Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government Contracts
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In 2017 the Army issued a logistics support services solicitation, to award several indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts—each covering services among six geographic commands, plus Afghanistan. Contracting officers often must discuss deficiencies and significant weaknesses in proposals with offerors before proposals are final. When an offeror proposes a price that is unreasonably high, the government must discuss that unreasonableness with the offeror, potentially giving it a chance to revise its proposal. If the price is too high yet not unreasonable, the government need not discuss it. As a result. an offeror whose initial proposal is unreasonably priced may fare better than one whose is not. Six firms sought to perform the Army’s logistics work. DynCorp lost. Its prices were higher than the others; its proposed technical approach was worse. After balancing four proposal-evaluation factors, none of which DynCorp was best on, the Army went with other offerors.The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of DynCorp’s bid protest, rejecting an argument that the price it gave the Army was so high as to be unreasonable—and that the Army should have concluded as much and given it the opportunity to revise its proposed approach. The court found no error in the Army’s price-reasonableness analysis. View "DynCorp International, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1942-1943, the government contracted with the Oil Companies to rapidly expand aviation gas (avgas) production facilities and sell vast quantities of avgas to the government with an artificially low profit margin. The government assumed certain risks, agreeing to reimburse “any new or additional taxes, fees, or charges” which the Companies “may be required by any municipal, state, or federal law ... to collect or pay by reason of the production, manufacture, sale or delivery of the [avgas].” The increased production led to increased amounts of acid waste that overwhelmed existing reprocessing facilities. The Companies contracted to dispose of the acid waste at the McColl site in Fullerton, California.In 1991, the United States and California sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, seeking to require the Companies to pay cleanup costs. The Ninth Circuit held that the government was 100% liable for the cost of cleaning up the benzol waste (about 5.5% of the waste) at the McColl site. The Companies have borne nearly all of the clean-up costs incurred since 1994; they submitted a contract termination claim, seeking reimbursement. The Claims Court ultimately found the government liable for all cleanup costs at the McColl site and awarded the Companies $99,509,847.32 for costs incurred through November 2015. The government paid. Remediation at McColl remains ongoing. The Companies sought damages incurred after November 2015. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the government is liable for those costs plus interest, rejecting arguments that res judicata bars the claims and that the Claims Court did not have jurisdiction under the Contract Settlement Act of 1944. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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ICE issued a solicitation for the provision of detention, food, and transportation at its Florence Detention Center. Asset was the incumbent contractor. ICE responded "yes" to, “Arizona charges 4.5% ‘business tax’; will the Federal Government issue a tax exemption certificate to the successful offeror?” Asset’s initial proposal indicated that “[s]ales taxes were not charged” based on that answer. ICE selected Akima's proposal. Asset filed a bid protest. ICE took voluntary corrective action and issued Amendment 17; Amendment 19 subsequently clarified that ICE “CANNOT delegate its tax-exempt status” and instructed that offerors review their proposals and provide their best and final prices. Asset responded that it had reviewed Amendment 19 and that its proposal did not require revision but did not remove the tax-exempt language from its proposal. ICE again clarified the tax-exempt status question via Amendment 20. Asset again responded that it did not need to amend its proposal but the tax-exempt certificate language remained. ICE ultimately selected Akima, concluding that Asset was ineligible for the award because the tax-exempt certificate language rendered its proposal a contingent price. Asset filed another bid protest, disputing ICE’s best-value analysis. The GAO agreed that ICE improperly determined that Asset’s bid contained contingency pricing but concluded that Asset “was not prejudiced” because ICE’s best-value analysis was “reasonable,”The Claims Court concluded that Asset lacked standing to bring the bid protest. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Asset’s proposal was non-responsive to the requirements of the Solicitation, as explicitly amended, making it ineligible for the award. View "Asset Protection and Security Services, L.P. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Census Bureau issued a request for quotations seeking statistical analysis system and database programming support services. The Bureau intended to issue a time and materials task order, set aside for women-owned small businesses; the contract award would be made on a best-value basis, considering price and four nonprice factors. The Bureau’s technical evaluation team assigned Harmonia’s proposal nine strengths, no weaknesses, and two risks under factor one, the technical factor; its proposals to cross-train its development staff and to introduce an extract, transform, and load (ETL) automation tool could provide efficiencies but Harmonia’s proposed cross-training and use of an ETL automation tool could result in delays in contract performance. The contracting officer found no meaningful differences in the Harmonia and Alethix proposals with respect to factors two, three, and four; the tradeoff analysis was rooted in the technical factor: The Bureau awarded Alethix the contract.Harmonia filed a protest, challenging the technical evaluation, alleging that the contracting officer violated 48 C.F.R. 19.301-1(b) by failing to refer Alethix to the Small Business Administration for a size determination, and challenging the best-value determination, The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court in granting the government judgment on the administrative record with respect to Counts I and III and dismissing Count II for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Harmonia had not availed itself of the SBA’s procedures for bringing a size protest. View "Harmonia Holdings Group, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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When a Colorado court ordered Colorado Health Insurance Cooperative into liquidation, the government owed Colorado Health $24,489,799 for reinsurance debts under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 42 U.S.C. 18061. The reinsurance program, which only lasted three years, collected yearly payments from all insurers and made payments to insurers of particularly costly individuals that year. Colorado Health owed the Department of Health and Human Services $42,000,000 for debts under ACA’s risk adjustment program, which charges insurers of individuals who had below-average actuarial risk and pays insurers of individuals who had above-average actuarial risk. The government attempted to leapfrog other insolvency creditors through offset, rather than paying its debt and making a claim against Colorado Health’s estate as an insolvency creditor.The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court in ordering the government to pay. Neither state nor federal law affords the government a right to offset. Colorado law concerning the liquidation of insurance companies is limited to offsetting debts and credits in contractual obligations. ACA does not preempt Colorado insolvency law; a “Netting Regulation” is directed to an ancillary issue, payment convenience. The government has not shown a “significant conflict between an identifiable federal policy or interest and the operation of state law.” View "Conway v. United States" on Justia Law

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GSA leased a building from NOAA’s predecessor; the annual rent includes agreed “[b]ase year taxes.” GSA must compensate NOAA for “any increase in real estate taxes during the lease term over the amount established as the base year taxes” and defines “real estate taxes” as “only those taxes, which are assessed against the building and/or the land upon which the building is located, without regard to benefit to the property, for the purpose of funding general Government services. Real estate taxes shall not include, without limitation, general and/or special assessments, business improvement district assessments, or any other present or future taxes or governmental charges that are imposed upon the Lessor or assessed against the building and/or the land upon which the building is located.In 2016, NOAA asked GSA to reimburse it for the Stormwater/Chesapeake Bay Water Quality tax, the Washington Suburban Transit Commission tax, the Clean Water Act Fee, and a Supplemental Education Tax. All four appear on the consolidated tax bill. The clean water tax, effective in 2013, is collected for the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund, “in the same manner as County real property taxes and [has] the same priority, rights, and bear[s] the same interest and penalties, and [is] enforced in the same manner as County real property taxes.”GSA denied the claim. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals held that the lease provision excludes all taxes enacted after the date of the lease, even if those taxes meet expressly stated criteria for being a real estate tax. The Federal Circuit reversed. Under ordinary interpretive principles, a real estate tax qualifies under the Lease provision whenever it satisfies the three criteria of the first sentence. View "NOAA Maryland, LLC v. General Services Administration" on Justia Law

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In 2008, severe storms hit Indiana. Columbus Hospital sustained significant damage. President Bush authorized FEMA assistance through disaster grants under the Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. 5121–5206. The state agreed to be the grantee for all grant assistance, with the exception of assistance to individuals and households. FEMA reserved the right to recover assistance funds if they were spent inappropriately or distributed through error, misrepresentation, or fraud. Columbus apparently submitted its request directly to FEMA, instead of through the state. FEMA approved Columbus projects, totaling approximately $94 million. Funds were transmitted to Columbus through the state. In 2013, the DHS Inspector General issued an audit report finding that Columbus had committed procurement violations and recommended that FEMA recover $10.9 million. FEMA reduced that amount to $9,612,831.19 and denied Columbus’s appeal. Columbus did not seek judicial review. FEMA recovered the disputed costs from Columbus in 2014.In 2018, Columbus filed suit, alleging four counts of contract breach and illegal exaction. The Claims Court dismissed Columbus’s illegal exaction claim, holding that Columbus did not have a property interest in the disputed funds and that FEMA’s appeal process protected Columbus’s rights to due process, and dismissed Columbus’s contract-based claims, finding that Columbus had no rights against FEMA under that contract or otherwise. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the illegal exaction and express and implied contract claims. The court vacated the dismissal of the third-party beneficiary contract claim. View "Columbus Regional Hospital v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Meidinger submitted whistleblower information to the IRS under 26 U.S.C. 7623, concerning “one million taxpayers in the healthcare industry that are involved in a kickback scheme.” The IRS acknowledged receipt of the information, but did not take action against the accused persons. The IRS notified Meidinger of that determination. Meidinger argued that the IRS created a contract when it confirmed receipt of his Form 211 Application, obligating it to investigate and to pay the statutory award. The Tax Court held that it lacked the authority to order the IRS to act and granted the IRS summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit affirmed that Meidinger was not eligible for a whistleblower award because the information did not result in initiation of an administrative or judicial action or collection of tax proceeds.In 2018, Meidinger filed another Form 211, with the same information as his previous submission. The IRS acknowledged receipt, but advised Meidinger that the information was “speculative” and “did not provide specific or credible information regarding tax underpayments or violations of internal revenue laws.” The Tax Court dismissed his suit for failure to state a claim; the D.C. Circuit affirmed, stating that a breach of contract claim against the IRS is properly filed in the Claims Court under the Tucker Act: 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal, agreeing that the submission of information did not create a contract. View "Meidinger v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Army granted Authentic a nonexclusive license to manufacture and sell clothing bearing the Army’s trademarks. The agreement required the Army’s advance written approval of any products and marketing materials bearing the Army’s trademarks and included exculpatory clauses that exempted the Army from liability for exercising its discretion to deny approval. In 2011-2014, Authentic submitted nearly 500 requests for approval; the Army disapproved 41 submissions. During that time, Authentic received several formal notices of material breach for claimed failures to timely submit royalty reports and pay royalties. Authentic eventually paid its royalties through 2013. Authentic’s counsel indicated that Authentic would not pay outstanding royalties for 2014.Authentic's ensuing breach of contract suit cited the Army’s denial of the right to exploit the goodwill associated with the Army’s trademarks, refusal to permit Authentic to advertise its contribution to Army recreation programs, delay of approval for a financing agreement, denial of approval for advertising, and breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing by not approving the sale of certain garments. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The license agreement stated in no uncertain terms that the Army had “sole and absolute discretion” regarding approval of Authentic’s proposed products and marketing materials; the exercise of that broad approval discretion is not inconsistent with principles of trademark law. View "Authentic Apparel Geoup, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security issued the Solicitation as a Request for Proposal for a potentially multi-year contract for dorm management services at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. During the evaluation process, the government eliminated Safeguard’s proposal from consideration because Safeguard omitted pricing information for 16 contract line item numbers totaling $6,121,228.The Claims Court and Federal Circuit upheld the award to another bidder. The Solicitation required offerors to submit the pricing information and provided notice that elimination was possible if that pricing information was omitted. Safeguard’s omissions were material and not subject to waiver or clarification. The court upheld the denial of Safeguard’s email request to supplement the administrative record through discovery and the denial of its motion to supplement the administrative record with affidavits. The Claims Court had jurisdiction over a claim that the government breached an implied-in-fact contract to fairly and honestly consider an offeror’s proposal in the procurement context under 28 U.S.C. 1491(b)(1). View "Safeguard Base Operations, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law