Can A Public Owner Ever Seek Clarification Of Ambiguous Pricing?

Recently, a public owner solicited bids for a university construction project. The bid form sought pricing for base bid work and alternate work. One of the bidders included ambiguous pricing for an alternate item, in that the pricing was Read more

Debriefing After Non-Selection Does Not Toll 7-Day Deadline For Bid Protest

The Pa. Procurement Code sets a strict deadline for bid protests - the 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 Read more

Does Separations Act Prohibit Use Of Best Value Contracting For Construction Of Philadelphia Public Buildings?

Now that "best value" contracting is officially the new game in town for City of Philadelphia procurement, with the issuance of the new best value regulations, it's worth asking whether the longstanding Separations Act precludes the City from using best Read more

Does PA Steel Act Prohibit Public Owner From Specifying Foreign-Made Cast Iron Boiler?

The PA Steel Products Procurement Act requires that all steel products (including cast iron products) supplied on a Pennsylvania public works project must be made from U.S.-made steel. Recently, a school district's contract specified a cast iron boiler manufactured in Europe as the Read more

Disappointed Bidder Lacks Standing To Challenge P3 Contract Award By Non-Commonwealth Entity

In a recent case of first impression, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has affirmed a lower court ruling that a disappointed bidder lacked standing to challenge a contract awarded by a non-Commonwealth entity under the Public-Private Transportation Partnership Act (P3 Act). In Read more

City Of Philadelphia Contractor Charged With Mail Fraud

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Add yet another contractor to the list of victims of the investigative prowess of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

On May 19, 2014, as a result of an OIG investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Airmatic, Inc., a woman-owned, Malvern-based firm doing business with the City of Philadelphia, with defrauding the City of approximately $556,633.03.  It is alleged that Airmatic supplied “unapproved, off-contract products” to various City departments in violation of its contracts with the City.  If convicted, Airmatic faces a maximum possible sentence of five years of probation, a $500,000 fine, or twice the pecuniary gain/loss, a $400 special assessment, and restitution to the City of Philadelphia.

The takeaway on this latest prosecution against a City contractor?  If you are thinking of pulling a fast one by the City, don’t.  You will get caught, and you will be punished.

The FBI press release on the charges against Airmatic can be found here. The Information against Airmatic can be found here.  The Philly.com article on the charges against Airmatic can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in City of Phila., Phila. Inspector General 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

Public Bidding Hall of Fame: Yohe v. Lower Burrell

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This post is one in a continuing series intended to highlight significant Pennsylvania court decisions in the area of public bidding.  The decision highlighted here concerns the core purpose of public bidding requirements.

In 1965, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided Yohe v. Lower Burrell, 208 A.2d 847 (Pa. 1965).  In Yohe, the City of Lower Burrell had sought to award exclusive contracts for garbage collection.  Six persons, including the taxpayer plaintiff, were asked to enter into three year contracts under which each would be granted the exclusive privilege to collect garbage in a specified district and to collect fees not to exceed a monthly maximum of $1.50 from each home serviced.  No direct payments would be made from the city’s treasury.

A taxpayer sued to challenge the city’s actions, arguing the the Third Class City Code required competitive bidding.  The trial court dismissed the complaint, holding that the statutory bidding requirements applied only where a city made payments of more than $1,000 and that no such payments by the city were involved.  An appeal was taken.  The issue on appeal was whether the city could award exclusive contracts for the collection of garbage without first advertising for bids where each contract involved sums in excess of $1,000 to be paid, not from the city treasury, but directly by city residents.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court and reversed, stating first as follows:

Bidding requirements ‘are for the purpose of inviting competition, to guard against favoritism, improvidence, extravagance, fraud and corruption in the awarding of municipal contracts, and to secure the best work or supplies at the lowest price practicable, and are enacted for the benefit of property holders and taxpayers, and not for the benefit or enrichment of bidders, and should be so construed and administered as to accomplish such purpose fairly and reasonably with sole reference to the public interest.’  (Footnotes omitted.)  10 McQuillan, Municipal Corporations §  29.19, at 266-67 (3d ed. 1950).

The Court then found that it made no difference that the city itself was not making a direct payment to the garbage collector:

The need for bidding requirements is just as compelling in the instant case where the garbage collector is compensated directly by the recipients of his service as it is when the recipients pay for service through the conduit of the municipal treasury.  In each case, regardless of who makes the final payment, it is the taxpaying citizen who provides the necessary funds and whose interest must be protected.  The provisions of the Third Class City Code in issue here were enacted to insure that protection.  We cannot interpret those sections in a way which would substantially emasculate their protective objectives and thereby encourage the objectionable practices which the Act seeks to eliminate.  The language of the Act compels the interpretation that competitive bidding is required on these contracts even though the money comes directly from the taxpayers rather than from the city treasury.

The Yohe decision has been cited numerous times in public bidding cases, and its language regarding the purpose of public bidding has stood the test of time.  The Yohe holding is also significant for another reason – if a government entity is making a contract, it’s likely to be viewed as a public contract, one that must meet the requirements of public bidding and public contracting, even if the public treasury is unaffected.

The Yohe decision can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Court Decisions, Hall of Fame Decisions Leave a comment

Who Can Be Excluded From Public Bidding?

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When a public bid is issued, can a municipality refuse to accept or open bids from any bidder it chooses?

The answer is, yes and no.  In some cases, a municipality may engage in a pre-qualification process and exclude certain bidders, provided that one is mandated or allowed by statute or ordinance.  On the other hand, where there is no statutorily prescribed pre-qualification process, a municipal official cannot exclude certain persons from bidding under the guise of a “pre-qualification” program.  Two not-so-recent cases illustrate this point very nicely.

In Flaherty v. Allegheny Contracting Industries,  Inc., 6 Pa. Cmwlth. 164, 293 A.2d 639 (1972), the City of Pittsburgh advertised for bids for the supply of asphalt.  The city refused one contractor’s bids and returned them on three occasions.  The Mayor then advised the contractor that its name was being stricken from a list of responsible bidders, and that its future bids would be returned unopened. When the contractor’s subsequent bid was returned unopened, the contractor filed suit for mandamus to have its bid opened.  The trial court rejected attempts by the city to have the case dismissed.  On appeal, the Commonwealth Court also rebuffed the city’s efforts, ruling as follows:

The lower court was also correct in holding that the Mayor and the Director of Public Works had a clear legal duty to receive the bids, to open them and read them aloud.  There is nothing in the statute and Ordinance, quoted above, which would authorize the Mayor to institute, by his own initiative, a prequalification procedure under which he could disqualify a prospective bidder.

The Court in Flaherty held that there was a mandatory, ministerial duty to receive and open all bids that were in proper form and timely received. Thus, an order of mandamus could issue.  The Flaherty case can be found here.

In Harris v. City of Philadelphia, 299 Pa. 473, 149 A. 722 (1930), a bidder filed for an injunction against the City of Philadelphia to prevent the award of a contract to a bidder who had been selected under a prequalification plan.  The plan at issue in Harris effectively sanctioned a “favorites” list.  As the Supreme Court stated: “It [the ordinance] further specifies that the answers received shall be scrutinized by the director of the department which is to supervise the performance of the contract, and, if he is satisfied, the prospective bidder’s name shall be placed on what is known as the ‘white list’ of that contract.”

For obvious reasons, this “white list” proved objectionable to the Supreme Court:

It is obvious that [this plan] nevertheless opens wide the door to possible favoritism.  The awarding director can place upon the white list the name of any intending bidder whom he chooses to approve, however irresponsible in fact, and that decision is not reviewable.  On the other hand, he may compel all bidders, who are not favorites of his, to go to the expense of an appeal to the board, which will have before it only the answers to the questionnaire by those the awarding director has excluded from bidding, with no way of knowing whether or not their plant, equipment, experience, and financial standing are superior or inferior to those of the bidders whose names the director has placed on the white list.  This might well result in everybody being excluded except those who are personal or political friends of the awarding director, or whom he knows are conspiring together to seemingly bid in competition, but in reality to destroy all competition; and it certainly would result in giving the contract to one of the favored bidders, if his bid happened to be the lowest of those actually received, though he was not in fact, a responsible bidder, or no more responsible than those who were not permitted to submit bids and might have offered to do the work for a less sum.

Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court found that the prequalification plan at issue in Harris was fatally flawed.  This decision rested on the longstanding rule which was stated as follows:

Following all of our cases, therefore, we again lay down the rule that all bidders on a municipal contract must be accorded the same treatment, for not otherwise can the requirements of the statute be complied with.  The city may, as heretofore she has done, accept and schedule all bids, and then, if acting in good faith, refuse to award the contract to one who is the lowest bidder, because he is not the ‘lowest responsible bidder.’  Or she may, as she is now attempting to do, determine in advance who are responsible bidders, and refuse to receive bids from those who, after treating all alike, she determines are not in that class.  But she may not impose conditions on one prospective bidder, which are not imposed upon all; nor may she enforce a method by which, through favoritism, one person may be conclusively authorized to bid on a pending contract, while another, equally as responsible and perhaps more so, is wholly excluded from even submitting a bid.

The rules from Harris and Flaherty are clear.  All persons are entitled to respond to a public bid, without exception, unless a prequalification process has been duly authorized.  And any prequalification process must apply equally to all interested bidders, and cannot allow for favoritism or cronyism.

If you are a qualified contractor whose bid was timely but was refused, or who was denied pre-qualified status, you should contact experienced counsel immediately to have the bidding process halted until a ruling can issue mandating the acceptance and opening of your bid.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bidder Responsibility, Court Decisions Leave a comment

DGS Issues 2014 List Of Exempt Steel Products

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The Pennsylvania Department of General Services has issued its annual list of machinery and equipment steel products which are exempt under the Pa. Steel Products Procurement Act.  The list for 2014 can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Steel Products Act Leave a comment