Blank Rome LLP is pleased to announce that nine attorneys from the firm’s nationally recognized Government Contracts group have been appointed to leadership roles in the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Public Contract Law Section for the 2023–2024 term, marking the highest number of ABA Public Contract Law Section leadership positions held by our attorneys in the firm’s history.
Visit our website to learn more about their roles and the Section of Public Contract Law.
2023 is shaping up to be a major year in False Claims Act (“FCA”) practice, with the Supreme Court weighing in on both FCA scienter (in SuperValu) and the reach of the government’s dismissal authority (in Polansky), and the government focusing its enforcement efforts around antitrust, cyber, and national security. We focus today on the United States ex rel. Schutte v. SuperValu, Inc. decision, in which the Supreme Court held that a contractor’s subjective belief about its compliance at the time it submitted claims for payment is relevant to whether it had the requisite scienter for FCA liability. Much has been written on this case, with most articles exploring esoteric concepts like “scienter,” “falsity,” and the “objectively reasonable person.” But assuming—as we do—that the decision will reduce the prospect of successful early dispositive motions, what practical steps can contractors take to reduce their False Claims Act exposure and avoid litigation in the first place? We offer three suggestions.
We begin with a basic refresher on the issue presented in SuperValu. A defendant is not liable under the False Claims Act unless it “knowingly” (including acting with “reckless disregard”) submits a false claim to the government. The “knowing” scienter element—particularly around reckless disregard—can be difficult to prove in the world of complex and often ambiguous laws and regulations that govern contractors’ compliance. The federal circuits had split on the issue of whether a defendant’s subjectiveinterpretation at the time it submitted claims for payment to the government was relevant to determining FCA “knowledge” if the defendant could later show that the underlying rule was ambiguous and its conduct (regardless of its contemporaneous understanding or belief) was consistent with an objective, reasonable interpretation of the unsettled requirement. SuperValu resolved the debate by holding that whether a defendant knowingly violated the FCA—and satisfied the scienter element—must consider the defendant’s real-time “knowledge and subjective beliefs.” United States ex rel. Schutte v. SuperValu, Inc., 143 S. Ct. 1391 (2023).
The primary holding of the Federal Circuit’s May 2023 decision in CACI, Inc.-Federal v. United States (Case No. 2022-1488), is that “statutory standing” is no longer a jurisdictional issue. This means that when considering whether a protester is an “interested party” under the Tucker Act, the Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) is not required to address statutory standing before the merits.
Although much has been written about this holding, our view is that there will be little or no impact on most bid protests stemming from this particular aspect of the decision, other than perhaps an uptick in denying protests on the merits without first addressing statutory standing.
We think the more interesting part of the decision is its reaffirmance of the Chenery doctrine, and specifically, the Federal Circuit’s direction about which issues must be remanded back to the agency, rather than decided by the COFC in the first instance. Although the Chenery doctrine is not new, the Federal Circuit has now made it clear that the doctrine greatly limits the COFC’s ability to order specific relief where an issue was not previously considered by the agency. On this issue, our takeaway is that CACI-Federal will actually lead to a reduction in the COFC weighing in on certain merits-based issues.
Confused about how Chenery relates to statutory standing? Read on for our analysis.
Welcome back to our “Lifecycle of a Claim” series. This series explores the Contract Disputes Act claims process, with practical guidance stemming from recent case law every step of the way. Click the subscribe button on this page to get timely updates right in your inbox!
Our previous posts are available at the following hyperlinks: Part I, Part II, and Part III. This post focuses on Steps 6 through 8 of this process: reviewing the Contracting Officer’s Final Decision (“COFD”), accepting or the appealing the COFD, and resolving or litigating the matter.
We begin with these essential questions: What is a COFD? What can a contractor do if it does not like the COFD? And what is the timeline to appeal a COFD?
What Is a COFD?
A COFD is a Contracting Officer’s (“CO”) decision on the merits, which provides the reasons for the decision and notifies the contractor of its appeal rights. 41 U.S.C. § 7103(d)-(e). The FAR describes a COFD as a written decision that:
i. Describes the claim or dispute
ii. References pertinent contract terms
iii. States the factual areas of disagreement
iv. States the CO’s decision, with supporting rationale
v. includes notice of contractor’s appeal rights “substantially as follows:”
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Law360, February 17, 2023
Blank Rome’s Government Contracts group was recently named a 2022 Practice Group of the Year by Law360, which honors “the attorney teams behind litigation wins and major deals that resonated throughout the legal industry this past year.” Blank Rome is one of five firms recognized in the Government Contracts practice group category nationwide.
Read the group’s full Practice Group of the Year profile, as published in Law360, on our website.
The ability for a Government contractor to secure fair resolution of a contract dispute is essential for maintaining a vibrant competitive marketplace for federal contracts. The perceived fairness of the contract dispute resolution process is influential on contractor participation. S. Rep. No. 95-1118, at 4 (1978) (“The way potential contractors view the disputes-resolving system influences how, whether, and at what prices they compete for Government contract business.”). Yet even after passage of the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, it is often difficult for a contractor to secure a review of a claim on the merits due to a barrage of procedural and jurisdictional hurdles. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has cleared some of the thicket in recent years by reiterating its commonsense approach to evaluating the sufficiency of claims, finding that if a submission meets the requirements of a claim, it may be heard on the merits, even if it was not originally styled as a claim.
This Feature Comment discusses this recent guidance, including the Federal Circuit’s treatment of the difficult question of which contractor submissions may be treated as valid claims under the CDA, even if not styled as such in the first instance. We then offer practical guidance for contractors navigating these issues.
Welcome back to our “Lifecycle of a Claim” series. This series explores the Contract Disputes Act (“CDA”) claims process, with practical guidance stemming from recent case law every step of the way. Click the subscribe button on the right to get timely updates right in your inbox!
Click here to read our first post and here to read our second post. This post focuses on Step 5 of this process: submitting a claim.
Seven Elements for Submitting a Claim
Once a contractor has made the decision to pursue a CDA claim, the contractor must ensure that it follows the Contract Disputes Act or risk jeopardizing its ability to obtain meaningful judicial review. While the Federal Circuit has made clear that a claim need not take “any particular form or use any particular wording,” below are seven fundamental elements that should be included:
Welcome back to our “Lifecycle of a Claim” series. This series explores the Contract Disputes Act claims process, with practical guidance stemming from recent case law every step of the way. Click the subscribe button on the right to get timely updates right in your inbox!
Click here to read our first post (covering Steps 1 and 2 of the infographic). This post focuses on Steps 3 and 4 of this process: submitting a request for equitable adjustment (“REA”) and negotiating the REA with the contracting officer.
Terminology Defined: What Is the Difference between an REA and a Claim?
There are two primary methods for pursuing a contract adjustment following a change: submitting an REA or filing a claim.
REA: A request (rather than a demand) to negotiate with the contracting officer to adjust the contract for price, time, or other terms. There is no FAR definition of an REA but generally an REA does not expressly or implicitly request a contracting officer’s final decision (“COFD”) or contain the FAR 33.207(a) certification.
Claim: A “written demand or written assertion by one of the contracting parties seeking, as a matter of right, the payment of money in a sum certain, the adjustment or interpretation of contract terms, or other relief arising under or relating to the contract.” FAR 2.101; FAR 52.233-1(c).
Welcome to our new “Lifecycle of a Claim” series. This series will explore the Contract Disputes Act claims process, with practical guidance stemming from recent case law every step of the way. Click the subscribe button on the right to get timely updates right in your inbox!
The claims landscape for government contractors can be a minefield of both procedural and substantive issues. Through this series, we are providing a guide to one common type of claim: those arising out of a “change” to the contract.
This post focuses on Steps 1 and 2 of this process: identifying when a change has occurred and providing timely notice to the Contracting Officer. We begin with a few foundational questions:
What is a change?
There are two primary types of changes:
Actual Changes: According to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”), a change occurs when the Contracting Officer issues a written order to make changes within the general scope of the contract to matters such as drawings, designs, or specifications; the method of shipment or packing; or the place of delivery. See, e.g., FAR 52.243-1.
Constructive Changes: A constructive change arises when the contractor is required to perform work beyond the contract requirements, but the Government does not issue a formal change order. Constructive changes can arise from informal orders, defective specifications or other misrepresentations, interference from the Government, or constructive accelerations of performance.
Chambers noted that clients say that Justin “is a skilled and service-minded lawyer who cuts to the chase and avoids red tape” “He is an excellent leader and superb relationship partner” and that Dave “is a terrific lawyer who anticipates issues and is forward-thinking about his advice.”
To view all of Blank Rome’s Chambers USA 2022 rankings, please visit our website.
The Legal 500 United States 2022
Blank Rome was ranked as a “Recommended Firm” in the area of “Government: Government Contracts” and several of our Government Contracts attorneys were highly ranked and recommended in The Legal 500 United States 2022, including:
“Leading Lawyers”: The Legal 500’s Guide to Outstanding Lawyers Nationwide
Justin A. Chiarodo
“Next Generation Partners”: The Legal 500’s Guide to Up-and-Coming Lawyers Nationwide
Dominique L Casimir (Government: Government Contracts)
To view all of Blank Rome’s Legal 500 United States 2022 rankings, please visit our website.