Likening the Federal Government’s Argument to “Alice in Wonderland,” the Court Sustains a Bid Protest Where the Agency Put an Incorrect Deadline on Its Website

Who says that government contract law is not fun? While it is not common for a federal judge to cite Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in a bid protest decision, it is not common for the United States to manipulate time and logic like the Mad Hatter.

Usually, we use this blog to digest, in plain English, decisions from the Court of Federal Claims. However, this is an opinion that should truly speak for itself . . .

The Court writes,

“In this case, Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) protests the refusal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) to accept its quotation for a blanket purchase agreement. According to the solicitation, the quotation was due . . . 2:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time (CDT). As instructed by an amendment to the solicitation, plaintiff loaded its quotation onto the U.S. General Services Administration’s e-Buy website. At 1:03 p.m. CDT, a LabCorp employee hit the “continue” button on the website, only to receive a message that that the submission had been refused because the website was programmed to accept offers only until 2:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

In arguments worthy of the Mad Hatter, defendant now admits (begrudgingly) that the VA made a mistake – that
the contracting officer never intended to adjust the time for submitting proposals when he filed the amendment to the
solicitation. Nevertheless, the proposal was still properly refused, defendant contends, because, whether the contracting officer intended to or not, the amendment incorporated the website into the solicitation, which, according to defendant, displayed the time for submitting the proposals as 2:00 p.m. EDT. Hence, according to defendant, the quotation was late. Now, in fact, we do not know what LabCorp actually saw because the data corresponding to that webpage was automatically purged by the e-Buy website immediately after the closing of the procurement. True, LabCorp admits to seeing the time on its screen. But, it also indicates that, in the early afternoon of the day on which the procurement closed, it contacted the contracting officer to point out the problem with the time listed on the website, and was told that the proposals were due at the time listed in the solicitation, i.e., 2:00 p.m. CDT. Despite this communication, defendant argues that LabCorp waived its objections regarding the timeliness of its quotation because it failed effectively to object to what defendant views as a patent ambiguity stemming from the difference between the deadline in the solicitation and the time listed on the webpage LabCorp saw.

Fortunately, unlike the Mad Hatter’s unsolvable riddle for Alice (“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”), the solution to defendant’s contorted arguments is readily found in the Federal Acquisition Regulations and binding precedent. Both establish that the VA’s refusal to accept plaintiff’s quotation here was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.

Unlike someone on good terms with the Mad Hatter’s Time, the officials at the VA could not whisper a hint to Time and make the clock on this procurement go round, in a twinkling, to a time different than that listed in the solicitation. There is nothing on this side of the looking glass to support the VA’s rejection of plaintiff’s offer. It is time, via an injunction, for defendant to return to reality.”

The case is Laboratory Corp. of America v. United States, 2012 U.S. Claims LEXIS 1741 (December 21, 2012).

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