Christopher I. McCabe, Esq.

DGS Sends Violation Notices Concerning Non-Compliance With E-Verify

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

E-verify, officially known as the Pennsylvania Public Works Employment Verification, Act 127 of 2012, has now been the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for more than two years, since January 1, 2013.  E-verify requires all public works contractors and subcontractors to utilize the federal government’s E-Verify system to ensure that all employees performing work on public works projects are authorized to work in the United States.  My earlier post on E-Verify can be found here.

Read more

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in E-Verify Leave a comment

Gov. Tom Wolf Signs Executive Order To Improve Participation Of Small & Diverse Businesses

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

On September 23, 2015, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed an Executive Order solidifying his commitment to improving the participation of minority-owned, women-owned, LGBT-owned, veteran-owned, and disabled-owned businesses in state government contracting.

According to the official press release, Executive Order 2015-11, entitled “Diversity, Inclusion, and Small Business Opportunities in State Contracting and Pennsylvania’s Economy,”

directs a consistent and coordinated effort to ensure diversity and inclusion in all contracting opportunities for small and diverse businesses throughout agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction and promotes the creation of programs to better prepare those businesses to compete and succeed in Pennsylvania’s economy.

Read more

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in DBE/MBE/WBE, DGS Leave a comment

Continuing Pa. Budget Impasse Affects Payments To Contractors

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

The current Pennsylvania budget impasse is now entering its fifth month.  How does the impasse and the lack of a state budget affect vendors and contractors holding contracts with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its departments, boards and agencies?

According to the FAQ webpage of the Office of the Budget, the following questions and answers address payments to vendors and contractors and future contracts:

Question 9: Will Commonwealth agencies process invoices from vendors?

Answer: Yes. Vendors with state contracts who continue to provide goods and services to commonwealth agencies can submit invoices and Commonwealth agencies will process all invoices received. All invoices held during the budget impasse will be sent promptly to the State Treasury for processing after the FY15-16 budget is enacted.

Question 10: How will the budget impasse affect existing contracts?

Answer: Most state contracts include language addressing this situation, which states that the commonwealth’s obligation to make payments shall be subject to the availability and appropriation of funds and that contractors may not stop work or refuse to make delivery because of non-payment. If the Commonwealth’s untimely payment results in a default situation, the contractor may pursue the remedies set forth in the contract.

Question 11: Can Commonwealth agencies enter into new contracts for 2015-16?

Answer: Agencies may enter into new contracts for FY 2015-16. The contracts will clearly state that payment is subject to appropriation.

The takeaway here is that vendors and contractors doing business with a public entity like the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should never forget that public contracts are unlike private contracts in many ways, not the least of which is that the payment obligations of the public entity are nearly always subject to legislative appropriation of the funds necessary for payment. So, while payment may be delayed due to non-appropriation, the obligation to perform the work covered by the contract continues even in the face of non-payment.

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in DGS, General Leave a comment

Contractor & Subcontractor Payment Act Does Not Apply To Public Projects In Pennsylvania

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has held that the Pa. Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (“CASPA”) does not apply to a construction project where the owner is a governmental entity.  CASPA is a Pennsylvania statute governing payments to contractors and subcontractors on construction projects located in Pennsylvania.  CASPA typically applies to private development projects, whereas the Pa. Procurement Code’s Prompt Pay Schedules apply to state or local public works projects.

Read more

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Court Decisions, Public Works Payment Rules Leave a comment

Participation By Awardee In Bid Protest Hearing Not Improper Under Procurement Code

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

In two, not-so-recent decisions involving bid protests filed under the Pa. Procurement Code, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has held that it was not improper to allow the awarded vendor to actively participate in the protests.

In the two cases, the aggrieved bidders filed protests with the Pa. Department of Corrections challenging awards for a contract for a secure telephone system for inmates housed at Department facilities.  In each case, the Secretary permitted the contract awardee to participate in the bid protest.  In one protest, the awardee was permitted to file a reply to the bid protest.

On appeal, the bidders argued in each case that the contract awardee’s participation in the protest and hearing was unlawful because, under section 1711.1 of the Procurement Code, the only proper parties to a protest are the protestant and the contracting officer, and the awardee may not participate because, under the statute, it is not an enumerated party to a protest.

The Commonwealth Court flatly rejected this argument, finding that there was no abuse of discretion in allowing the contract awardee to participate in the protest. This decision makes perfect sense.  The Procurement Code itself, at section 1711.1(e), provides that the person deciding the protest “may request and review such additional documents or information he deems necessary to render a decision and may, at his sole discretion, conduct a hearing.”  This could certainly include information from the vendor who has been awarded the contract.  In addition, as the Court noted, the Department of General Service’s Procurement Handbook permits such participation where “substantial issues are raised by the protest.”  Furthermore, by comparison, in an equity action filed to protest and enjoin a local contract award, the contract awardee is deemed to be an indispensable party and must be included in the proceeding.

So, if you intend to protest a bid or contract award under the Procurement Code, you are hereby forewarned: be prepared to fend off arguments by both the agency soliciting your bid and the entity who has been awarded the contract.

The two Commonwealth Court decisions can be found here and here.

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Extra Work Claim Against School District Does Not Require Written Change Order Or Adherence To Section 508 Of Public School Code

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

Long-standing precedent in Pennsylvania required a contractor’s change order claim against a public entity to be supported by a written change order and strict adherence to the contract requirements and any applicable public law.

For claims against school districts, all of that changed in 2007 with the Commonwealth Court’s decision in James Corp. v. North Allegheny School District, 938 A.2d 474 (Pa.Cmwlth.2007).  In James Corp. the Commonwealth Court allowed an extra work claim in the absence of a formal written change order and held that Section 508 of the Public School Code of 1949 (requiring affirmative vote of a majority of all the members of a school board for contracts) did not bar the claim.

And now the decision in James Corp. has been re-affirmed by the Commonwealth Court.  On March 6, 2015, the Commonwealth Court issued a formal opinion in East Coast Paving & Sealcoating, Inc., v. North Allegheny School District, a case involving a change order claim based on a directive to perform work without a formal written change order, and cited its decision in James Corp. as binding precedent.  In East Coast Paving, the Commonwealth Court stated:

With respect to the School District’s argument that a change order was a necessary condition to payment, our holding in James Corp. v. North Allegheny School District, 938 A.2d 474 (Pa.Cmwlth.2007), is binding precedent. Notably, it involved the School District as the defendant and the very same contract language invoked here by the School District.

The Commonwealth Court also rejected the school district’s argument that Section 508 was an insurmountable obstacle to the contractor’s extra work claim:

In its second issue, the School District argues that the trial court erred in concluding that the School District authorized East Coast to do the soft spot repair work. The School District contends that a change to a contract “must be approved by affirmative vote of the school board members and the approv[al] must be reflected in the minutes or record as provided by Section 508 of the Public School Code, 24 P.S. § 5–508.” School District Brief at 15. According to the School District, the School Board did not approve the soft spot repair work.

The School District made this argument in James, and we rejected it there. We explained:

We reject [the School District’s] argument [that] Section 508 of The Public School Code of 1929, Act of March 10, 1929, P.L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. §§ 5–508 (requiring school board approval for increases or decreased to indebtedness), bars [the contractor’s] claim for payment of additional work. Testimony established [the School District] considered the work part of the contract; thus, further school board approval was unnecessary.

James, 938 A.2d at 478 n.12. Moreover, we explained:

[The School District], having directed [the contractor] to perform the additional work asserting it was required by contract, cannot now disavow liability for costs incurred by claiming [the contractor] did not have written authorization [from the School Board].

Id. at 487.

The record established that the School District required East Coast to do the soft spot repair work. The School District does not argue that the soft spot repairs were not necessary. As in James, it was not necessary for the School Board to approve, specifically, the soft spot repair work. The School Board approved the paving project and its completion by East Coast, and that is all that was required by Section 508.

Thus, at least for the time being, and at least with respect to contractor claims against school districts in Pennsylvania, a contractor does not need a formal, written change order in order to pursue a claim for extra work performed at the direction of an official or employee of the school district.  Moreover, Section 508 of the Public School Code is not a legal impediment to these claims.  This is more than welcome news for contractors doing business with school districts across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Of course, contractors are advised to consult with experienced counsel when faced with these types of claims.

The Commonwealth Court decision in East Coast Paving can be found here.

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Court Decisions, Public School Code Leave a comment

Commonwealth Court Again Holds That Penalty Award Is Mandatory On Finding Of Bad Faith

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

[NOTE: The Commonwealth Court decision reported in this post has been overruled by the Supreme Court. See my new post on the Supreme Court’s July 2016 ruling that a finding of bad faith does not mandate an award of fees and penalties.]

In a recent, unpublished opinion, in the case of Klipper Construction Associates, Inc. v. Warwick Township Water and Sewer Authority, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed its recent holding in A. Scott Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Allentown (Oct. 2014), and has held again that a finding of bad faith on the part of a public agency in withholding payment from a public contractor mandates the award of a penalty.  This is from the Court’s decision:

Contractor’s assertion that the trial court erred in failing to award any penalty is correct. As noted above, a finding of bad faith requires the trial court to make a penalty award under Section 3935(a) of the Prompt Pay Act. A. Scott Enterprises, Inc., __ A.3d at __, 2014 WL 5335358 at *7. We must therefore reverse the trial court on this issue.

What is “bad faith”?  Section 3935(a) of the Procurement Code has this to say about bad faith:

An amount shall be deemed to have been withheld in bad faith to the extent that the withholding was arbitrary or vexatious. An amount shall not be deemed to have been withheld in bad faith to the extent it was withheld pursuant to section 3934 (relating to withholding of payment for good faith claims).

The takeaway? If you are a public contractor denied payment by a public entity and can show bad faith – arbitrary or vexatious conduct – on the part of the public entity, then you will be awarded a penalty which might be as high as 1% per month on the amount owed.  If you are the public entity and are withholding payment from the contractor, then you must fully comply with section 3934 of the Procurement Code to avoid a finding of bad faith.

The Commonwealth Court decision can be found here.  My earlier post on the A. Scott Enterprises case can be found here.

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Court Decisions, Procurement Code, Public Works Payment Rules Leave a comment

Payment Rights, Obligations and Remedies on Pennsylvania Public Works Projects

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

On Thursday, November 6, 2014, I gave a dinner presentation to the Southeast District meeting of the National Utility Contractors Association (Pennsylvania).  The topic was “Payment Rights, Obligations and Remedies on Public Works Projects.”  If you would like a copy of the PowerPoint presentation, send me an email, and I’ll be happy to send it along.

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in General Leave a comment

Commonwealth Court Rules That Award Of Fees And Penalty Is Mandatory On Finding Of Bad Faith

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

[NOTE: The Commonwealth Court decision reported in this post has been overruled by the Supreme Court. See my new post on the Supreme Court’s July 2016 ruling that a finding of bad faith does not mandate an award of fees and penalties.]

In a recently published opinion, the Commonwealth Court has held that a finding of bad faith by a public entity in refusing to make payment to a public contractor mandates the award of attorney’s fees and the statutory penalty of 1% per month.

In 2009, the City of Allentown (Allentown) awarded a road paving contract to A. Scott Enterprises (Scott).  After mobilization, the job was suspended when a pile of contaminated dirt was discovered at the job site.  Scott resumed some of its work and then left the job site while the parties negotiated Scott’s costs.  The parties were unable to agree on payment for the additional costs to deal with the job suspension and the contaminated soil.

Scott then filed suit to recover its losses on the project, and was awarded damages of $927,299.  The jury also found that Allentown breached the contract and acted in bad faith in refusing to make payment to Scott for its contract damages and suspension costs.  However, despite the finding of bad faith, the trial court refused to award Scott attorney’s fees, the statutory penalty of 1% per month, and pre- and post-judgment interest.  Scott appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

On appeal, Allentown argued that an award of fees and penalties was discretionary with the trial court.  The Commonwealth Court rejected Allentown’s arguments, and held that the jury finding of bad faith mandated an award of fees and penalties to Scott:

The purpose of the Procurement Code is to “level the playing field” between government agencies and contractors. See Pietrini Corp. v. Agate Construction Co., 2006 PA Super. 140, 901 A.2d 1050, 1055 (Pa. Super. 2006). It advances this goal by requiring a government agency that has acted in bad faith to pay the contractor’s legal costs, as well as an interest penalty. Otherwise, the finding of bad faith is a meaningless exercise with no consequence for the government agency found to have acted in bad faith. We conclude that Section 3935 of the Procurement Code requires the imposition of attorney’s fees and the statutory penalty upon a jury’s finding of bad faith. See City of Independence v. Kerr Construction Paving Company, Inc., 957 S.W.2d 315, 321-23 (Mo. Ct. App. 1997) (holding that Missouri’s procurement code’s use of “may” regarding penalty interest and attorney’s fees means “shall” and upon finding of bad faith by jury, trial court must award such damages, even though the extent of damages is a matter for the discretion of trial judge).

On the question of when the public agency must make payment to the contractor, the Commonwealth Court had this to say:

There was conflicting evidence on the exact amount the City owed Contractor.  However, the City had an obligation to make a good faith effort to pay for Contractor’s suspension costs and to pay those invoices it did not challenge. 62 Pa. C.S. §3932. If the City disputed the amount of a suspension invoice, it was required to so notify Contractor, withhold the disputed amount and pay the remainder of the invoices. Instead the City paid nothing.

While the Commonwealth Court held that an award of fees and penalties was mandatory, the amount to award is within the trial court’s discretion.  The case was remanded to the trial court for a hearing to determine the award of reasonable attorney’s fees.

The takeaway from this decision is that public agencies have a clear duty to determine what is owed to a contractor and to pay that amount.  They cannot simply throw up their hands and refuse to make any payment because there is a dispute over some items of work.  The Commonwealth Court’s holding strengthens the hand of public contractors in Pennsylvania, and puts public agencies on notice that the Procurement Code has real teeth and that they will be held accountable for bad faith conduct in refusing to make proper and timely payment to their contractors

The Commonwealth Court’s opinion can be found here.

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Court Decisions, Procurement Code, Public Works Payment Rules Leave a comment

Procurement Code Is Not Violated Where Only One Price Is Considered In Contract Award

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email

Can a Commonwealth agency consider just a single bidder’s price and refuse to even look at the prices of other bidders in making a competitive contract award? According to a recent, unpublished decision of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, the answer is yes.

In January 2014, the Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development (Department) issued a Request for Quotation (RFQ) seeking a contractor to design, market, and implement a sale of tax credits.  The RFQ specified that only those bidders whose technical submittal received at least 70% of the available technical points would be considered “responsible” and eligible for selection on the basis of price.  The Department received three bids. After applying the scoring criteria to the bidders’ technical submittals, the Department eliminated all but one bidder for selection on the basis of price.  A protest was filed by one of the eliminated bidders. The Department denied the protest, and an appeal was then taken to the Commonwealth Court.

On appeal, the bidder argued that, by applying a scoring threshold that eliminated all but one bidder and by failing to compare the selected bidder’s price to the other bidders’ prices, the Department violated the requirement of section 513(g) of the Procurement Code that an agency take price into account when awarding a contract.

Section 513(g) of the Procurement Code states:

(g)  Selection for negotiation.–The responsible offeror whose proposal is determined in writing to be the most advantageous to the purchasing agency, taking into consideration price and all evaluation factors, shall be selected for contract negotiation.

The Commonwealth Court rejected the bidder’s argument, holding:

Section 513(g) requires a purchasing agency to take price into consideration when determining which “responsible offeror” should be selected for contract negotiation. This provision neither requires a purchasing agency to revisit its determination that an offeror is not responsible nor does it prohibit a purchasing agency from applying announced criteria to determine that all but one offeror is non-responsible. Here, the Department was faced with only one offeror who met the RFQ’s criteria to be considered a responsible offeror.  Under these circumstances, we cannot say that the Department erred or violated the Procurement Code by considering the cost submittal of that offeror alone.

From a purely legalistic viewpoint, the Commonwealth Court is correct in interpreting section 513(g). But from a competitive bidding viewpoint, where the taxpayers are served by true competition where all bidders’ prices are exposed and considered, there is something just a bit uneasy about allowing a Commonwealth agency to award a contract based on just one price without knowing whether the other prices were lower.  In this case, was the winning bidder’s proposal truly the “most advantageous” to the Commonwealth, if the other bidders’ prices were lower and if the other bidders were also nonetheless qualified to perform the contract, notwithstanding their failure to meet a scoring threshold, considering that technical scoring and comparison of bidders’ qualifications are inherently subjective while the comparison of bidders’ prices is purely objective.

The unpublished decision of the Commonwealth Court can be found here.

Linkedin Facebook Twitter Plusone Email
Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment