 Fed.Cl. 229, 236-37 (Fed.Cl. 2005).  The unreasonableness of the delay / suspension depends on the actual circumstances of the project, but it is this finding of unreasonableness that triggers additional compensation to the contractor.  See id.   The test applied to determine whether the contractor is entitled to an equitable adjustment for additional compensation pursuant to the suspension of work clause is as follows:

 

 

 

 

1.  The delay must be of an unreasonable length extending the contract’s performance;
2.  The delay must be proximately caused by the government;
3.  The delay resulted in injury or damage to the contractor; and
4.  There is no concurrent delay caused by the contractor.

 

CEMS, Inc. v. U.S., 59 Fed.Cl. 168, 230 (Fed.Cl. 2003) quoting P.J. Dick, Inc. v. Principi, 324 F.3d 1364, 1375 (Fed.Cir. 2003).

 

As reflected above by the fourth factor, “even if the government has caused an unreasonable delay to the contract work, that delay will not be compensable if the contractor, or some other factor not chargeable to the government, has caused a delay concurrent with the government caused-delay.”  George Sollitt, 64 Fed.Cl. at 237.

 

This suspension of work clause is designed to make the contractor whole for unreasonable delays, but additional profit would be excluded from any additional compensation owed to the contractor.  See F.A.R. 52.242-14(b).

 

As mentioned in previous postings, contractors need to understand the clauses incorporated into their prime contract so they can appreciate how to best preserve their rights when they encounter a delaying event.  Also, understanding the clauses will enable the contractor to best present their request for equitable adjustment or claim in a manner that supports their position for additional compensation.

 

F.A.R. 52.242-14

Suspension of Work (APR 1984)

(a) The Contracting Officer may order the Contractor, in writing, to suspend, delay, or interrupt all or any part of the work of this contract for the period of time that the Contracting Officer determines appropriate for the convenience of the Government.

(b) If the performance of all or any part of the work is, for an unreasonable period of time, suspended, delayed, or interrupted (1) by an act of the Contracting Officer in the administration of this contract, or (2) by the Contracting Officer’s failure to act within the time specified in this contract (or within a reasonable time if not specified), an adjustment shall be made for any increase in the cost of performance of this contract (excluding profit) necessarily caused by the unreasonable suspension, delay, or interruption, and the contract modified in writing accordingly. However, no adjustment shall be made under this clause for any suspension, delay, or interruption to the extent that performance would have been so suspended, delayed, or interrupted by any other cause, including the fault or negligence of the Contractor, or for which an equitable adjustment is provided for or excluded under any other term or condition of this contract.

(c) A claim under this clause shall not be allowed (1) for any costs incurred more than 20 days before the Contractor shall have notified the Contracting Officer in writing of the act or failure to act involved (but this requirement shall not apply as to a claim resulting from a suspension order), and (2) unless the claim, in an amount stated, is asserted in writing as soon as practicable after the termination of the suspension, delay, or interruption, but not later than the date of final payment under the 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 GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING AND RECOVERY OF ATTORNEY’S FEES UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT (“EAJA”)

UnknownThe ability to recover attorney’s fees against the federal government is a consideration before initiating a dispute against the government, whether in federal court or in an administrative proceeding.

 

The Equal Access to Justice Act (referred to as the “EAJA”) authorizes a court to award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to a prevailing, eligible contractor in an action brought by or against the United States.  28 U.S.C. s. 2412(d)(1)(a).  The purpose of the EAJA has been explained as follows:

 

The purpose of the EAJA is to eliminate legal expenses as a barrier to challenges of unreasonable government action. Accordingly, the EAJA authorizes this court to award attorney fees and expenses incurred by contractors who prevail in litigation against the government provided the contractors do not exceed certain size and net worth limitations. The government may escape liability for legal expenses if its actions were substantially justified or if special circumstances make the award unjust.  The burden is on the government to present a substantial justification for its actions.”

Community Heating & Plumbing Co., Inc. v. Garrett, 2 F.3d 1143, 1145 (Fed.Cir. 1993) (internal citations and quotations omitted)

 

First, the contractor needs to be eligible to recover fees under the EAJA.  Not every contractor is eligible.  Such eligible contractors are defined by the EAJA as:

 

“(i) an individual whose net worth did not exceed $2,000,000 at the time the civil action was filed, or (ii) any owner of an unincorporated business, or any partnership, corporation, association, unit of local government, or organization, the net worth of which did not exceed $7,000,000 at the time the civil action was filed, and which had not more than 500 employees at the time the civil action was filed….”

28 U.S.C. 2412 (d)(2)(B)

 

Second, the contractor needs to be the prevailing party.  A prevailing contractor under the EAJA is a contractor that recovers a judgment on the merits in its favor.  Ulysses, Inc. v. U.S., 117 Fed.Cl. 772, 777 (Fed.Cl. 2014).   The government however, can avoid the award of fees against it if it proves it was substantially justified in advancing its position.  Substantial justification is a subjective standard determined on a case-by-case basis:

 

In determining whether to award attorney’s fees under EAJA, the Court looks to whether the Government’s position prior to and throughout litigation had a reasonable basis in both law and fact. While the appropriateness of the Government’s position might vary on individual matters, the Court considers the totality of circumstances to determine whether that position was substantially justified. In the words of the United States Supreme Court, ‘While the parties’ postures on individual matters may be more or less justified, the EAJA … favors treating a case as an inclusive whole, rather than as atomized line-items.’

Ulysses, 117 Fed.Cl. at 778 (internal quotations and citations omitted). 

 

Stated more simplistically, the government must prove that it advanced a position “justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.”  BCPeabody Construction Services, Inc. v. U.S., 117 Fed.Cl. 408, 413 (Fed.Cl. 2014) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

 

And third, even if the contractor is eligible to recover attorney’s fees under the EAJA and prevails against the government, this does NOT mean that it will recover 100% of the fees it incurred in the action.  The EAJA provides a statutory cap of $125/hour for attorney’s fees time unless the “court determines that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys or the proceedings involved, justifies a higher fee.” 28 U.S.C. s. 2412(d)(2)(A).  Unfortunately, exceeding this hourly cap has nothing to do with the novelty of the issues, the competence of the attorney, or the results obtained.  BCPeadbody Construction Services, 117 Fed.Cl. at 415. This means that contractors should not bank on exceeding the statutory cap in recovering attorney’s fees against the government.

 

Importantly, there is also a relevant EAJA for administrative proceedings initiated prior to or instead of  any civil action in court.   5 U.S.C. s. 504.  This administrative EAJA largely mirrors the EAJA discussed above for civil actions, but applies to administrative proceedings. See Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991).

 

Before proceeding with a dispute against the federal government in federal court or an administrative proceeding, consider whether you have a basis under the EAJA to recover attorney’s fees.

 

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.

 

 

REQUESTS FOR EQUITABLE ADJUSTMENT AND CONSTRUCTIVE CHANGES IN FEDERAL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

imagesFederal government construction contracts contain a changes clause.  The changes clause in fixed-price federal construction contracts is contained in F.A.R. 52.243-4 (set forth at the bottom of this posting).  This changes clause allows the government, through the contracting officer, to direct changes to the construction contract.  It also allows the prime contractor to request an equitable adjustment to its contract price associated with either a directed / formal change or a constructive change.

 

Formal / directed changes issued to the prime contractor by the government are easy to comprehend.  These typically are less likely to lead to a dispute because the government acknowledges increased costs are owed to the prime contractor through its issuance of a formal change order / directive.

 

A constructive change, on the other hand, oftentimes is what leads to a dispute if the government does not agree that it caused the contractor to incur increased costs to perform the contract. The United States Court of Federal Claims in CEMS, Inc. v. U.S., 59 Fed.Cl. 168 (Fed.Cl. 2003) contains a good discussion as to what constitutes a constructive change:

 

A constructive change generally arises where the Government, without more, expressly or impliedly orders the contractor to perform work that is not specified in the contract documents.  The constructive change doctrine provides recovery for contractors as the rationale for constructive changes involves the objective of persuading a contractor to continue to work pending resolution of any dispute involving the work at issue.

*** 

There are two basic components to the constructive change doctrine-the change component and the order/fault component.  The change component describes work outside of the scope of the contract, while the order/fault component describes the reason that the contractor performed the work.

***

A constructive change issue arises for work if the Government either expressly or impliedly ordered the work outside the scope of the contract, or if the Government otherwise caused the contractor to incur additional work….In any event, the Government must have directed the contractor to perform the additional work.  The work must not have been volunteered.”

CEMS, supra, at 203 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

It is the constructive change that typically leads to what is referred to as a request for equitable adjustment or REA.  An equitable adjustment compensates a prime contractor for the increased costs it incurs in performing the contract, whether due to additional work or delays caused by the government.  Morrison Knudsen Corp. v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 175 F.3d 1221, 1243-44 (10th Cir. 1999).   “Some equitable adjustments are for work added by formal change orders….Other equitable adjustments result from ‘constructive changes,’ which occur when the government does something to increase the contractor’s costs without issuing a formal change order.” Id at 1244.

 

 

For a prime contractor to receive an equitable adjustment under the changes clause, it bears the burden of proving liability, causation, and injury.  P.R. Burke Corp. v. U.S., 58 Fed.Cl. 549, 556 (Fed.Cl. 2003).   The prime contractor must “prove that the government somehow delayed, accelerated, augmented, or complicated the work, and thereby caused the contractor to incur specific additional costs.”  Morrison Knudsen Corp., 175 F.3d at 1244.  Stated differently, “[b]efore an equitable adjustment will be granted, plaintiffs [prime contractor] are required to demonstrate that: (1) increased costs arose from conditions materially different from what the contract documents indicated and that such conditions were reasonably unforeseeable based on all information available to the contractor; and (2) the changes in the requirements caused the increased costs.”  Sipco Services & Marine, Inc. v. U.S., 41 Fed.Cl. 196, 224 (Fed.Cl. 1998).

 

As a prime contractor, if you experience a constructive change (increased costs to perform your work), notify the government and request an equitable adjustment to the contract.  If you volunteer to do additional work than you may be impacting your ability to request an equitable adjustment for a constructive change.  It is all about knowing and understanding your rights under the contract so that, among other things, you can preserve your right to seek additional compensation / an equitable adjustment to your contract price.

 

 

 

52.243-4 Changes (JUN 2007)

(a) The Contracting Officer may, at any time, without notice to the sureties, if any, by written order designated or indicated to be a change order, make changes in the work within the general scope of the contract, including changes-

(1) In the specifications (including drawings and designs);

(2) In the method or manner of performance of the work;

(3) In the Government-furnished property or services; or

(4) Directing acceleration in the performance of the work.

(b) Any other written or oral order (which, as used in this paragraph (b), includes direction, instruction, interpretation, or determination) from the Contracting Officer that causes a change shall be treated as a change order under this clause; provided, that the Contractor gives the Contracting Officer written notice stating (1) the date, circumstances, and source of the order and (2) that the Contractor regards the order as a change order.

(c) Except as provided in this clause, no order, statement, or conduct of the Contracting Officer shall be treated as a change under this clause or entitle the Contractor to an equitable adjustment.

(d) If any change under this clause causes an increase or decrease in the Contractor’s cost of, or the time required for, the performance of any part of the work under this contract, whether or not changed by any such order, the Contracting Officer shall make an equitable adjustment and modify the contract in writing. However, except for an adjustment based on defective specifications, no adjustment for any change under paragraph (b) of this clause shall be made for any costs incurred more than 20 days before the Contractor gives written notice as required. In the case of defective specifications for which the Government is responsible, the equitable adjustment shall include any increased cost reasonably incurred by the Contractor in attempting to comply with the defective specifications.

(e) The Contractor must assert its right to an adjustment under this clause within 30 days after (1) receipt of a written change order under paragraph (a) of this clause or (2) the furnishing of a written notice under paragraph (b) of this clause, by submitting to the Contracting Officer a written statement describing the general nature and amount of proposal, unless this period is extended by the Government. The statement of proposal for adjustment may be included in the notice under paragraph (b) above.

(f) No proposal by the Contractor for an equitable adjustment shall be allowed if asserted after final payment 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.

MILLER ACT TIME

UnknownIf you are a subcontractor or a sub-subcontractor / supplier in direct privity of contract with a subcontractor on a federal project, you NEED to know your Miller Act payment bond rights.  Why?  Because the payment bond is designed to protect YOUR interests as a mechanism to insure non-payment.

 

Sub-subcontractors and suppliers in direct privity of contract with a subcontractor MUST serve the prime contractor within 90 days of their final furnishing date a notice of non-payment stating “with substantial accuracy the amount claimed and the name of the party to whom the material was furnished or supplied or for whom the labor was done or performed [e.g., the subcontractor].”  40 USC 3133(b)(2).  Please do not neglect this all-important initial step in preserving a Miller Act payment bond claim.  The notice should be served from the final furnishing of labor or materials exclusive of punchlist or warranty / corrective work.  (Notably, subcontractors in direct privity of contract with the prime contractor do not need to serve this notice of non-payment on the prime contractor.)

 

 

In U.S. f/u/b/o Butler Supply, Inc. v. Power & Data, LLC, 2014 WL 4913421 (E.D.Miss. 2014), a supplier furnished electrical materials to an electrical subcontractor working on a federal project.  Due to non-payment, the supplier sued the prime contractor’s Miller Act payment bond.   The prime contractor argued that the supplier is not a valid Miller Act payment bond claimant because it did not have a direct contract with the supplier.  The federal district court dismissed this argument because the electrical subcontractor signed a credit application and corresponding personal guaranty that served as the basis of a direct contract between the supplier and subcontractor. To this point, the federal district court expressed, “[S]eparate order of materials under an open account or credit basis, typically represented in purchase orders or invoices, satisfy the [Miller] Act’s underlying contract requirement.”  Butler Supply, supra, at *3.

 

Next, the prime contractor argued that the supplier did not timely serve its written notice of non-payment within 90-days of final furnishing because the supplier could not prove that the materials were delivered to the job. The federal district court dismissed this argument too since actual delivery or incorporation of materials into a federal project is immaterial with respect to a supplier’s Miller Act rights.  What is material is the “supplier’s good faith belief that the materials were intended for the specified work [project].”  Butler Supply, supra, at *4 (internal quotation and citation omitted).   In this instance, the supplier submitted invoices showing the material furnished, the price of the material, the name and location of the project, and delivery tickets showing the materials were signed by the subcontractor.

 

In Butler Supply, the federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the supplier’s Miller Act claims dismissing the prime contractor’s arguments.  Although this ruling it outside of Florida, the same result should be achieved in a Miller Act suit in Florida.   The key is to (a) establish a direct contractual relationship with a subcontractor and (b) establish your final furnishing date with documentary evidence (since you can expect the prime contractor to challenge the timeliness of the written notice of non-payment).  In Butler Supply, the supplier relied on a credit application (and subsequently submitted invoices), which is a routine document required by suppliers, especially suppliers that furnish material on credit or through an open account.   And, the supplier relied on invoices and delivery tickets reflecting its final furnishing date and that it had a good faith belief the materials furnished would be utilized on the project.

 

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.

CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS AND YOUR “ORDER OF PRECEDENCE” CLAUSE

UnknownDuring the negotiation of construction contracts there is often consideration as to the priority of the Contract Documents.  In other words, in the event of a conflict with the Contract Documents, what is the priority that you want to govern the conflict?  To address this, parties may include an order of precedence clause that clarifies how conflicts with the Contract Documents are to be interpreted by prioritizing the Contract Documents.

 

The AIA Document A201 (General Conditions) deems the Contract Documents as complementary (see § 1.2.1 -“The Contract Documents are complementary, and what is required by one shall be as binding as if required by all….”) without including an order of priority to determine which Contract Document truly governs a conflict.  The AIA does not really favor establishing an order of precedence;  but, if supplementary conditions are added to modify the A201 General Conditions, the AIA does suggest model language:

 

§ 1.2.1.1 In the event of conflicts or discrepancies among the Contract Documents, interpretations will be based on the following priorities:

1. Modifications.

2. The Agreement.

3. Addenda, with those of later date having precedence over those of earlier date.

4. The Supplementary Conditions.

5. The General Conditions of the Contract for Construction.

6. Division 1 of the Specifications.

7. Drawings and Divisions 2–49 of the Specifications.

8. Other documents specifically enumerated in the Agreement as part of the Contract Documents.

 

 

The EJCDC C-700 (General Conditions) contains virtually identical language as the AIA A201 deeming the Contract Documents as complementary: (see § 3.01.A- “The Contract Documents are complementary; what is required by one is as binding if required by all.”)

 

The ConsensusDocs 200 (Agreement and General Conditions) takes a much more proactive approach regarding conflicts by containing the following clauses:

 

14.2.2 In case of conflicts between the drawings and specifications, the specifications shall govern….

 

 14.2.5 ORDER OF PRECEDENCE In case of any inconsistency, conflict, or ambiguity among the Contract Documents, the documents shall govern in the following order: (a) Change Orders and written amendments to this Agreement; (b) this Agreement; (c) subject to subsection 14.2.2 the drawings (large scale governing over small scale), specifications and addenda issued prior to the execution of this Agreement or signed by both Parties; (d) information furnished by the Owner pursuant to subsection 3.13.4 or designated as a Contract Document in section 14.1; (e) other documents listed in this Agreement. Among categories of documents having the same order of precedence, the term or provision that includes the latest date shall control. Information identified in one Contract Document and not identified in another shall not be considered a conflict or inconsistency.

 

 

Even Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.236-21 incorporated into government prime construction contracts contains language that, “In the case of difference between drawings and specifications, the specifications shall govern.”

 

There are certainly pluses and minuses to creating an order of precedence provision.  A minus is that implementing a provision takes away from the complementary nature of the Contract Documents.  Thus, whatever hierarchy you determine and include is a hierarchy you need to understand because you will be living by it. There is also the concern that the provision is incorporated to perhaps serve as a substitute for properly executed, coordinated, and detailed plans and specifications or is incorporated to reduce the contractor’s risk to check the Contract Documents to address any inconsistencies on the front end.   On the other hand, as a plus, these clauses provide necessary guidance in the event there is a claim due to a conflict with the Contract Documents. Most of the time, I tend to favor an order of precedence provision to prioritize direct conflicts in the Contract Documents.  Depending on whether you are the owner, the contractor, or even a subcontractor, forethought should be given to the order of precedence of the Contract Documents since there is a good chance this order will be relied on once construction commences.

 

 

imagesTo illustrate the application of an order of precedence provision, in Hensel Phelps Const. Co. v. U.S., 886 F.2d 1296 (Fed.Cir. 1989), a prime contractor sought an equitable adjustment of its contract. The contractor relied on an order of precedence provision that required the specifications to govern over any conflict between the drawings and specifications (see routinely incorporated F.A.R. 52.236-21).  In this case, the specifications called for a minimum of 18” of fill under concrete floor slabs; however, the drawings called for 36” inches of fill.  The contractor priced the job with the 18” of fill.  During construction, the contracting officer directed the contractor to install 36” of fill which triggered the equitable adjustment.   The government, however, argued that the contractor knew of this discrepancy all along.  The Federal Circuit Court nevertheless held that the contractor should be entitled to an equitable adjustment since the specifications had priority over this direct conflict:

 

Reliance was properly placed on the order of precedence clause to resolve a discrepancy between the specifications and the drawings and this resolution was reflected in the bid. When the government insisted on 36 inches of fill, rather than the 18 inches called for in the specifications, the contractor was required to perform more work than the contract required and more than its bid price contemplated. Consequently, on the record here neither Hensel Phelps [prime contractor] nor Watts [subcontractor] can be said to have profited or otherwise benefited by reliance on the order of precedence clause.” 

Hensel Phelps, 886 F.2d at 1299.

 

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.

DIFFERING SITE CONDITIONS: TYPE I & TYPE II CLAIMS

imagesIt is not uncommon for contractors, especially foundation and civil contractors, to encounter unanticipated site conditions.  These conditions are known as “differing site conditions.”    In government contracting, there is a differing site conditions clause (F.A.R. 52.236-2 shown at the bottom of this posting that is routinely incorporated into prime contracts and subcontracts through flow-down provisions) that identifies two types of differing site conditions.

 

Type I differing site conditions are “subsurface or latent physical conditions at the site which differ materially from those indicated in the contract.”  F.A.R. 52.236-2.  Type II differing site conditions, on the other hand, are “unknown physical conditions at the site, of an unusual nature, which differ materially from those ordinarily encountered and generally recognized as inhering in work of the character provided for in the contract.”  Id.

 

If a contractor complies with the differing site conditions clause and proves the differing site condition, it should be entitled to an equitable adjustment from the government.  The objective behind the differing site conditions clause is to prevent contractors from including fluff in their prices to account for contingencies and unknown conditions since the government will equitably adjust the contract based on these conditions.  In reality, though, the contractor still bears the burden of proving the differing site condition which is oftentimes more challenging than it sounds.  It is important for contractors to understand the difference between Type I and Type II differing site conditions so that they know what is necessary to support an appropriate adjustment to their contract (from a dollar and time standpoint).

 

 

I. Type I Differing Site Condition (subsurface or latent conditions differing materially from contract):

 

There are six elements to a Type I differing site conditions claim that a contractor must prove:

 

(1) that the contract affirmatively indicated subsurface conditions upon which the contractor’s claims are based; (2) that the plaintiff acted as a reasonably prudent contractor in interpreting the contract documents; (3) that the contractor reasonably relied on the indications of subsurface conditions in the contract; (4) that the subsurface conditions actually encountered differed materially from subsurface conditions indicated in the contract; (5) that the subsurface conditions encountered were reasonably unforeseeable; and (6) that the contractor’s claimed excess costs were solely attributable to the materially different subsurface conditions.”

Weston/Bean Joint Venture v. U.S., 115 Fed.Cl. 215, 218 (Fed.Cl. 2014).

 

These conditions are in addition to the initial notice requirement that the contractor must give the contracting officer before proceeding with the alleged additional work.  See Id. at 218, n.2 citing F.A.R. 52.236-2.  Timely notice should always be given, especially notice before the work commences, to take away any argument that notice was not properly or timely provided to the government.

 

The contractor should also submit any request for equitable adjustment or claim based on the six elements.  This means the contractor needs to point out the subsurface or latent conditions that were indicated in the contract documents and the reasoning / factual basis supporting the different subsurface conditions that the contractor encountered.  This is important because a contractor will not succeed with its Type I differing site conditions claim without showing what the contract indicated. As the United States Court of Federal Claims explained:

 

A contractor cannot prevail on a claim for a Type I differing site condition unless the contract indicated what that condition would be.  However, the indication in the contract need not be explicit or specific if it provide[s] sufficient grounds to justify a bidder’s expectation of latent conditions materially different from those actually encountered. There must be reasonably plain or positive indications in the bid information or contract documents that such subsurface conditions would be otherwise than actually found in contract performance ….  Determining what the contract indicated requires contract interpretation performed by stepping into the shoes of a reasonable and prudent contractor and decid[ing] how such a contractor would act in interpreting the contract documents.”

All Power, Inc. v. U.S., 60 Fed.Cl. 679, 684 (Fed.Cl. 2004) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

The contractor should also endeavor to separately cost code and track its costs (manpower, equipment, subcontractor(s), etc.) solely relating to the differing site condition.

 

 

 

 II. Type II Differing Site Condition (unknown physical conditions at the site differing materially from those ordinarily encountered and generally recognized): 

 

There are three elements to a Type II differing site conditions claim that a contractor must prove: “(1) the condition must be unknown to the contractor; (2) unusual; and (3) materially different from comparable work.”  All Power, 60 Fed.Cl. at 685.  Type II claims are harder to prove because the contractor carries a heavier burden “since there is a greater duty to conduct pre-bid inquiries or reasonable site inspections inasmuch as recovery is available only if the condition is unknown, which means it would not have been revealed upon inquiry or during a reasonable site investigation.”  Totem Construction, ASBCA 35985, 1990 WL 224243 (1990).

 

Similar to a Type I claim, the contractor must provide timely notice and endeavor to separately cost code and track the additional work it incurs in furtherance of supporting a request for equitable adjustment or claim.

 

 

52.236-2 Differing Site Conditions.-                                                                                                                                                                                               
(a) The Contractor shall promptly, and before the conditions
are disturbed, give a written notice to the Contracting
Officer of—
(1) Subsurface or latent physical conditions at the site
which differ materially from those indicated in this contract;
or
(2) Unknown physical conditions at the site, of an
unusual nature, which differ materially from those ordinarily

encountered and generally recognized as inhering in work of
the character provided for in the contract.

(b) The Contracting Officer shall investigate the site conditions
promptly after receiving the notice. If the conditions
do materially so differ and cause an increase or decrease in the
Contractor’s cost of, or the time required for, performing any
part of the work under this contract, whether or not changed
as a result of the conditions, an equitable adjustment shall be
made under this clause and the contract modified in writing
accordingly.
(c) No request by the Contractor for an equitable adjustment
to the contract under this clause shall be allowed, unless
the Contractor has given the written notice required; provided,
that the time prescribed in paragraph (a) of this clause for

giving written notice may be extended by the Contracting Officer.

(d) No request by the Contractor for an equitable adjustment
to the contract for differing site conditions shall be
allowed if made after final payment 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.