David Adelstein | Florida Construction Legal Updates
Sometimes, it is much better to hear it from the horse’s mouth. That is the case here. The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeal’s (ASBCA) opinion in Appeals of -GSC Construction, Inc., ASBCA No. 59402, 2020 WL 8148687 (ASBCA November 4, 2020) includes an informative discussion of a contractor’s burden when it encounters excusable delay and, of importance, the standard for evaluating delay. It’s a long discussion but one that parties in construction need to know, appreciate, and understand. EVERY WORD IN THIS DISCUSSION MATTERS.
Construction projects get delayed and with a delay comes money because time is money. Many claims are predicated on delay. These can be an owner assessing liquidated damages due to a delayed job or a contractor seeking its costs for delay. Either way, the standard for evaluating delay and the burdens imposed on a party cannot be understated and, certainly, cannot be overlooked. For this reason, here is the discussion on evaluating delay directly from the horse’s mouth in the Appeal of-GSC Construction, Inc.:
The critical path is the longest path in the schedule on which any delay or disruption would cause a day-for-day delay to the project itself; those activities must be performed as they are scheduled and timely in order for the project to finish on time. Wilner v. United States, 23 Cl. Ct. 241, 245 (1991). In Yates-Desbuild Joint Venture, CBCA No. 3350 et al., 17-1 BCA ¶ 36,870, our sister board compiled an excellent and very helpful synopsis of the standards for evaluating delay claims, which I adopt nearly verbatim among the discussion that follows.
To the extent that the government that delays a contractor’s work and increases its costs, the contractor may seek compensation for its damages. Yet, the mere fact that there is some delay to some aspect of planned contract work is not enough to establish that the contractor’s ultimate contract performance costs or time increased. In evaluating the effect of government-caused delays on the contractor’s ultimate performance time and cost, tribunals generally look to the critical path of contract performance, a method of delay analysis that the United States Court of Claims explained as follows:
Essentially, the critical path method is an efficient way of organizing and scheduling a complex project which consists of numerous interrelated separate small projects. Each subproject is identified and classified as to the duration and precedence of the work. (E.g., one could not carpet an area until the flooring is down and the flooring cannot be completed until the underlying electrical and telephone conduits are installed.) The data is then analyzed, usually by computer, to determine the most efficient schedule for the entire project. Many subprojects may be performed at any time within a given period without any effect on the completion of the entire project. However, some items of work are given no leeway and must be performed on schedule; otherwise, the entire project will be delayed.
Yates-Desbuild, 17-1 BCA ¶ 36870 at 179,684-85 (quoting Haney v. United States, 676 F.2d 584, 595 (Ct. Cl. 1982)).
Where the time frame for performance of an activity, set by the earliest possible start time and the latest possible finish time, establishes a time interval equal to the expected activity duration, the activity is termed ““critical,” and no discretion or flexibility exists in the scheduling of that activity. Items of work for which there is no timing leeway are on the critical path, and a delay, or acceleration, of work along the critical path will affect the entire project. Specifically, then, to prevail on its claims for the additional costs incurred because of the late completion of a fixed-price government construction contract, a contractor must show that the government’s actions affected activities on the critical path. Typically, if work on the critical path is delayed, then the eventual completion date of the project is delayed. Conversely, a government delay that affects only those activities not on the critical path does not delay the completion of the project. As a result, the determination of the critical path is crucial to the calculation of delay damages. Id. at 179,685.
To satisfy its burden, the contractor must establish what the critical path of the project actually was and then demonstrate how excusable delays, by affecting activities on the contract’s critical path, actually impacted the contractor’s ability to finish the contract on time. This is done through an analysis to show the interdependence of any one or more of the work items with any other work items as the project progressed. One established way to document delay is through the use of contemporaneous Critical Path Method (CPM) schedules and an analysis of the effects, if any, of government-caused events. In fact, in situations where the contractor utilized Primavera scheduling software to create schedules throughout the life of the project, it would be folly to utilize some other method of critical path analysis. Id.
Because the critical path of construction can change as a project progresses, activities that were not on the original critical path subsequently may be added, and, to preclude post hoc rationalization and speculation, it is important that the contemporaneous schedules that the contractor uses to show critical path delay are updated throughout contract performance to reflect changes as they happened. Accurate, informed assessments of the effect of delays upon critical path activities are possible only if up-to-date CPM schedules are faithfully maintained throughout the course of construction. Id.
Nevertheless, the existence of contemporaneous schedules does not permit a tribunal to ignore, or fail to consider, logic errors in those schedules. A CPM schedule, even if maintained contemporaneously with events occurring during contract performance, is only as good as the logic and information upon which it is based. CPM is not a “magic wand,” and not every schedule presented will or should be automatically accepted merely because CPM technique is employed. To be a reliable basis for determining delay damages, a CPM schedule must reflect actual performance and must comport with the events actually occurring on the job. Tribunals may need to inquire into the accuracy and reliability of the data and logic underlying the CPM evaluation in appropriate circumstances and reject CPM analyses if the logic was not credible or was suspect. Id. at 179,685-86.
Even if the contractor shows delay by the government that affects the critical path, the contractor must also establish that it was not concurrently responsible for delays. Tribunals will deny recovery where the delays of the government and the contractor are concurrent and the contractor has not established its delay apart from that attributable to the government. Nevertheless, any contractor-caused delays must affect the critical path of contract performance to be considered “concurrent” — contractor delays that, absent the Government-caused delay, would have had no negative impact upon the ultimate contract completion date do not affect the government’s monetary liability. For the same reasons discussed above, because concurrent delays that do not affect the critical path of contract work do not delay project completion, an accurate critical path analysis is essential to determine whether concurrent delays have caused delay damages related to the delayed completion of a complex construction project. Id. at 179,686.
In establishing excusable delay, the contractor may point to causes outside the Government’s control. FAR 52.249-10(b)(1), Default, provides a non-exhaustive list of excusable delays that includes acts of God, acts of a host country government in its sovereign capacity, fires, floods, epidemics, strikes, and unusually severe weather. Obviously, a contractor has no control over whether it rains, whether there is a flash flood, or whether there are forest fires. Nevertheless, the mere fact that a delay is caused by a type of activity listed in the contract as generally excusable does not give the contractor carte blanche to rely upon such excuses. The purpose of the proviso, which is to protect the contractor against the unexpected, and its grammatical sense both militate against holding that the listed events are always to be regarded as unforeseeable, no matter what the attendant circumstances are. A quarantine, or freight embargo, may have been in effect for many years as a permanent policy of the controlling government and, if so, may not meet the definition of a cause “unforeseeable” at the time of contract award, even if quarantines and freight embargoes are listed in the contract as examples of possible excusable causes of delay. Id. at 179,686-87.
Further, even if an unforeseeable cause of delay occurs, the contractor cannot sit back and fail to take reasonable steps in response to it — once such an unforeseeable event occurs, the contractor affected by it has an obligation to attempt to mitigate the resulting damage to the extent that it can. If the contractor fails to do so, it may not recover those damages which could have been avoided by reasonable precautionary action on its part. Id. at 179,687.
To establish entitlement to an extension based on excusable delay, a contractor must show that the delay resulted from “unforeseeable causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor,” and the unforeseeable cause must delay the overall contract completion; i.e., it must affect the critical path of performance. Sauer Inc. v. Danzig, 224 F.3d 1340, 1345 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Similarly, a contractor’s default is excused only to the extent that there were no additional delays for which the contractor was responsible (beyond those caused by the government) and that “there is in the proof a clear apportionment of the delay and the expense attributable to each party.” SeeBlinderman Constr. Co. v. United States, 695 F.2d 552, 559 (Fed. Cir. 1982) (quoting Coath & Goss, Inc., 101 Ct.Cl. 702, 714-15 (1944).
However, in order to prove that it is entitled to delay damages in the form of time or money, a contractor must prove that the government was responsible for specific delays, overall project completion was delayed as a result of the government-caused delays, and any government-caused delays were not concurrent with delays within the contractor’s control. L.C. Gaskins Constr. Co., ASBCA No. 58550 et al., 18-1 BCA ¶ 36,978 at 180,121-22. If an event that would constitute an excusable cause of delay in fact occurs, and if that event in fact delays the progress of the work as a whole, the contractor is entitled to an extension of time for so much of the ultimate delay in completion as was the result or consequence of that event, notwithstanding that the progress of the work may also have been slowed down or halted by a want of diligence, lack of planning, or some other inexcusable omission on the part of the contractor. Chas. I. Cunningham Co., IBCA No. 60, 57-2 BCA ¶ 1,541 at 5,843.
A contractor is entitled to time extensions for government-caused delays and excusable delays, even when they are concurrent with contractor-caused delay. When a contractor is seeking extensions of contract time, for changes and excusable delay, which will relieve it from the consequences of having failed to complete the work within the time allowed for performance, it has the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence not only the existence of an excusable cause of delay but also the extent to which completion of the contract work as a whole was delayed thereby. The contractor must prove that the excusable event proximately caused a delay to the overall completion of the contract, i.e., that the delay affected activities on the critical path. And it must also establish the extent to which completion of the work was delayed—it is entitled to only so much time extension as the excusable cause actually delayed performance. R.P. Wallace, Inc. v. United States, 63 Fed. Cl. 402, 409-10 (2004).
Thornier issues are posed by concurrent or sequential delays—the first occurring where both parties are responsible for the same period of delay, the second, where one party and then the other cause different delays seriatim or intermittently. Concurrent delay is not fatal to a contractor’s claim for additional time due to excusable delay, but precludes the recovery of delay damages. If a period of delay can be attributed simultaneously to the actions of both the Government and the contractor, there are said to be concurrent delays, and the result is an excusable but not a compensable delay. A contractor generally cannot recover for concurrent delays for the simple reason that no causal link can be shown: A government act that delays part of the contract performance does not delay the general progress of the work when the prosecution of the work as a whole would have been delayed regardless of the government’s act. Id.