When Is the Contractor’s Termination for Default Proper? When It Does Bad Things.
Sometimes you “do” bad things. Sometimes you “look like” you do bad things. Just look at the difference between Bad-boy Jack and my youngest daughter, Haven, who just “looks like” she’s up to no good. In the world of construction contracting, both can get in you in trouble, including a termination for default of performance.
Appeals of Industrial Consultants, Inc. d/b/a W. Fortune & Company, ASBCA No. 59622 (2017) involved a construction contract to upgrade an HVAC system at a facility in New Hampshire. The Board held that the contractor was properly terminated for default where: (1) it repeatedly insisted on changing the design of the project; (2) it furnished the submittals consistently late and at times did not submit them; (3) it did not respond to certain communications regarding design changes and rejections; and (4) it never submitted a safety plan.
The Facts. Following award of the contract to the successful bidder, immediate concerns arose regarding the design. The contractor’s presiden believe there was a defect in the design and he began to offer suggestions on redesign. The contractor submitted numerous RFI’s, to which the government responded. During the process, the contractor delayed in providing submittals and often times never provided submittals. The contracting officer sent a notice to the contractor demanding the contractor to cure its deficiencies. Numerous communications are back and forth between the parties, all of which demonstrated that the contractor was accusatory and combative. In the end, the contracting officer has sent three cure notices and ultimately issued a termination for default.
The Decision. The Board found that the contractor failed to proceed with the work in violation of FAR 52.233-1 (Disputes) (June 2008), which requires that the “contractor shall proceed diligently with performance of this contract, pending final resolution of any request for relief, claim, appeal, or action arising under the contract, and comply with any decision of the contracting officer.” As to the merits, the Board found:
The government bears the burden of demonstrating that [the contractor] did not perform in a timely manner and that it failed to gain approval of its submittals. Failure to proceed with the work during a dispute is a ground for termination for default. In this appeal, it is undisputed that [the contractor] failed to complete the work on time, failed to proceed with the work after the Corps rejected its proposed changes to the project, and failed to furnish some submittals and failed to gain approval of other submittals. The government has made a prima facie case for default termination; [the contractor]must, therefore, prove that its nonperformance was excusable.
The Board then found that the contractor’s default was not excusable—as it had a basic misunderstanding as to its role as a contractor on the project.
Lesson Learned. Utlimately, the Board concluded that “government contractors must perform the contracts they execute and cannot require the government to rewrite the contract so that they can build some other project they like better.” In this case, the contractor questioned the design of the HVAC system and notified the government of those concerns. But in the end, the government chose to proceed with the design. At that point, the contractor had one choice: continue to build the project as it had contracted to do. It did not have the option to act bad by “dragging its feet” and refuse to perform, which ultimately led to the termination for default.