Contractors usually assume that the statutory prohibition on submitting “false claims” refers to inflated invoices, phony change order costs, and the like. However the courts are giving the relevant statutes a broader meaning which public works contractors should take into account. For example, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a bidder for a government contract that is found to have knowingly underbid the contract may have liability under the federal False Claims Act (“FCA”). In Hooper v. Lockheed Martin Corporation, 688 F.3d 1037 (9th Cir. 2012), Lockheed was the successful bidder for a contract with the Air Force to automate and modernize software and hardware used to support U.S. space launch operations. The contract was structured as a reimbursable cost plus “award fee” contract, where the contractor would be paid its costs of performing the work, plus “award fees” given at periodic intervals based on overall performance, including factors such as “spending less money than estimated.” Id. at 1041. Because the extent of the work required was uncertain, bidders were to submit their estimated costs of performing the work. Lockheed initially submitted a bid of $439.2 million, and later submitted a “Best and Final Offer” of $432.7 million. Id. at 1042. After the award, the government paid Lockheed more than $900 million for its work.
Continue Reading Knowingly Underbidding For Government Contract May Lead to False Claims Liability

By Bram Hanono

The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (FERA)[1] was signed into law in May 2009. Among other significant changes, FERA expanded the grounds for liability under the False Claims Act (FCA).[2] Public works contractors who work on projects funded with federal funds now stand an increased risk for potential liability under the FCA. The FCA now covers, for example, state and local agency projects where the public agency has received a grant of federal funds to build the project. And it includes projects only partially funded by federal money. Accordingly, federal, state, and local contractors should ensure that they have appropriate compliance systems and controls in place to deal with the enhanced FCA.
 Continue Reading Congress Increases False Claims Liability for Public Works Contractors

By Robert T. Sturgeon & Edward B. Lozowicki

The California First District Court of Appeal has issued an opinion which may place a heavy burden on public works contractors under the California False Claims Act, Cal. Gov’t Code § 12650 et seq. In San Francisco Unified School Dist. v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., the Court of Appeal applied the federal "implied certification" doctrine to hold that when a contractor on a public works project submits a request for payment to the public entity at a time when the contractor knows it is in breach of the express terms of the contract, the contractor may be held to have submitted a false claim, and may be subject to liability under the state False Claims Act. San Francisco Unified School District ex rel. Manuel Contreras, et al. v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., 182 Cal. App. 4th 438 (2010)
 Continue Reading Breach of Contract May Lead to False Claims Liability on Public Works Contracts

United States ex. rel. Bettis v. Odebrecht Contractors of California, Inc.
393 F.3d 1321 (D.C. Cir. 2005)

A contractor entered into a contract with the Army Corp of Engineers for construction of the Seven Oaks Dam in San Bernardino County, California. The plaintiff was an alleged “whistleblower” who worked for one of the contractor’s consultants. Plaintiff alleged the contractor had violated the federal False Claims Act (“FCA”) by fraudulently inducing the government to enter into the contract by knowingly submitting a bid that was too low, with the intent of later making up for the loss by requesting change orders for extra work.
Continue Reading Federal Circuit Court Rejects Claim That Contractor Violated The False Claims Act By Allegedly Submitting A Fraudulently Low Bid With The Intent Of Later Making Up For The Loss By Submitting Change Orders For Extra Work