Unsuccessful Public Contract Bid Process
The Alaska Supreme Court issued an opinion addressing a litigants complaints about an unsuccessful public contract bid process. The full opinion can be found here. There are a number of interesting issues addressed in the matter that have application outside the construction field. However, some factual background always makes the matter more memorable.
Back in 2002, Bachner Company, Inc. and Bowers Investment Company bid for the Alaska Department of Transportation office Building in Fairbanks. They were not awarded the project. So, Bachner filed bid protests alleging bid scoring irregularities in the scoring process. Bachner lost the appeal, found here. Undeterred, Bachner mounted an attack on four of the committee members that voted in awarding the contract to a competitor. Bachner’s claims were dismissed in part based on absolute immunity. Bachner appealed that decision. The supreme court remanded the matter back to the state court, holding that the committee members were only entitled to qualified immunity and Bachner’s allegations of bad faith, if proven, would fall outside of qualified immunity. Decision found here.
Board Member Qualified Immunity
“Under a rule of qualified immunity, a public official is shielded from liability . . . when discretionary acts within the scope of the official’s authority are done in good faith and are not malicious or corrupt.” Thus, “ ‘malice, bad faith or corrupt motive transforms an otherwise immune act into one from which liability may ensue.’ ” Qualified immunity “ ‘protect[s] the honest officer who tries to do his duty,’ ” but it does not protect “malicious, corrupt, and otherwise outrageous conduct.” When committee members raise qualified immunity as a defense and testify that they acted in good faith, the committee members are entitled to judgment as a matter of law unless the plaintiffs can present some admissible evidence that creates an issue of fact as to whether the committee members acted in bad faith or with an evil motive. The supreme court then analyzed Bachner’s evidence offered to support the claims and found that even in the light most favorable to Bachner that it did not have a case.
Public Service Litigant Attorney Fee Shield Denied
Having concluded that Bachner did not present a genuine issue for trial and that the statutory exclusive remedy rule barred the claim, the court awarded defendants their attorney fees. defendants, who had been defended by the State attorneys didn’t actually incur any fees but was awarded $93,871.85. In Alaska attorney fee awards are within the very broad discretion of the trial court. They are seen as a powerful tool to discourage litigants from filing frivolous suits against the state and its employees. An exception to the attorney fee award is available for public servant litigants. The court denied Bachner public service litigant status “due to its significant financial interest in this case.”