Conflict in a negotiation is to be expected and is arguably healthy for the process. Owners and contractors are constantly engaged in negotiations; whether it be negotiating changes to the work, changes to the schedule, or changes to the contractual terms. But at what point does taking a strong position in a negotiation cross the line and become coercion or bad faith?
A recent decision from the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals touched on this very issue. While this is a government contract case, the issues discussed in this case (namely negotiating a change) are routinely encountered in just about every construction project. This decision is instructive because it adds to a trending line of cases that limit an owner’s and contractor’s negotiation tactics.
On August 5, 2019, the board issued an opinion in the appeal of Sand Point Services, LLC vs. NASA, ASBCA Nos. 6189. In Sand Point Services, the contractor was hired by the owner to repair the Wallops Flight Facility’s aircraft parking apron. During its work, the contractor hit a differing site condition, namely unsuitable soils. The contractor sought additional time and money for this differing site condition. The owner ultimately responded with a show cause letter to the contractor claiming, among other breaches, that the contractor was significantly behind schedule. This was generally viewed by all parties as the start of default proceedings against the contractor.