Pa. Prevailing Wage Act, Revisited

The Pa. Prevailing Wage Act mandates that workers on Pennsylvania public construction, reconstruction, demolition, alteration, or repair projects costing more than $25,000, other than those involving "maintenance work," must be paid the general prevailing minimum wage rates. "Maintenance work" is defined in the Read more

Federal Judge Criticizes Mystery Procurement Practices Of Delaware River Port Authority

A recent federal court decision rescinding a $17.8 million bridge painting contract award to the second low bidder ripped the cover off Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) procurement practices that were "shrouded in mystery and obscured from public scrutiny."  Although applying New Read more

PA Public Contracts Nominated For The Expert Institute Best Legal Blog Competition

I am happy to report that PA Public Contracts has been selected to compete in The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Competition. From a field of hundreds of potential nominees, PA Public Contracts has received enough nominations to join the one Read more

Public Bidding And The Level Playing Field

Recently I was asked, what rules govern competitive bidding? There are many different rules that govern public bidding in Pennsylvania, many of which can be found in the Commonwealth Procurement Code.  Some govern the timing of bid awards and withdrawal of Read more

City Of Philadelphia Will Accept E-Bids Starting Fall 2016

Starting this fall, in a move to make bidding more efficient and competitive, the City of Philadelphia will begin to accept electronic bids and contract proposals. Philadelphia officials hope to make all aspects of City contracting electronic-based - from Read more

Court Decisions

Bad Faith Finding Does Not Mandate Award Of Attorney Fees And 1% Penalty

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If a public owner breaches its payment obligations to a public contractor and acts in bad faith in doing so, is the public contractor automatically entitled to an award of its attorney’s fees and a 1% penalty under section 3935 of the Procurement Code?

In a recently published opinion, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that such an award is discretionary, not automatic, reversing a 2014 Commonwealth Court decision which had held that a bad faith finding entitled the contractor to recover its attorney’s fees and the 1% penalty. Read more

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

Procurement Code Protest Allowed Where Late Filing Was Due To Extraordinary Circumstances

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Under the Pa. Procurement Code, a protest must be filed within seven days after the protestant knew or should have known of the facts giving rise to the protest.  If the protest is untimely, it will be rejected. Recently, in a published opinion and in a departure from the usual rule, the Commonwealth Court decided that equitable principles would allow a late-filed protest to be considered.

The case concerned Pa. Department of Transportation (PennDOT) inspection contracts on which Bureau Veritas (BV), the protestant, had submitted a statement of interest.  PennDOT ranked BV fifth in its statement of rankings.  BV learned of the rankings on November 13, 2014.  Seven days later, on November 20, 2014, BV filed a protest, but the email of its protest was rejected by PennDOT’s computer server due to improper formatting of the file attachment.  On November 21, 2014, BV learned of the email rejection and promptly re-sent the email with the proper formatting of the file attachment, eight days after the publication of the rankings.  PennDOT rejected BV’s protest as untimely and on the merits.  BV then argued that it should be allowed to file its protest nunc pro tunc (literally, “now for then”). PennDOT issued a final determination rejecting the protest, as well as the request that the protest be considered nunc pro tunc.  BV appealed to the Commonwealth Court. Read more

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, PennDOT, Procurement Code Leave a comment

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

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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.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

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

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[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.

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

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

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[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.

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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

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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.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Commonwealth Court Reaffirms No Right To Hearing On Protest Filed Under Pa. Procurement Code

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Is there a right to a hearing on a bid protest filed under the Pa. Procurement Code? The answer is no.

In a recent, unreported decision involving a contract issued by the Philadelphia Parking Authority for a new red light camera system in the city of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth Court has re-affirmed long-standing precedent that a hearing is not mandatory on a protest filed under the Pa. Procurement Code.  Under 62 Pa. C.S. § 1711.1(e), whether to conduct a hearing is within the “sole discretion” of the head of the purchasing agency.  The Commonwealth Court also held that, under the Pa. Procurement Code, 62 Pa. C.S. § 1711.1(d),  it is not mandatory for a contracting officer to file a response to a protest before issuance of a determination by the agency head.  Finally, the Commonwealth Court found that the denial of a stay of procurement was not in error where the agency head had determined that the protest was clearly without merit and had articulated the substantial interests that would be harmed by a stay.

A copy of the Commonwealth Court decision in Am. Traffic Solutions, Inc. v. Phila. Parking Auth., can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Commonwealth Court Decides Telwell Appeal And Finds Board Of Claims Has No Jurisdiction To Hear Loan Claim

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On April 2, 2014, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided the appeal in the case of Telwell, Inc., against the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) and affirmed the decision of the Board of Claims that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the underlying claim which arose from a loan made by PSERS to Telwell.

In reaching its decision, the Commonwealth Court recognized that the Board of Claim still retained broad jurisdiction to hear “contract” claims, even where the underlying contracts are not made pursuant to the Procurement Code:

Based upon the expansive construction of the Board’s jurisdiction, which gives effect to the public policy of providing a method of redress to those who contract with the Commonwealth, this Court recently concluded that the Board has jurisdiction over contracts made with a Commonwealth agency, even if the contracts are not made pursuant to the Code.

Nonetheless, the Commonwealth Court was compelled to rule against Telwell on its claim against PSERS finding that the Procurement Code was unambiguous in excluding claims related to loans:

Given the clear and unambiguous language of Section 102(f.1), this Court is constrained to hold that the Board does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the Restated Claim.

The Commonwealth Court, however, handed Telwell a partial victory when it remanded the matter to the Board of Claims with instructions to transfer the Telwell claim against Grandbridge Real Estate Capital LLC to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.  Grandbridge is a private entity without sovereign immunity and was the servicer on the loan to Telwell.

My earlier post on the Telwell v. PSERS dispute can be found here.

The Commonwealth Court decision can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Pa. Board Of Claims Will Continue To Hear Non-Procurement Code Contract Claims

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Does the Pennsylvania Board of Claims have jurisdiction to decide all “contract” claims against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?  Prior to 2002, the Board did have such jurisdiction, without question. However, since 2002, with the passage of Act 142, the Board has been faced “with a constant series of jurisdictional challenges” on grounds that its enabling provisions, now contained in the Procurement Code, limit its jurisdiction only to claims under Procurement Code contracts.

In a decision issued on September 11, 2013, the Board said it could and would continue to hear claims arising under non-Procurement Code contracts, even while it declined to hear the particular non-Procurement Code contract claim before it.  The Board found that it was required to read its jurisdictional statute broadly “so as to acknowledge the Board’s historical purpose, serve the public interest and avoid the potential for disruption to existing Commonwealth business and commercial interests should the validity of its non-Procurement Code contractual relations be called into doubt.”  In its ruling, the Board said that it did not believe that the General Assembly intended to radically alter the Board’s jurisdiction.  The Board agreed that restricting its jurisdiction to Procurement Code contracts only “could potentially threaten to disrupt several significant commercial and economic relationships enjoyed by the Commonwealth outside the Procurement Code arena.” The Board also pointed out that the legislative history of the 2002 amendments did not contain any discussion regarding modification of sovereign immunity coverage for contract claims against the Commonwealth.

Indeed, the Board went so far as to proclaim that: “We believe the circumstances … provide strong indication that the General Assembly did not intend to materially change the Board’s function, the scope of sovereign immunity or the long-established public policy served by the Board.”  The Board also found that a broad reading of its jurisdictional mandate “ultimately serves the best interest of the Commonwealth by providing parties contracting with a Commonwealth agency assurance that it may rely upon the agency to fulfill its obligations as well, avoiding the economic disruption that may result from public knowledge of a contrary holding.”

The Board’s decision came in the context of a claim involving a loan made by a Commonwealth agency. In August 2011, Telwell, Inc., filed claims in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County against Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS).  Telwell claimed that it was owed $500,000 in overpaid interest on a loan made to it by PSERS.  The claim stemmed from the fact that the loan commitment and the note recited different interest rate terms.  The claim was eventually transferred to the Board of Claims.

When Telwell filed for summary judgment, PSERS raised the issue of the Board’s subject matter jurisdiction. PSERS claimed that Board’s jurisdiction did not extend to claims arising from a loan made by a Commonwealth agency.  PSERS further argued that it enjoyed the defense of sovereign immunity.  PSERS’s position derived support from the 2002 amendments to the Procurement Code which codified the Board of Claims by moving its jurisdictional provisions into the Procurement Code. Thus, the Procurement Code, at 62 Pa.C.S. § 1724(a), now arguably limits the Board’s jurisdiction to claims arising from a “contract entered into by a Commonwealth agency in accordance with this part…” This “part” is a reference to Part I of the Procurement Code.  Section 102(f.1) of the Procurement Code further provides that “[t]his part does not apply to loans.” Again, this “part” is a reference to Part I of the Procurement Code.  On the other hand, section 1724(c) of the Procurement Code extends the Board’s jurisdiction to “a contract entered into by a Commonwealth agency involving real property interests in which the Commonwealth agency is the respondent.”

Telwell conceded that its claim was not based on a Procurement Code contract, but it argued that the Board needed to retain jurisdiction over claims arising from all contracts with the Commonwealth. While the Board agreed with many of Telwell’s arguments (as noted above), the Board ultimately sided with PSERS, relying primarily on section 102(f.1) of the Procurement Code which explicitly exempted “loans” from its purview, and, by extension, from the Board’s jurisdiction. The Board did not see any neat way around this unambiguous and blanket exclusion.  Nonetheless, in doing so, the Board acknowledged the far reaching and potentially disastrous ramifications of a ruling that it could not hear any claims under any non-Procurement Code contracts, noting that, if a contract claim does not fall within the Board’s jurisdiction, then there is no exception to sovereign immunity and no possibility of redress against the Commonwealth.

While the Board expressed its firm view that it could continue to hear non-Procurement Code contract claims, it appears certain that contract claims arising out of Commonwealth loans cannot be heard by the Board.  This in and of itself is a far reaching decision.  Moreover, there is no guarantee that Board’s expansive view of its jurisdictional legislation will be supported by the courts.

Thus, for this reason and more, the ruling in Telwell is potentially foreboding. A party obtaining a loan from the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth agency is now suitably forewarned – there is no remedy for a breach by the Commonwealth. Moreover, any party entering into a non-loan contract with the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth agency, but outside the purview of the Procurement Code, would be wise to look both ways, and think twice.  If the Commonwealth breaches such a contract, and the contracting party is damaged, the contracting party may well be out of luck, without any recourse or remedy if the arguments in favor of limiting the Board’s jurisdiction hold sway with the Commonwealth Court or the Supreme Court.  Section 1724(b) of the Procurement Code may provide some relief to parties contracting with the Commonwealth. This subsection gives the Board jurisdiction to arbitrate claims arising from “[a] written agreement executed by a Commonwealth agency and the Office of Attorney General in which the parties expressly agree to utilize the board to arbitrate disputes arising from the agreement.”  If the contract is an non-Procurement Code contract, the contracting party should insist that the Commonwealth agency and the AG’s office sign off on using the Board of Claims to hear claims.  This would arguably effectuate a waiver of sovereign immunity.

The Board of Claims decision can be found here.

A hat tip and thanks to West Chester attorney, Paul Drucker, Esq., who brought this decision to my attention.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Board of Claims, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Commonwealth Court Voids Drug Contract Where Price Was Not A Factor In Contract Award

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In March 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP), under a competitive sealed proposal process, seeking proposals for the supply of pharmaceuticals for its Developmentally Disabled Centers.  The pricing structure set out in the RFP provided that the winning vendor would be reimbursed through Medicare, Medical Assistance (MA), or private insurance.  Apparently, DPW would not consider price as a factor in its award of the contract.

DPW received four bids and awarded the contract to Diamond Drugs whose proposal was scored the highest.  Omnicare filed a protest with DPW and argued that DPW violated the Procurement Code by failing to consider price as an element of the bids when it contracted to purchase pharmaceuticals for which there was no set pricing scheme and where DPW would pay for drugs not covered by Medicare, MA, or a private insurer.  Section 513(g) of the Procurement Code requires that a purchasing agency consider price in the competitive sealed proposal process. DPW argued that that its actions were proper because it would pay the same regardless of which vendor won the contract. DPW rejected the protest.  Omnicare then appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

On May 15, 2013, the Commonwealth Court sustained the protest and voided the contract.  The Commonwealth Court first held that the protest was timely as it was filed within seven days after notice of the contract award was posted to the DPW website.  The Commonwealth Court rejected DPW’s argument that the protest was untimely because the RFP provided Omnicare with enough information on which to base its bid protest.  The Commonwealth Court next held that the contract violated the Procurement Code because DPW will pay directly for non-compensable medications even though it did not consider price as a factor in its award.

The Commonwealth Court wrote:

In doing so, and in failing to consider pricing for non-compensable drugs as an element of the proposals, DPW deprived itself and the offerors of the opportunity to discover whether an offeror could offer better prices for non-compensable drugs than those arrived at by using the MA pricing formula. Given that the offerors’ prices for non-compensable drugs could have differed, DPW violated Section 513(g) [of the Procurement Code] by failing to consider pricing as an element of the proposals.

The Commonwealth Court decision in Omnicare, Inc. v. Department of Public Welfare can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment