It’s Not Every Day that the Supreme Court Gets Sued

Meredith Miller at the ContractsProf blog has written a fun post about this breach of contract lawsuit against the U.S. Supreme Court,* which was recently settled. The dispute centered on $750,000 of work that the contractor claims it shouldn’t have had to do and thus should be compensated for. This work stemmed from a need to remake windows for frames that had appeared to be rectangular but were in fact trapezoids. Best of all, this deception was actually an optical illusion intended by the architect! It appears to have fooled everyone, from the Court to the contractors.

Trapezoids win, 9-0.

This made for an interesting contract dispute…

The National Law Journal explains:

The most contested feature of the litigation was the belated discovery by contractors that more than 150 large windows, many of which look out from justices’ chambers, were trapezoidal—not strictly rectangular. The building’s persnickety architect, Cass Gilbert, designed them that way so they would appear rectangular from below, both inside and outside the building.

But Grunley and its window subcontractor failed to measure all four sides of the windows before starting to manufacture blast-proof replacements, so some of them had to be scrapped.

Grunley claimed it was not obliged to make the measurements, asserting that the government had “superior knowledge” of the odd shape of the windows that it should have shared with contractors. The company asked for an extra $757,657 to compensate for the extra costs of fabricating the unconventional windows.

But the federal Contract Appeals Board in 2012 rejected Grunley’s claim, stating: “We find inexcusable the firms’ failure to measure a necessary component of the windows prior to installation.”

Grunley appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and placed other contract disputes before that court and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Both sides eventually agreed to settlement negotiations.

In February, both parties reported to the federal circuit that “the parties are now in the final process of closing out the underlying construction contract and settling various requests for equitable adjustment.” They also told the federal circuit that “the settlement discussion are at a very high level between the parties … and are being primarily led by the principals of each party, not the litigation counsel.”

Subsequent orders by both courts have dismissed the litigation, but no details of the settlement are available on the docket of either court.

Attempts to obtain details of the settlement have been unsuccessful so far…

I agree with Meredith, who notes that there is a great exam hypo in the making here – and that it would also be pretty cool to be the lawyer who sues the Supreme Court! In that connection, the real pedagogical parties in interest™ here might not be contracts professors but geometry teachers, whose students – perhaps more than any others – ask “when are we going to use this in real life?”**

Now the geometry teachers can respond: “why, when you graduate from high school – and go on to sue the Supreme Court.”

*Ok, technically the defendant was the Architect of the Capitol, a congressional agency that has jurisdiction over the Supreme Court building. But let’s not lawyer a great legal story to death.
**I may have asked this question once or twice. Sorry, Mr. Bednarz.


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