A recent Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision underscores how even a minor bid specification ambiguity can lead to a significant bid challenge.

In Greenstar Pittsburgh LLC v. Allegheny County, the Commonwealth Court considered whether the following section of a bid specification was ambiguous, thereby creating an uneven bidding playing field:

“The Contractor’s facility shall be located within a fifteen (15) mile radius from the City’s Department of Public Works … located at 30th and A.V.R.R.”

In the case, Greenstar, a disappointed bidder and individual taxpayer brought suit to enjoin the award of a contract for the processing of recycling materials.  Greenstar challenged the award of the contract to PRS, the apparent lowest responsible bidder, on the grounds that three sections of the bid specifications were ambiguous and gave PRS an unfair advantage in the bidding process.

In part, Greenstar claimed the term “facility” was open to two reasonable interpretations.  It claimed that facility could mean its home office or a processing site.  The trial court agreed and enjoined the award of the contract to PRS.  On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed and the contract award remained enjoined.

The Commonwealth Court explained that “if a provision in bidding specifications denies the public the benefit of a fair and just competitive process by which the public authority can select the lowest responsible responsive bidder due to its ambiguity, the only remedy is to enjoin performance of the contract between the successful bidder and the public authority.”  The rationale underlying this principle is that “fairness lies at the heart of the bidding process, and all bidders must be confronted with the same requirements and be given the same fair opportunity to bid in free competition with each other.”

The definition of the term “facility” is not one that most bidders would likely seize on in attacking bid award.  Usually, contractors focus on ambiguities involving some portion of the bid itself, like a unit price or other line item.  Greenstar raises the question as to whether disappointed bidders should look elsewhere in the bid specification to challenge an award.  Surely, in every bid specification there exists one, if not several instances, of minor ambiguities that a disappointed bidder could use to challenge a bid award.

The lesson:  if you want to challenge a bid, look beyond the obvious ambiguities.




Greenstar Pittsburgh, LLC v. Allegheny Cnty., 1890 C.D. 2012, 2014 WL 346613 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 30, 2014)

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