Contractor Loses Battle with Architect Over Improper Influence in Bid Selection
In Cedroni Associates, Inc. v Tomblinson, Harburn Associates, Architects & Planners, Inc. (July 2012), the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a contractor’s claim against an architect for tortious interference for allegedly lying about a contractor’s qualifications during a bid selection process.
In Cedroni, Davison Community Schools (DCS) invited bids on a school construction project. The architect, Tomblinson, Harburn Associates, Architects & Planners (THAAP) assisted DCS with the bid selection process by reviewing and evaluating bids, investigating contractors and their references, and expressing opinions about which contractor should be awarded the project. Plaintiff, Cedroni Associates, was the low bidder. THAAP, however, recommended that the school board award the contract to the second lowest bidder. The school board accepted THAAP’s recommendation.
Cedroni then sued THAAP asserting that THAAP tortiously interfered with Cedroni’s “prospective economic relations” by wrongfully informing DCS that Cedroni was unqualified to perform work. Cedroni claimed the THAAP’s recommendation was motivated by revenge against Cedroni for a dispute between Cedroni and THAAP on another project that resulted in THAAP being fired from the project.
In a 4-3 opinion, the Supreme Court sided with the Architect affirming the long-standing principle that a disappointed low bidder on a public contract has no reasonable expectation of being awarded a contract, “only wishful thinking.” In the absence of a valid business expectancy, the contractor could not sue the architect for tortious interference. In so ruling, the Supreme Court did not rule that an architect was immune from liability for making false statements about the low bidder, implying that there may be some other theory upon which the offended contractor could sue the architect. While Cedroni may be considered a victory for design professionals, the Supreme Court left the door open for other claims. What those claims might be remains to be seen.