If you execute a release in exchange for payment or other consideration, remember the language in the release means something.  THE RELEASE LANGUAGE MATTERS! And the meaning in the release may be way more than you intended so please make sure you truly digest and consider release language before executing.

This sentiment could not be truer than in the 2009 decision Bell BCI Company v. United States, 570 F.3d 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2009). In this case, a contractor entered into a modification (change order) with the government.  The modification included the following language:

increase the contract amount by $2,296,963 … as full and equitable adjustment for the remaining direct and indirect costs of the Floor 4 Fit-out (EWO 240–R1) and full and equitable adjustment for all delays resulting from any and all Government changes transmitted to the Contractor on or before August 31, 2000.


The modification agreed to herein is a fair and equitable adjustment for the Contractor’s direct and indirect costs. This modification provides full compensation for the changed work, including both Contract cost and Contract time. The Contractor hereby releases the Government from any and all liability under the Contract for further equitable adjustment attributable to the Modification.

Bell BCI, supra, at 1339.

The release language was also included in subsequent modifications.

Thereafter, the government issued 113 additional modifications to the contractor, and there were numerous unresolved extra work orders that were not turned into a modification. After the contractor completed the project, it submitted a request for equitable adjustment to the contracting officer.  The contracting officer denied the request for equitable adjustment and asserted liquidated damages against the contractor for delays to the project. The contractor filed a lawsuit against the government claiming inefficiencies and delays caused by the cumulative impact and disruption from all the modifications issued by the government. The trial court found in favor of the contractor.  The government appealed and the finding was much different. This is why.

Regardless of the cumulative impact claim, the contractor signed a modification that “‘provides full compensation for the changed work’” and that [the contractor] “‘hereby releases the Government from any and all liability under this Contract for further equitable adjustment attributable to the Modification.’”  Bell BCI, supra, at 1340.   Under the modification and release language, the appellate court held the issue was not whether the contractor sustained a cumulative impact, but whether the contractor released the government for the impact through the language in the executed modification.

The appellate court maintained that a release is interpreted no different than any other contract and parol evidence will be reviewed only in the event of an ambiguity.  Bell BCI, supra, at 1341. If there is no ambiguity, the plan language in the release will control. Id.

We hold that the language in paragraph 8 of Mod 93 is unambiguous, and the [trial] court clearly erred in holding that [the contractor] did not release its cumulative impact claims attributable to that modification. The language plainly states that [the contractor] released the government from any and all liability for equitable adjustments attributable to Mod 93. At best, there may be ambiguity as to which claims are “attributable to” a given modification, but we cannot glean any ambiguity about which types of claims are released-Mod 93 clearly, unambiguously releases the government from “any and all” liability. As the Supreme Court stated in United States v. William Cramp & Sons Ship & Engine Building Co., “[i]f parties intend to leave some things open and unsettled, their intent so to do should be made manifest.” 206 U.S. 118, 128, 42 Ct.Cl. 532, 27 S.Ct. 676, 51 L.Ed. 983 (1907). Further, the government’s payment of over $2,000,000 in Mod 93 constitutes adequate consideration for [the contractor’s] release.

In the absence of an ambiguity, we decline to examine the parties’ extrinsic evidence [i.e., parol evidence].

Bell BCI, supra, at 1341-42.

Is this the right ruling? Did the contractor intend to release cumulative impacts such that the ruling from the trial court, that entertained the evidence, should control? Unfortunately for the contractor, the intent did not matter to the appellate court because the plain language of the unambiguous release eliminated the need to hear parol evidence on intent.  Hence, the overarching takeaway – think before you execute that release!

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


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