The 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.
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