The Day the Trim on the Supreme Court’s Windows Served to Trim the Doctrine of Superior Knowledge

Grunley Construction Company Inc. requested an equitable adjustment from the Architect of the Capitol (“AOC”) under a contract to retrofit or replace the Supreme Court’s first floor windows with windows that would be able to withstand an explosion. Grunley subcontracted the window and trim manufacturing to Masonry Arts, Inc. (“MAI”).

 

The solicitation contained a drawing of the exterior view of the windows. The drawing provided measurements depicting the windows as rectangles, although the AOC knew some were trapezoidal. Above the drawing, the solicitation stated, “NOTE: ALL WINDOW DIMENSIONS TO BE FIELD VERIFIED FOR ALL SIDES. SOME WINDOWS MAY BE TAPERED.” Grunley did not measure the windows before signing the contract or measure the trim before having its subcontractor manufacture the windows. Accordingly, the trim did not line up with the frame and the windows had to be remanufactured.

 

In its REA, claim, and subsequent appeal, Grunley contended it was entitled to relief because the actual shape of the trim was a differing site condition, the contract was defective in showing the windows as rectangular instead of trapezoidal, and the Government breached its duty to disclose superior knowledge about the measurements. The contracting officer denied the claim.

 

The AOC Contract Appeals Board denied the appeal on similar grounds to the contracting officer; it held that Grunley’s reliance on the drawings in the solicitation (and hence its interpretation of the contract) was unreasonable. It rejected Grunley’s argument that the trapezoidal shape and trim were differing site conditions because the note in the solicitation put Grunley on notice that the windows might not be rectangular. Moreover, Grunley could not reasonably rely solely on the drawings, because it had the duty to inquire about the “obvious conflict” between the dimensions provided and the warning note that the windows might be tapered.

 

The CAB also rejected Grunley’s argument that the AOC breached its duty to disclose its superior knowledge of the trapezoidal shape, concluding that the notice in the solicitation shifted the burden to verify the measurements to the contractor. Grunley Construction Company, Inc., v. Architect of the Capitol, CAB No. 2007-3.

 

Practice Tip: The Government can avoid the doctrine of superior knowledge by putting the contractor on notice in the solicitation. 

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