Government Acted in Extreme Bad Faith When It Terminated a Contract Based on a False Accusation of Assault; COFC No. 14-198, Brian Bowles v. United States

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COFC determined that an agency wrongfully terminated a contract for default where the termination was based on “systemic harassment and trouble-making” directed at the contractor by government officials, which culminated in an official falsely accusing the contractor of assault. The court awarded the contractor damages for the government’s bad faith.

Brian Bowles had a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail in rural Vermont. Initially, Bowles’s performance was satisfactory. But after a year, Bowles had several disputes with the local Postmaster, Rosi O’Connell. USPS terminated Bowles’s contract after O’Connell accused him of assaulting her with a mail scanner. Bowles sued the government under the Contract Disputes Act, alleging breach of contract and breach of the contract’s implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The government argued that Bowles had failed to allege a claim for wrongful termination for default and thus the court was precluded from turning the termination for default into a termination for convenience. But the court noted that under COFC Rule 15(b) when an issue not raised in the pleadings is nonetheless tried by the parties, it must be treated as if it was raised in the pleadings. Here, the government briefed the wrongful termination issue and argued the issue at trial. Therefore, the termination issue was properly before the court.

Turning to Bowles’s allegations, the court found “repeated instances of abuse from multiple postal officials that indicate bad faith on the part of the government.” USPS repeatedly refused to reimburse Bowles for work he performed outside the scope of the contract. It improperly garnished his entire paycheck on thirteen separate occasions. Again and again, O’Connell wrongly disciplined Bowles for use of a mail scanner, even though she never trained him to use it and refused to give him a barcode for the scanner. Bowles also alleged that O’Connell held scissors to his face while stepping on his foot and slamming mail bins around. What’s more, the court found, other USPS officials acted in bad faith by refusing to question O’Connell’s characterizations of Bowles’s conduct.

But the court was particularly perturbed by an assault accusation leveled against Bowles by O’Connell. She claimed that after she requested that Bowles input numbers into a mail scanner, he attacked her, hitting her in the head three times with the scanner. The court noted that the doctor who treated O’Connell after the alleged attack found that she displayed no signs of head trauma and appeared to be exaggerating the extent of her injuries. The court noted that the scanner had a metal base and weighed five pounds. If Bowles had attacked O’Connell with the scanner, it would have resulted in serious injury or death. The court concluded O’Connell lied about the attack.

The court determined that the termination for default—which was based primarily on a false assault accusation—should be converted into a termination for convenience. The court found that Bowles was entitled to $72,371.82 in damages for the remaining term of his contract and one additional contract term. The court directed a copy of its decision to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for further investigation.

Brian Bowles is represented by David Edward Bond of Strouse & Bond, PLLC. The government is represented by David M. Kerr of the U.S. Department of Justice.