Federal Claims Court Finds Contractor Entitled to Equitable Adjustment Based on Corps’ Defective Specifications and Misrepresentation

Metric Construction Co., Inc. v. United States
2008 U.S.Claims LEXIS 5 (Fed. Cl., Jan. 7, 2008)

Metric Construction was awarded the contract to construct a warehouse for the United States Army Corps of Engineers at an Air Force base in Utah. After the roof developed serious leaks, the Corps required Metric to replace the roof. Metric then submitted a request for equitable adjustment in the amount of $2,173,091.85 for costs incurred in repairing water damage caused by the leaks, replacing damaged property in the warehouse, and installing a new roof, under the theory that the Corps’ design specifications for the structural steel underlying the roof were defective, and that defective specifications and the Corps’ communications with Metric regarding the roof installation were misrepresentations on which Metric relied to its detriment.

It was undisputed that the roof of the warehouse was to meet a performance specification provided by the Corps, which required Metric to select the appropriate means and assume the corresponding responsibility for its selection. At trial it was confirmed that the structural steel framework to which the roofing system was attached, however, was a design specification, over which Metric had no discretion. For this reason, the Corps had certain responsibilities for the design of the structural steel framework.

The roofing system specified by the Corps was a standing seam metal roof (SSMR), which consists of long thin sections of flat metal roofing material joined by raised seams. Because sheet metal expands and contracts with changes in temperature, the system must accommodate this movement, and “floating” clips are utilized to attach the roof to the joists for this purpose. If the clips do not permit free movement, the panels will grind against each other, causing damage likely to lead to leaks. Here, rather than a continuous 200 ft. panel, four 50 ft. panel sections were used, joined by “endlaps,” to make the 200 ft. run from ridge to eave.

During construction, Metric noticed that there appeared to be excessive camber in the joist girders, causing a “roller coaster” effect from ridge to eave, causing concern that the roof plane would not lay flat as necessary for the roofing system enough once all dead loads were applied. Metric alerted the Corps to the issue and submitted an RFI stating that the camber of the joist girders caused an uneven top surface, raising concern that the roof panels may be distorted beyond tolerances, and asking for guidance from the Corps before the roof was installed. The Corps responded by saying that if the joist girders had been fabricated in accordance with the applicable specification, that they should be at the recommended tolerance level and that where tolerances are exceeded, shims under the fasteners may be required.

At trial, it was undisputed that the many of the leaks were related to damage at the endlaps where sufficient movement was not accommodated by the floating clips, and Metric was able to show that the residual camber in the joist girders was the primary cause of the failure of the endlaps.

The evidence showed that the roof it selected was designed to perform satisfactorily based on the dead loads in the drawings, but that the dead loads on the Corps’ drawings were more than double the actual dead loads. As a result, when the lighter dead loads were placed on the joist girders, the joist girders did not deflect sufficiently, causing them to remain bowed upward to an excessive degree and creating a plane that was not as flat as expected. The court found that the dead loads on the Corps’ drawings were incorrect, the error was not patent, and that the joist girder manufacturer relied on the erroneous information in fabricating the joist girders. The court further found that when Metric reasonably inquired into the issue, the Corps had misrepresented the residual camber of the joist girders in its response to Metric’s RFI by stating that they would be within tolerance if manufactured in accordance with the specifications and that Metric had relied on this misrepresentation when it proceeded with the roof installation.

In assessing causation and damages, the Federal Claims Court found that 90 percent of Metric’s costs were related to endlap failure, and that 70 percent of the endlap failure were shown to have been related to the residual camber of the joist girders, for which the Corps was liable. Accordingly, Metric was entitled to an equitable adjustment of $1,323, 214.20, plus interest under 41 U.S.C.S. § 611.

 

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