Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government Contracts
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Ascolese, a compliance officer, brought a False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim against his former employer, MBP, in connection with a qui tam action involving a federally-funded public housing construction project for the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). In 2009–2010, Congress amended the FCA, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(A), to expand the scope of protected conduct shielded from retaliation and the type of notice an employer must have of the protected conduct. The new standard is whether Ascolese showed he engaged in protected conduct in furtherance of an FCA action or other efforts to stop or more violations of the FCA and that he was discriminated against because of his protected conduct. The court believed that the pre-amendment standard was required by the Third Circuit, and concluded that Ascolese failed to show MBP was on notice that he was attempting to stop MBP from violating the FCA and not merely doing his job.The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The right question is whether Ascolese pled facts that plausibly showed MBP was on notice he tried to stop MBP’s alleged FCA violation. Ascolese sufficiently pled that he engaged in protected conduct when he went outside of his chain of command to report his concerns of fraudulent work to the PHA. View "Ascolese v. Shoemaker Construction Co" on Justia Law

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Jernigan Copeland Attorneys, PLLC (JCA), a law firm practicing out of Ridgeland, Mississippi, filed suit against Shad White, in his official capacity as auditor for the state of Mississippi, seeking to recover damages for services rendered and for the reimbursement of costs and expenses owed to a public relations firm. A circuit court found that, because discovery had not been completed in the case, genuine issues of material fact remained. Thus, it denied the office of the state auditor’s (OSA) motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment. Because JCA failed to submit evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact that the employment contract complied with statutory requirements, and because JCA’s alternative claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial of summary judgment. View "White v. Jernigan Copeland Attorneys, PLLC" on Justia Law

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The City of Los Angeles (City) entered into a contract with defendant and respondent PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC (PWC) to modernize the billing system for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). PWC filed a motion for sanctions under Code of Civil Procedure sections 2023.010 and 2023.030 of the Civil Discovery Act nine months after the case was dismissed with prejudice, seeking monetary sanctions for egregious misuse of the discovery process while the litigation was pending. The trial court awarded $2.5 million in sanctions. On appeal from the postjudgment order, in response to a letter from this court inviting additional briefing pursuant to Government Code section 68081, the sanctioned party contends the Discovery Act does not authorize the trial court to award monetary sanctions under section 2023.030 alone or together with section 2023.010.   The Second Appellate District reversed the postjudgment order and remanded the matter for the trial court to enter a new and different order on the issue of monetary sanctions based on discovery provisions authorizing the imposition of sanctions in this case. The court explained that although the trial court had jurisdiction to entertain PWC’s motion for sanctions and discretion to find it was timely filed, the order awarding sanctions must be reversed and remanded to allow the trial court to award PWC’s reasonable expenses incurred as a result of sanctionable conduct under provisions of the Discovery Act other than sections 2023.010 and 2023.030. View "City of L.A. v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned whether Washington Substitute Senate Bill (SSB) 5493, constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. SSB 5493 amended RCW 39.12.015 to modify how the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) industrial statistician calculated prevailing wage rates for public works projects. Associated General Contractors of Washington, Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington Inc., Inland Pacific Chapter of Associate Builders and Contractors Inc., and Inland Northwest AGC Inc. (collectively AGC), filed suit against the State of Washington and various government officials in their official capacities (collectively State), for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that requiring the industrial statistician to use the wages from CBAs constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The superior court granted the State’s cross motion for summary judgment, holding that SSB 5493 was constitutional, and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that SSB 5493 was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority, holding that the amendments have neither the standards nor adequate procedural safeguards as required by the two-part test set forth in Barry & Barry, Inc. v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 81 Wn.2d 155, 163-64, 500 P.2d 540 (1972). The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals: SSB 5493 was not an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority because it provided standards and procedural safeguards under the test in Barry & Barry. "The legislature made a policy decision to adopt the highest CBA wage rate and has directed the L&I industrial statistician to identify the highest CBA wage rate and adopt it as the prevailing wage. In addition there are procedural safeguards in related statutes and inherent in the collective bargaining process that protect against arbitrary administrative action or abuse of discretionary power." The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the remaining issue not addressed because of its disposition in this case. View "Associated Gen. Contractors of Wash. v. State" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the partial summary judgment rulings that an “all risk” insurance policy did not provide coverage for certain losses. At issue in WSDOT’s petition for review was whether the loss of use or functionality of the insured property constituted “physical loss” or “physical damage” that triggered coverage. STP’s petition asked whether the insurance policy excluded coverage for damage to the insured property caused by alleged design defects and whether the policy covers delay losses. This case arose out of a major construction project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. In 2011, STP contracted with WSDOT to construct a tunnel to replace the viaduct. The project started in July 2013. A tunnel boring machine (TBM) used in the project stopped working in December 2013, and did not resume until December 2015. The project was unable to continue during the two-year period while the TBM was disassembled, removed, and repaired. STP and WSDOT tendered insurance claims under the Policy. Great Lakes denied coverage, and STP and WSDOT sued the insurers, alleging wrongful denial of their claims. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding that even if it interpreted “direct physical loss or damage” to include loss of use, no coverage under Section 1 is triggered because the alleged loss of use was not caused by a physical condition impacting the insured property. View "Seattle Tunnel Partners v. Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) PLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the summary judgment entered by the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in favor of Warrensville Heights in this real property dispute, holding that the agreement between the parties in this case was valid and enforceable.The Beachwood City School District Board of Education sought approval from the state board of education for a transfer of territory it annexed in 1990 to the Beachwood City School District. The Warrensville Heights City School District Board of Education, whose district the annexed territory was a part of, objected. In 1997, Beachwood and Warrensville Heights agreed that the territory would not transfer to the Beachwood City School District but that the districts would share the tax revenue generated from real property located within the territory. The court of common pleas granted summary judgment for Warrensville Heights, concluding that the parties' agreement was not valid. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the 1997 agreement required neither approval nor a fiscal certificate and therefore was valid and enforceable. View "Beachwood City School District Bd. of Education v. Warrensville Heights City School District Bd. of Education" on Justia Law

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The State of North Dakota, ex rel. the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, and the Office of the Commissioner of University and School Lands, a/k/a the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands appealed a judgment dismissing its claim against Newfield Exploration Company relating to the underpayment of gas royalties. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that the district court concluded the State did not establish a legal obligation owed by Newfield. However, the State pled N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 in its counterclaim, which the court recognized at trial. Because the State satisfied both the pleading and the proof requirements of N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1, the Supreme Court held the district court erred in concluding the State did not prove Newfield owed it a legal obligation to pay additional royalties. Rather, as the well operator, Newfield owed the State an obligation under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 to pay royalties according to the State’s leases. The court failed to recognize Newfield’s legal obligations as a well operator under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in dismissing the State's counterclaim; therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for findings related to the State's damages and Newfield's affirmative defenses. View "Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law

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The Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority is a public corporation created to handle wastewater treatment for municipalities in northwest Arkansas. After a series of pipeline failures, the Authority sued the pipeline contractor and its surety, alleging deficient construction. The Authority sued outside the time periods specified in the relevant statutes of limitations and repose, but asserted that the time did not run against its claims, because the Authority was suing as a public entity seeking to vindicate public rights. The district court concluded that the rights the Authority sought to enforce were merely proprietary and that its claims were therefore time-barred.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the relevant proprietary interests are not transformed into public rights just because the Authority spent public money to repair the pipeline. Every action by a public entity impacts the public fisc to some degree. But if financial implications alone were enough to invoke nullum tempus, then the public-rights exception would swallow the general rule that statutes of limitations and repose run against municipal entities. Here, the damages sought would replenish the public entity’s coffers, but the relief would not vindicate a distinct public right. The Authority therefore cannot invoke nullum tempus to avoid the statutes of limitations or repose. View "NW AR Conservation Authority v. Crossland Heavy Contractors" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the Section 8 low-income housing assistance program, 42 U.S.C. 1437f. New Lansing renewed its Section 8 contract with Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority in 2014 for a 20-year term. In 2019, at the contractual time for its fifth-year rent adjustment, New Lansing submitted a rent comparability study (RCS) to assist CM Authority in determining the new contract rents. Following the 2017 HUD Section 8 Guidebook, CM Authority forwarded New Lansing’s RCS to HUD, which obtained an independent RCS. Based on the independent RCS undertaken pursuant to HUD’s Guidebook requirements, the Housing Authority lowered New Lansing’s contract rents amount.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of New Lansing’s suit for breach of contract. The Renewal Contract requires only that the Housing Authority “make any adjustments in the monthly contract rents, as reasonably determined by the contract administrator in accordance with HUD requirements, necessary to set the contract rents for all unit sizes at comparable market rents.” HUD has authority to prescribe how to determine comparable market rents, the Renewal Contract adopted those requirements, and thus the Housing Authority was required to follow those HUD methods. The Housing Authority did not act unreasonably by following the requirements in the 2017 HUD guidance. View "New Lansing Gardens Housing Limited Partnership v. Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Thomas Lowell provided piano tuning services to defendant Medford School District and assisted in producing concerts performed in defendant’s facilities. While providing production assistance for a particular concert, plain- tiff noticed an echo near the stage. He complained to the school theater technician, Stephanie Malone, and, later, feeling that Malone had not adequately responded, he followed up with her. Malone reported to her supervisor that plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated, that he “smelled of alcohol,” and that “this was not the first time.” The supervisor repeated Malone’s statements to a district support services assistant. The assistant sent emails summarizing Malone’s statements to three other district employees, including the supervisor of purchasing. The assistant expressed concerns that appearing on district property under the influence of alcohol violated district policy and the terms of plaintiff’s piano tuning contract. Plaintiff brought this defamation action against Malone, the supervisor and assistant, later substituting the School district for the individual defendants. Defendant answered, asserting multiple affirmative defenses, including the one at issue here: that public employees are entitled to an absolute privilege for defamatory statements made in the course and scope of their employment. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on that basis. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding that defendant as a public employer, did not have an affirmative defense of absolute privilege that entitled it to summary judgment. View "Lowell v. Medford School Dist. 549C" on Justia Law