Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government Contracts
Fairhaven Housing Authority v. Commonwealth
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court judge dismissing the underlying declaratory judgment complaint in this declaratory judgment action regarding the scope of the Department of Housing and Community Development's (DHCD) authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7A, holding that dismissal was warranted.Plaintiffs - location housing authorities (LHAs) of various cities and towns, current and former executive directors of LHAs and others - sought a judgment declaring that DHCD exceeded its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7A by promulgating guidelines that govern contracts between an LHA and its executive director and making compliance with the guidelines a requirement to obtain contractual approval from DHCD. A superior court judge allowed DHCD's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that LHAs have authority to hire executive directors and "determine their qualifications, duties, and compensation, under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 121B, 7. View "Fairhaven Housing Authority v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law
Stronghold Engineering, Inc. v. City of Monterey
Stronghold and the city entered into a 2015 contract to renovate the Monterey Conference Center. Before filing a lawsuit asserting a claim for money or damages against a public entity, the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code 810) requires that a claim be presented to the entity. Without first presenting a claim to the city, Stronghold filed suit seeking declaratory relief regarding the interpretation of the contract, and asserting that the Act was inapplicable.Stronghold presented three claims to the city in 2017-2019, based on its refusal to approve change orders necessitated by purportedly excusable delays. Stronghold filed a fourth amended complaint, alleging breach of contract. The court granted the city summary judgment, reasoning that the declaratory relief cause of action in the initial complaint was, in essence, a claim for money or damages and that all claims in the operative complaint “lack merit” because Stronghold failed to timely present a claim to the city before filing suit.The court of appeal reversed. The notice requirement does not apply to an action seeking purely declaratory relief. A declaratory relief action seeking interpretation of a contract is not a claim for money or damages, even if the judicial interpretation sought may later be the basis for a separate claim for money or damages which would trigger the claim presentation requirement. View "Stronghold Engineering, Inc. v. City of Monterey" on Justia Law
McInnis Electric Company v. Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC et al.
Construction firm Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC, received the prime contract to expand the University of Mississippi Medical Center Children’s Hospital in 2017. Electrical contractor McInnis Electric Company secured the winning bid to install the electrical and low voltage systems package for the project and subsequently signed a subcontract with Brasfield & Gorrie. Terms of the subcontract incorporated the prime contract, which were related to the same project by reference. The contract provided that work was set to begin on the project on February 15, 2018. However, McInnis, was directed not to report on site until June 4, 2018, and, due to delays, was unable to begin until July 23, 2018. As work progressed, the schedule allegedly became delayed as a result of Brasfield & Gorrie’s failure to coordinate the work of the various subcontractors. McInnis averred that Brasfield & Gorrie’s failure to coordinate and facilitate the work of the various subcontractors worsened as the project progressed, and Brasfield & Gorrie experienced turnover in management. This failure allegedly delayed McInnis’s work, which was not on the path toward completion, supposedly through no fault of its own. Construction issues were amplified when on March 11, 2020, Mississippi experienced its first reported case of COVID-19. On April 1, 2020, the Mississippi Governor instituted a shelter in place order in response to the ongoing pandemic, requiring certain nonessential businesses to close and recommending social distancing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Mississippi. The children’s hospital was not classified as an existing infrastructure as it was a nonoperational work in progress and thus was not subject to the executive order’s exception to the governmental shutdowns. By May 8, 2020, McInnis had suffered an approximately 40 percent loss in its workforce due to employees testing positive for COVID-19. Despite the decrease in the available workforce, Brasfield & Gorrie demanded McInnis perform under its contractual obligation. McInnis took measures to continue the work. Brasfield & Gorrie further declined requests for accommodation and instead terminated McInnis on May 13, 2020. The case before the Mississippi Supreme Court here stemmed from disagreements and a broken contract between the parties, contesting whether arbitration was appropriate to settle their disputes. The trial court compelled arbitration, and the Supreme Court affirmed. View "McInnis Electric Company v. Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC et al." on Justia Law
Westlands Water Dist. v. All Persons Interested
Westlands Water District (Westlands) appeals from a judgment of dismissal entered in a validation action filed pursuant to, inter alia, Code of Civil Procedure section 860 et seq. The subject matter was an anticipated contract between Westlands and the United States concerning the ongoing delivery of federal reclamation project water and repayment of certain financial obligations. The superior court declined to grant relief and ultimately dismissed Westlands’ validation action for multiple reasons. Most pertinently, the draft was found to be materially deficient in its failure to specify Westlands’ financial obligations under the anticipated contract. The Fifth Appellate District affirmed the judgment. The court explained that the “Repayment Obligation” cannot be determined without knowing the “Existing Capital Obligation” and/or the contents of exhibit D. The “Existing Capital Obligation” cannot be determined without knowing the contents of exhibit D. In the absence of exhibit D, both terms are useless for purposes of determining Westlands’ financial obligations, i.e., “the scope of the duty and the limits of performance.” Moreover, as Westlands admitted during the motion proceedings, exhibit D was not merely omitted from the draft attached to the complaint. Despite being expressly incorporated into the contract by reference, exhibit D did not exist when the complaint and the December 2019 motion were filed. Even when the motion was heard, there was only meager parol evidence of estimates ranging from $200 million to $362 million. Given the circumstances, the court agreed the contract presented for validation was missing an essential term and, therefore uncertain, i.e., not sufficiently definite to be binding and enforceable. View "Westlands Water Dist. v. All Persons Interested" on Justia Law
AIRLINES FOR AMERICA V. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO
The City and County of San Francisco (the City) owns and operates San Francisco International Airport (SFO or the Airport). Airlines for America (A4A) represents airlines that contract with the City to use SFO. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City enacted the Healthy Airport Ordinance (HAO), requiring the airlines that use SFO to provide employees with certain health insurance benefits. A4A filed this action in the Northern District of California, alleging that the City, in enacting the HAO, acted as a government regulator and not a market participant, and therefore the HAO is preempted by multiple federal statutes. The district court agreed to the parties’ suggestion to bifurcate the case to first address the City’s market participation defense. The district court held that the City was a market participant and granted its motion for summary judgment. A4A appealed. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court concluded that two civil penalty provisions of the HAO carry the force of law and thus render the City a regulator rather than a market participant. The court wrote that because these civil penalty provisions result in the City acting as a regulator, it need not determine whether the City otherwise would be a regulator under the Cardinal Towing two-part test set forth in LAX, 873 F.3d at 1080 View "AIRLINES FOR AMERICA V. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO" on Justia Law
Metcalf v. BSC Group, Inc.
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court judge granting summary judgment in favor of BSC Companies, Inc., BSC Group, Inc., and the companies' president (collectively, BSC) in this action brought by BSC's former employees alleging claims under the Prevailing Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 26-27H, holding that the contracts at issue were not governed by the Act, and BSC was not required to pay its employees a prevailing wage pursuant to the contracts.At issue were two professional engineering services contracts awarded by the Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to BSC. The contracts were not competitively bid and were not awarded to the lowest bidder, unlike contracts for public works construction projects governed by the Act. Further, the contracts did not specify that BSC's employees would be paid at least a prevailing wage determined by the Department of Labor Standards. The superior court judge granted summary judgment to BSC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs were not entitled to a prevailing wage for their work under the professional services contracts. View "Metcalf v. BSC Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Dakota Energy Coop, Inc. v. East River Electric Power Coop., Inc.
Dakota Energy Power Cooperative, Inc., a member of East River Electric Power Cooperative, Inc., sought to withdraw from East River and to terminate the parties’ long-term power contract so that it could purchase electricity from another source. When East River resisted, Dakota Energy sued for anticipatory breach of contract and sought a declaratory judgment providing that it had a contractual right to withdraw from East River by way of a buyout. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of East River, and Dakota Energy appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under the UCC, the terms of a written contract “may be explained or supplemented” by certain extrinsic evidence, including “usage of trade.” Dakota Energy’s proffered trade usage evidence would effectively add an entirely new provision to the WPC. Moreover, under the UCC, “the express terms of an agreement and any applicable . . . usage of trade must be construed whenever reasonable as consistent with each other.” Here, the express terms of the WPC—which provide that the agreement will “remain in effect” until December 31, 2075, and which contain no provision allowing for an early buyout—are inconsistent with any trade usage evidence suggesting something to the contrary. Therefore, the court concluded that the WPC unambiguously requires Dakota Energy to purchase all of its electricity from East River until December 31, 2075, and that no provision in the WPC or East River’s Bylaws allows for an earlier termination of that obligation. View "Dakota Energy Coop, Inc. v. East River Electric Power Coop., Inc." on Justia Law
Cboe Futures Exchange, LLC v. SEC
Petitioner Cboe Futures Exchange (CFE) announced plans to list futures contracts based on the Cboe Volatility Index, more commonly known as the “VIX Index.” The following year, the SEC and the CFTC issued a joint order “excluding certain indexes comprised of options on broad-based security indexes”—including the VIX—“from the definition of the term narrow-based security index.” The petition, in this case, challenged the SEC’s 2020 order treating SPIKES futures as futures. The DC Circuit granted the petition. The court explained that the SEC did not adequately explain why SPIKES futures must be regulated as futures to promote competition with VIX futures. However, the court wrote that while it vacates the Commission’s order, it will withhold issuance of our mandate for three calendar months to allow market participants sufficient time to wind down existing SPIKES futures transactions with offsetting transactions. The court explained that the Exemptive Order never mentions the futures disclosures. And at any rate, those disclosures only partially fill the void left by the absence of the Disclosure Statement. As with the Exemptive Order’s exceptions and conditions, the futures disclosures do not address any number of matters covered by the Disclosure Statement. And even when the two sets of disclosures overlap, the Disclosure Statement tends to provide much greater detail than the futures disclosures. View "Cboe Futures Exchange, LLC v. SEC" on Justia Law
High Watch Recovery Center, Inc. v. Dep’t of Public Health
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the appellate court affirming the judgment of the superior court dismissing for lack of jurisdiction High Watch Recovery Center, Inc.'s administrative appeal challenging the decision of the Department of Public Health approving a certificate of need application submitted by Birch Hill Recovery Center, LLC, holding that the appellate court erred.Birch Hill submitted a certificate of need application to the Office of Health Care Access requesting public approval to establish a substance abuse treatment facility in Kent. The Department and Birch Hill entered into an agreed settlement constituting a final order wherein the Department approved Birch Hill's application subject to certain conditions. High Watch, which operated a nonprofit substance abuse treatment facility, intervened and appealed the final order. The superior court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the Department's decision was not a final decision in a contested case and that High Watch was not aggrieved by the decision. The appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the appellate court did not err in determining that High Watch's petition requesting intervenor status in the public hearing on Birch Hill's certificate of need application was not a legal sufficient request for a public hearing for the purposes of Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-639a(e). View "High Watch Recovery Center, Inc. v. Dep't of Public Health" on Justia Law
Dodge County Humane Society v. City of Fremont
The Supreme Court vacated the order of the district court finding that the city council of the City of Fremont (Council) and the City of Fremont (City) lacked reasonable sufficient evidence to terminate a contract with the Dodge County Humane Society for animal control, holding that the district court lacked petition in error jurisdiction to review the decision.At a regularly scheduled meeting, the Council approved a motion authorizing Fremont's mayor to terminate the contract for animal control. The Humane Society later filed a petition in error alleging that the Council and the City had no cause to terminate the contract. Thereafter, the district court entered a temporary injunction / temporary restraining order in favor of the Humane Society. The County and City moved to dismiss, asserting that the Council's decision to authorize the mayor to send a letter was not an action that could support a petition in error. The district court sustained the petition in error and ordered the contract to be reinstated. The Supreme Court vacated the order below, holding (1) the Council did not exercise a judicial or quasi-judicial function in voting on the motion to send the disputed letter to the Humane Society; and (2) therefore, the district court lacked jurisdiction to review this action. View "Dodge County Humane Society v. City of Fremont" on Justia Law