Williams v. United States, 13-978C

Decision Date25 September 2014
Docket NumberNo. 13-978C,13-978C
PartiesLACHANA WILLIAMS and RUPERT WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs, v. THE UNITED STATES, Defendant.
CourtU.S. Claims Court

Contract Disputes Act; Claim; Certification; Contracting Officer's Final Decision; Subject Matter Jurisdiction; GSA Online Auction

Rupert Williams, Richmond, CA, and Lachana Williams, Pomona Park, FL, pro se.

Antonia Ramos Soares, Civil Division, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for defendant.

OPINION

BRUGGINK, Judge.

This case involves a contract between the General Services Administration ("GSA") and pro se plaintiffs, Lachana and Rupert Williams, ("the Williamses") for the sale of an airplane. After submitting the winning bid for the airplane on GSA's online auction platform, GSAAuctions.gov, plaintiffs paid for and made arrangements to collect the airplane. When Rupert Williams inspected and took custody of the airplane, he found that itwas missing essential parts and that it could not be flown. Plaintiffs subsequently filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the location of the governmental entities the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") and the Fire Department of Kern County, California which had possession of the airplane prior to the Williamses. The District Court found that it had jurisdiction over the Williamses claims against Kern County, but in the interest of justice and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1631 (2012), transferred their claims against the USDA to this court. Williams v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., No. 13-cv-508, 2013 WL 5567486 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2013). Plaintiffs' case was transferred to the Court of Federal Claims in December of 2013 and we received plaintiffs' amended complaint on April 29, 2014.

In their amended complaint, the Williamses allege that the government intentionally misrepresented the value of the airplane during the auction by failing to disclose its condition and its lack of flight certification. Specifically, plaintiffs argue that it was false to advertise that the aircraft had only 2,900 airframe hours. Also, plaintiffs assert that defendant intentionally mislead them because upon "delivery of said aircraft to Plaintiff(s) the Defendant and their co-owner intentionally gave the Plaintiff(s) a current registration for and [sic] aircraft that was in good standing with the FAA [(Federal Aviation Administration)]," which was not the correct registration. Pls.' Am. Compl. 2. Plaintiffs also allege that defendant "knowingly and willfully removed [m]ajor components from aircraft . . . with the intent to defraud and deprive the Plaintiff(s) of the entire aircraft they purchased." Pls.' Am. Compl. 2. As a remedy, plaintiffs seek $99,230, which is the estimated cost of repairs needed to make the plane airworthy. Additionally, plaintiffs request damages of $65,000 for the cost of storing the aircraft, sales tax, freight charges, and the costs of this lawsuit.

We are currently faced with defendant's motion to dismiss, which challenges our jurisdiction. Specifically, defendant alleges that plaintiffs failed to satisfy the requirements of the Contract Disputes Act1 ("CDA"), 41 U.S.C. §§ 7101-7109 (2012), which they must do before this court may exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(2) (2012). Defendant's motionis fully briefed and we heard oral argument on September 24, 2014. For the reasons explained below, we grant defendant's motion and dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND2

On November 14, 2011, plaintiffs purchased for $16,300 an airplane from the USDA through an online GSA auction. The advertisement on GSA's auction website, GS AAuctions.gov, described the airplane that the Williamses purchased as follows:

AIRCRAFT, FIXED WING: 1967 ROCKWELL COMMANDER 680 FL(P), ENGINES ARE LYCOMING MODEL 10720 BIB, RIGHT ENGINE HAS 30HRS SINCE OVERHAUL, LEFT ENGINE HAS 1390 SINCE OVERHAUL, AIRFRAME HAS 2900 HOURS,[]N911KC REPAIRS REQUIRED INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO: PLANE HAS NOT BEEN FLOWN IN OVER FIVE YEARS; RIGHT ENGINE HAS METAL IN OIL. BIDDERS ARE STRONGLY ENCOURAGED TO INSPECT PRIOR TO BIDDING. . . .

Pls.' Resp. A034.3 Specific information regarding inspection was also given in the advertisement, which provided that "INSPECTION WILL BE THE WEEK OF 10/31/11 BY APPOINTMENT ONLY[.] RECORDS AREAVAILABLE FOR VIEWING DURING INSPECTION OF THE AIRCRAFT ONLY." Pls.' Resp. A034. Despite the tone of the description, plaintiffs did not inspect the airplane prior to bidding and winning the auction.

GSA's auction website also has a link called "Terms & Conditions" in which the following relevant terms are provided:

• Photographs may not depict an exact representation of the bid item(s) and should not be relied upon in place of written item descriptions or as a substitute for physical inspection.
• Bidders agree to physically inspect the property upon which they bid or thereby waive the opportunity to conduct a physical inspection. In waiving their inspection rights, bidders bear the risk for any gross omissions regarding the functionality of items, failure to cite major missing parts and/or restrictions with regards to usage that would have been revealed by physical inspection. There are times when access to property may be limited due to property being located in a restricted area. GSA will do all that it can to ensure that photos and detailed descriptions are provided in these instances.

• Contracts resulting from the sale of any offer in the GSAAuctions.gov website are subject to the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 (41 USC 7101-7109), as amended.

• Condition of property is not warranted. Deficiencies, when known, have been indicated in the property descriptions. However, absence of any indicated deficiencies does not mean that none exists. Therefore, the bidder should ascertain the condition of the item through physical inspection.

• The Government warrants to the original purchaser that the property listed in the GSAAuctions.gov website will conform to its written description. Features, characteristics, deficiencies, etc. not addressed in the description are excluded from this warranty. GSA

further cautions bidders that GSA's written description represents GSA's best effort to describe the item based on the information provided to it by the owning agency. Therefore, gross omissions regarding the functionality of items, failures to cite major missing parts and/or restrictions with regards to usage may occur.
• Claims for Misdescription

If items have been awarded but not paid for and the successful bidder feels that the property is mis-described, he/she must follow these procedures: A written claim needs to be submitted to the Sales Contracting Officer within 15 calendar days from the date of award requesting release of contractual obligation for reasons satisfying that of a misdescription. No verbal contact with the custodian or the Sales Contracting Officer or any other federal official will constitute a notice of misdescription.

When items are awarded and payment has been received, regardless of the removal status (removal may or may not have occurred), the successful bidder must submit a written notice to the Sales Contracting Officer within 15 calendar days from the date of payment email notification (the Purchaser's Receipt). If property has been removed and the claim is accepted by the Sales Contracting Officer, the purchaser must maintain the property in its purchased condition and return it at their expense to the location designated by the Sales Contracting Officer or any other federal official.

A request for refund must be substantiated in writing to the Contracting Officer for issues regarding mis-described property, missing property and voluntary defaults within 15 calendar days from the date of award.

The refund is limited to the purchase price of the misdescribed property.

• The Government does not warrant the merchantability of the property or its purpose. The purchaser is not entitled to any payment for loss of profit or any other money damages - special, direct, indirect, or consequential.

Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss A5-A8 (emphasis in original).

Mr. Williams traveled from his home in Florida at the end of January 2012 to take custody of the airplane, which was located in California. After accepting custody and upon inspection of the airplane, Mr. Williams discovered that it was missing essential parts. On February 1, 2012, the Williamses sent an e-mail to Shirley Tarkington, the contracting officer ("CO"), requesting a price reduction because the condition of the aircraft had been misrepresented.4 In this e-mail, plaintiffs describe how they were surprised by the "cannibalized state of the aircraft" and when they spoke with the custodian responsible for delivering the aircraft to plaintiffs, who was also the aircraft mechanic, the custodian informed plaintiffs that "he was never asked about the overall condition of the aircraft and missing items, so he never said anything about it until now." Pls.' Resp. A032; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss A14. Two days later, the CO responded via e-mail with the terms governing a claim of misdescription, a notation that plaintiffs' written claim was received after the 15 -day period, and a statement that plaintiffs' failure to assert a timely misdescription claim meant an automatic denial. The CO, however, "agreed to refund $1,000.00 dollars as a courtesy for any inconvenience." Pls.' Resp. A033; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss A14. Ms. Williams replied with thanks, agreement, and acknowledgment "that you didn't have to give us anything back." Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss A13. Plaintiffs, in fact, received $1,000 from GSA in February of 2012. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss A15-A17.

When plaintiffs attempted to register the airplane, the FAA informed them on August 14, 2012, that the previous owners (USDA & the Fire Department of Kern County) had cancelled the registration on December 4, 2009, because the airplane was destroyed or scrapped. Plaintiffs...

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