At CBCA, Small Claims Procedure Nets Winning Claim for Extra Work

The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals can be used  to pursue appeals of claims of all sizes.  A special small claims process is available for lower-dollar appeals.

A recent CBCA decision is a good reminder of the small claims procedure available at the Board. In this case, the claimant was able to use this streamlined procedure to win an appeal of its claim for $7,272.17.

In Hal-Pe Associates Engineering Services Inc., CBCA 5361 (2018), Hal-Pe Associates Engineering Services, Inc. sought compensation for extra work it performed as part of VA construction project at an Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Hal-Pe claimed it finished all requirements of the project by January 20, 2015. The VA argued that the project was not completed because Hal-Pe did not “collect post-installation data for the harmonic correction units” it installed. Hal-Pe argued to the Contracting Officer that post-installation monitoring was not required under the contract but eventually performed the work and then filed a claim for equitable adjustment in the amount of $7,272.17 for the extra work. After the CO denied the claim, Hal-Pe filed an appeal with the CBCA.

Hal-Pe elected to have the appeal heard under Board Rule 52, Small Claims Procedure. The small claims procedure is available if the amount in dispute is $50,000 or less or, if the claimant is a small business, an amount in dispute up to $150,000. The appellant (and only the appellant, as the government cannot decide this) must choose to use the small claims procedure within “30 calendar days after the appellant’s receipt of the agency answer.”

Under the small claims procedure, “[t]he presiding judge may issue a decision, which may be in summary form, orally or in writing. . . . A decision shall be final and conclusive and shall not be set aside except in the case of fraud. A decision shall have no value as precedent.” In a small claims case, “Pleadings, discovery, and other prehearing activities may be restricted or eliminated.” In addition, the presiding judge is supposed to issue a decision within 120 days of when the appellant opted for the small claims procedure.

In this case, both parties also elected to have the appeal decided without a hearing under Board Rule 19.

The Board reviewed the contract at issue and found that it required “power metering of harmonic distortion to be performed in advance of filter installation, but not again at the completion of the work as ultimately required by respondent.” While the contract also stated that devices are to be set properly per drawings and specifications, this was not a clear requirement for the post-installation power metering and collection of data required by the VA.

The Board reviewed the record and found it included detailed costs to support the $7,272.17 claim, and the VA offered no rebuttal. The CBCA granted the appeal and awarded the full amount claimed–$7,272.17, plus interest.

When only a small amount is in dispute, a contractor may wonder whether the time and expense involved in an appeal are worth it. The Hal-Pe Associates Engineering Services decision is a good reminder that the small claims procedure can allow for a streamlined process for small businesses with appeals of claims under $150,000 to have them resolved by the CBCA.