Deference will be given to a procuring public agency in a bid protest, particularly when the issue involves whether a bid is non-responsive and constitutes a material deviation from the solicitation. You do not believe me? Perhaps you will after this holding in Biscayne Marine Partners, LLC v. City of Miami, Florida, 44 Fla.L.Weekly D467a (Fla. 3d DCA 2019):
Consequently, no principle of law is clearly established…as to any obligation of the trial court (and, by analogy, an administrative hearing officer) [in a bid protest] to decide or to defer [whether a bid constitutes a material deviation from the solicitation]. If anything, the existing and clearly established principle of law inclines toward judicial deference in public agency competitive bidding disputes when the agency has exercised it discretion absent illegality, fraud, oppression or misconduct.
I do not know about you, but that last underlined sentence is pretty strong language regarding judicial deference!
In this case, Miami (the procuring public agency) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment and lease of waterfront property, for the operation of a marina, boatyard, restaurant, wet slips, and a dry storage facility on the property. Miami issued five addenda to the RFP. There were three bidders.
On a boundary survey attached to the RFP applicable to the redevelopment, there was a rectangular location designated “Not a Part.” All three bidders made some use of the location designated “Not a Part” in their proposals. Apparently, there was nothing specific as to what this “Not a Part” meant; it could have reasonably meant it was not included in the boundary survey or it could have reasonably meant it was not to be included for purposes of redevelopment.
Miami issued a recommendation to the top-ranked proposer based on rankings from its evaluation committee. Another proposer filed a bid protest claiming that the top-ranked proposal should be deemed non-responsive since it proposed a redevelopment outside of the property’s defined boundaries by utilizing the location defined as “Not a Part.” The protester claimed this constituted a material deviation from Miami’s RFP (solicitation).
I will be the first to tell you that this is confusing since all of the proposers including the protester made some use of the location defined as “Not a Part.”
Notwithstanding, the protest proceeded to a hearing officer pursuant to Miami’s bid protest procedures and the hearing officer claimed that even if the “Not a Part’ location in the boundary survey meant it was not allowed to be considered for the redevelopment, “the City had the ability to determine whether that made a difference to the outcome and whether the deviation was material.” The hearing officer, in denying the protest, further accepted Miami’s interpretation that nothing in the RFP prohibited the use of the “Not a Part” location for redevelopment purposes.
The protester then filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the appellate division of Miami-Dade’s Circuit Court. The protester’s writ was denied, with the appellate division giving deference to Miami’s interpretation of “Not a Part” in the boundary survey.
The protester then filed a second-tier petition of writ of certiorari to the Third District Court of Appeal. The protester’s main argument was that neither the hearing officer nor the appellate division should have given deference to Miami. Rather, they needed to conduct their own independent determination of the issue and whether the top-ranked proposal constituted a material deviation from the RFP.
However, the Third District held that what the protestor wanted from an “independent determination” standpoint was not the law. There is no law that precludes a hearing officer or appellate body in a bid protest from deferring to the procuring public agency as to whether a proposal (or bid) constitutes a material deviation from the solicitation and is, therefore, non-responsive. To the contrary, the law would be inclined to support “judicial deference in public agency competitive bidding disputes when the agency has exercised its discretion absent illegality, fraud, oppression or misconduct.” Biscayne Marine Partners, supra.
As I mentioned above, this is pretty strong language regarding deference given to a procuring public agency. Therefore, pick your fights wisely!
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