Did you ever lie awake at night wondering what constitutes a valid claim under the Contract Disputes Act? A June 2010 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a United States Court of Federal Claims decision interpreting the Contract Disputes Act. M. Maropakis Carpentry, Inc. v. U.S., 609 F.3d 1323, C.A.Fed., 2010. This decision reads like a page from a course called government contract claims 101.
Maropakis was awarded a Navy contract for window and roof replacement at a warehouse building in Pennsylvania. The contract included a completion date, and a liquidated damages clause, FAR 52.211-12, that provided for liquidated damages of $650 per day for each day of delay past the completion date.
Apparently Maropakis did not begin work until after the scheduled completion date, and finished 467 days late. After completing the work, the contractor sent a letter to the contracting officer seeking an extension of 447 days delay based on several specified reasons. The Contracting Officer replied that the delay was not sufficiently substantiated, but invited the contractor to submit more information. The reply also said that it was not a Contracting Officer final decision.
No additional information was submitted, and the Contracting Officer made a demand to the contractor for liquidated damages for delay. Maropakis responded that the it would dispute the delay damages, but did not request a specific number of days of extension, and did not file a claim. The contracting officer issued a final decision holding Maropakis liable for liquidated damages for the delay.
The contractor filed a complaint in the United States Court of Federal Claims for breach of contract, seeking an extension due to government delay, and seeking remission of the liquidated damages. The government counterclaimed for the remaining balance due on its liquidated damages decision.
The United States Court of Federal Claims granted the government’s motion to dismiss Maropakis’ claim for time extension for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Maropakis had failed to submit a “claim” to the contracting officer within the meaning of the Contract Disputes Act. The court also granted the government summary judgment on its liquidated damages counterclaim.
Maropakis appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which affirmed the Court of Federal Claims decision — because the court’s jurisdiction requires both a valid claim under the Contract Disputes Act and a contracting officer final decision. Maropakis’ letter to the contracting officer seeking the delay was not a valid claim – it was not an unequivocal statement that gave the contracting officer adequate notice of the basis and amount of the claim, and it did not request a contracting officer final decision.
Since the Contract Disputes Act is a statute waiving sovereign immunity, it must be construed strictly. The Court of Federal Claims does not have jurisdiction to hear a breach of contract claim if the contractor did not file a valid claim with the contracting officer within the meaning of the Contract Disputes Act.
Maropakis argued excusable delay in response to the government’s liquidated damages counterclaim. However, the Court found that Maropakis’ failure to assert its excusable delay claim properly meant it could not use the delay as a defense to the government’s liquidated damages claim; the contractor must first make the claim to the contracting officer before litigating the claim under the Contract Disputes Act.
This case reads like a lecture from Government Contract Claims 101. The Contractor failed to submit a proper claim to the contracting officer seeking an extension for excusable delays, and as a result was held liable for all of the delay. The contractor then spent considerable time and money litigating the issue in the United States Court of Federal Claims, and appealing to the United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit.
The teaching point of this case is to make sure up front that the contractor’s correspondence to the contracting officer constitutes a valid claim under the Contract Disputes Act.
Contact the government contract lawyer Karen S Hindson of Hindson & Melton LLC for assistance with your government contract claim under the CDA.