The difficulty in prevailing in a bid protest is illustrated in the non-construction case of Charlotte County v. Grant Medical Transportation, Inc., 36 Fla. L. Weekly D173a (2d DCA 2011). In this case, Charlotte County solicited bids to provide the County with bus drivers and washers for a transit program for disabled persons. An unsuccessful bidder sued the County arguing that the winning bidder’s bid was nonresponsive because it failed to comply with requirements of the solicitation. In particular, the unsuccessful bidder argued that the bid solicitation required all bidders to acknowledge receipt of any addenda to the bidding documents prior to the close of the bids, i.e., bid opening, and the winning bidder failed to comply with this requirement making its bid nonresponsive. (A bid is nonrespnsive if it materially fails to comply with the solicitation. While minor irregularities can be waived by the public entity, material irregularities cannot in that they impact the integrity of the public procurement process which requires all bidders to be on an equal playing field.) After the bid opening, the County required the winning bidder to confirm its receipt of all addenda to the bid documents. (Notably, material portions of a bid should never be able to be changed after bid opening.)
The unsuccessful bidder moved for a temporary injunction preventing the County from awarding the contract at-issue to the winning bidder. The trial court granted the temporary injunction and the County appealed. At the time the trial court granted the injunction, the County had already contracted with the winning bidder and services had been provided in accordance with the contract.
The Second District relied on the following standard for granting injunctive relief:
“To obtain temporary injunctive relief, the movant must satisfy each of the following elements: (1) the movant has a clear legal right to the requested relief or, in other words, it has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) the movant will suffer irreparable harm if the trial court refuses to grant the injunction; (3) the movant does not have available another adequate remedy at law; and (4) a public interest will be served by the imposition of the injunction.” Grant Medical citing Snibbe v. Napoleonic Soc’y of Am., Inc., 682 So.2d 568, 570 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996).
The Second District reversed the granting of the temporary injunction primarily because the unsuccessful bidder offered no evidence at the noticed and contested hearing (to determine whether an injunction should be entered) to support any of the above-mentioned elements. Although the Second District noted that the winning bidder failed to confirm its receipt of all addenda prior to bid opening, at the injunction hearing, the Senior Division Manager of the County’s Purchasing Department testified that the winning bidder’s failure to confirm receipt was simply a minor deficiency or irregularity. The Second District also noted that at the time the trial court entered the injunction, the contract between the County and the winning bidder had been finalized, with services starting to be performed pursuant to the contract.
It is exceedingly difficult to satisfy each of the above-mentioned elements for the entry of a temporary injunction, especially in the bid protest arena. This case exemplifies the uphill battle an unsuccessful bidder has to prevent the public entity from awarding the contract to the winning bidder.
First, when a public entity waives a known irregularity with a winning bidder’s bid, it will always claim the irregularity is minor and, thus, waiveable at their discretion. This is the reason the County offered testimony at the injunction hearing to basically acknowledge the deficiency with the winning bidder’s bid but to say “it was not big deal.” Well, if it was not a big deal, then why did the County require the winning bidder to confirm receipt of the addenda AFTER bid opening? From a logical standpoint, it would seem that if it is important enough for the County to require that the winning bidder confirm in writing that it received all addenda to the solicitation after the bids were already opened and they knew who the winning bidder was, then it was a material component of the bid solicitation.
Second, unless something totally egregious transpires during the solicitation process, how can a unsuccessful bidder truly establish each and every element to the entry of injunctive relief at what is ultimately an early stage in the lawsuit when discovery should be ongoing? In other words, unless the movant can establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits or a public interest will be served by the imposition of the injunction, an injunction should not be entered. In Grant Medical, the trial court actually granted the injunction, but the Second District found reasons to reverse the entry of the injunction.
Finally, if the movant does not act quickly in getting the hearing on a temporary injunction, which should mean little discovery, if any, has been conducted, then the movant risks the public body finalizing and entering into the contract with the winning bidder and the winning bidder starting to perform services pursuant to the contract. A no-win situation for an unsuccessful bidder.
While unsuccessful bidders should certainly explore the possibility of protesting, it is important to consider the uphill battle that will be encountered. If the trial court will consider having a hearing and entering injunctive relief in a an ex parte (and, thus, uncontested hearing), that should be explored to avoid the undesirable situation of the contract being entered and services performed by the winning bidder. For this to take place, legal arguments and factual arguments need to be well framed to establish entitlement to the entry of injunctive relief. If a noticed and contested hearing is required, legal and factual arguments still need to be very well framed, but it is important to offer evidence at the hearing. Specifically, if your protest is based on the argument that the winning bidder’s bid was nonrespnsive, you need to know that the public body will argue that the deficiency was minor so that you are prepared to rebut this argument in order to establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. You should also offer evidence to show that the deviation is material in that it affects the public interest by detrimentally impacting the competitive procurement process (i.e., it would affect some material component of your bid such as price or scope, etc.).
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