Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government Contracts

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Two laws were challenged under the Buy American Act, 41 U.S.C. 8301, which requires that only materials mined, produced, or manufactured in the U.S. be employed for "public use" or used in construction, alteration, or repair of "any public building or public work. A 1985 Puerto Rican law required that local construction projects financed with federal or Commonwealth funds use only construction materials manufactured in Puerto Rico, with limited exceptions relating to price, quality, and available quantity, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 3, 927-927h (Law 109). Cement is deemed "manufactured in Puerto Rico" only if composed entirely of raw materials from Puerto Rico. P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 10, 167e (Law 132), enacted in 2001, imposes labeling requirements on cement and required that foreign-manufactured cement carry a special label warning against its use in government-financed construction projects unless one of the exceptions contained in the BAA and Law 109 applies. The district court held that the local laws were preempted. The First Circuit upheld Law 109 as a permissible action taken by Puerto Rico as a market participant, but invalidated provisions of Law 132 that discriminate against sellers of foreign cement, leaving the remainder of the law intact.

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A child was seriously injured when she was hit in the head by an object thrown by a lawnmower being operated at the federal building adjoining her childcare center. Separate entities provided child care and lawn maintenance, under contract with the federal government. The district court dismissed a suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671-2680. The First Circuit affirmed. While noting that the landscaping and child care operators were independent contractors, the court applied the discretionary function exception to federal liability. The agreements and their actual execution show that the government did not carve out responsibility for safety measures from its otherwise comprehensive delegation of day-to-day authority to the companies. Federal law allows the government discretion to hire independent contractors and to adopt, or not adopt, safety measures suggested by the plaintiffs.

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In 1999 plaintiff pled guilty to making false statements while working on a project funded by the Federal Highway Administration (18 U.S.C. 2, 1014, and 1020). The agreement prohibited plaintiff from participating in any FHWA-funded project for a year. Plaintiff challenged Puerto Rico agencies' subsequent actions. The parties negotiated settlements; plaintiff entered into an agreement allowing it to bid on FHWA projects. Puerto Rico then enacted Law 458, which prohibits award of government contracts to any party convicted of a crime constituting fraud, embezzlement, or misappropriation of public funds and requires rescission of any contract with a party convicted of a specified offense. The statute states that it does not apply retroactively. One agency cancelled plaintiff's successful bids, another withdrew its consent to the settlement. The district court rejected claims of violation of the federal Contracts Clause and breaches of contract under Puerto Rico law. The First Circuit affirmed with respect to the constitutional claim. Any breach of the settlement agreements did not violate the Contracts Clause, even if committed in an attempt to unlawfully enforce Law 458 retroactively; defendants have not impaired plaintiff's ability to obtain a remedy for a demonstrated breach. Given the stage of the litigation, the district court should have retained the breach of contract claims.

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The former governor and former financial director of the Tribe were convicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. 371), and of violations of 18 U.S.C. 287, 666 and 669, involving misuse of federal grant and tribal monies at the Passamaquoddy Tribe Indian Township Reservation in Maine. The First Circuit vacated the conviction of the financial director for making material misstatements about how grant money intended for HIV and substance abuse prevention was spent, but otherwise affirmed. The evidence that the director knew that his statements were false was insufficient. The district court had jurisdiction; several counts involved mismanagement of federal grants and contracts, which are subject to regulations that the Tribe is not free to ignore, and do not constitute internal tribal matters.

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An inmate of the Maine corrections system, sought a civil rights remedy (42 U.S.C. 1983) for alleged denial of adequate medical care for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by healthcare professionals at a jail and the state prison. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The First Circuit affirmed with respect to the contractor that provides care, stating that the evidence could not establish Eighth Amendment violations, but reversed with respect to a physicians' assistant. Although the contractor acknowledged that its care "fell short of the mark," carelessness or inadvertence falls short of the Eighth Amendment standard of deliberate indifference. There was a material dispute about deliberate indifference by the physicians' assistant, who had a financial interest in limiting care and a disciplinary history.

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Plaintiff brought action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, claiming that the company used a kickback scheme and knowingly caused submission of false Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE claims by hospitals and doctors. The district court held that hospital claims at issue were not false or fraudulent, and that doctor claims were false or fraudulent, but not materially so. The First Circuit reversed. If kickbacks affected the transactions underlying the claims, the claims failed to meet a condition of payment and were false, regardless of the hospital's participation in or knowledge of the kickbacks. It cannot be said, as a matter of law, that the alleged misrepresentations were not capable of influencing Medicare's decision to pay the claims.