Choose Your Arbitration Clause Wisely

During the last several decades arbitration has become a valuable method for resolving disputes between parties in the construction setting. A simple arbitration provision might read as follows:

Claims and disputes not resolved shall be decided by arbitration which shall be in accordance with the Construction Industry Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association currently in effect.  The locale of any arbitration shall be Jackson, Mississippi.

Simple and straightforward, but is it enough? It depends on what your expectations are for arbitration. An arbitrator is bound by the requirements of the arbitration clause. Therefore, if you are drafting an arbitration clause, you might want to consider including certain "bells and whistles" that will get you to the finish line faster. Here are some items you might want to consider including in an arbitration clause. 

  • Location of the arbitration proceeding;
  • Number of arbitrators and experience requirements;
  • Limitations on discovery;
  • Specific rules governing admissibility of evidence at hearing, i.e. state or federal rules of evidence verses the liberal rules for admissibility of the AAA;
  • Time within which arbitration hearing must be conducted; and
  • Payment of fees and costs.

Remember, it is your arbitration clause so draft it to suit your business objectives.

Mississippi Bureau of Building, Grounds and Real Property Management's New Standards for Disqualification of Bidder

If you are bidding on projects awarded through the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, Bureau of Building, Grounds and Real Property Management ("the Bureau"), you might not be awarded the contract, even if you are the apparent low bidder.

The Bureau is very particular about with whom it does business. Effective May 18, 2009, the Bureau has expanded the grounds for disqualifying a bidder from competition. (Link to rules.) These recent changes are highlighted below.

1.04 DISQUALIFICATION OF BIDDER: A Bidder may be disqualified for any of the following reasons:

A.  Failure to comply with the bid requirements.  (This provision was in 600.53 but missing in 1.04 of the Instructions to Bidders.

B.  Bidder is in arrears on existing Contract with the Bureau or another state agency.

C.  Bidder is, or anticipates being, in litigation or arbitration with the Bureau or another state agency.

D.  Bidder has defaulted on a previous Contract.

     

    BOB Manual, Instructions to Bidders, Section 00100, Part 1, General, Paragraph 1.04.

Mississippi’s Public Procurement Statute requires award to the "lowest and best bidder". However, the Mississippi Courts have recognized that the lowest bid may not necessarily be the best bid. Thus, state agencies have been afforded considerable deference when deciding which contractor has submitted the "lowest and best bid". One of the areas the Mississippi Supreme Court has recognized may be considered in the evaluation of bids is a contractor’s past performance record. However, in my opinion, the Bureau’s grounds for disqualification impermissibly expand the area of inquiry by seeking to penalize a contractor for exercising its contractual right to pursue a claim against the Bureau or another state agency with which the contractor has a contract.

The Bureau’s new grounds for disqualification gives it the authority to now reject a bid if the contractor "anticipates" being in litigation or arbitration. Hypothetically, this means that if a contractor has a contract with the Bureau or another state agency, writes a "claim" letter stating the contractor believes it has a right to an equitable adjustment in the contract price and/or time and subsequently submits a bid on another Bureau project, the contractor’s bid may be rejected because the letter could be construed as a sign the contractor "anticipates" being in litigation or arbitration with the Bureau. The Bureau may even require a certification as part of its bid requirements wherein the contractor must represent it does not anticipate being in litigation or arbitration with the Bureau or another state agency. The obvious intent of this provision is to discourage contractors from asserting claims against the Bureau or another state agency on construction projects. It appears the Bureau has made the decision that such draconian tactics are more effective then dealing with legitimate claims which the contractor has a right to assert under the Bureau’s contract documents.