Council’s Low Bid Bypass Struck Down by Court

By Paul Emanuelli

In its July 1950 decision in County of Pensacola v. Kirby, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a parking meter maintenance services contract award made by the City of Pensacola. The court found that the City had improperly bypassed the low bidder when it awarded the contract to a long-serving incumbent contractor on the basis that the incumbent had provided reliable past services:

As we read the record it reveals that no real consideration was given by the members of the city council as to the qualifications of the various persons who submitted bids for contract. The council made no findings that persons submitting bids lower than the bid submitted by Gevaldo were so lacking in the experience necessary to perform the contract that their bids should be rejected. In the face of the charter provision requiring that the contract be awarded to “the lowest responsible bidder” the council ignored the lower bids and voted to award the contract to Gevaldo, the high bidder, not because of the fact that the lower bidders were not qualified but largely in recognition of the fact that Gevaldo’s services in performing his previous contract with the City had been satisfactory.

While the court recognized that the “lowest responsible bid” award rule contained in the applicable State purchasing statute did not compel the award to the lowest bidder to the exclusion of all other evaluation factors, it also found that the discretion to bypass a low bidder cannot be exercised arbitrarily or capriciously. The court determined that the city council did not exercise its discretion appropriately since its low bid bypass was not based on reasonable material facts. It therefore struck down the contract award. As this case illustrates, when government bodies exercise their discretion to bypass a low bidder, they should ensure that the reasons behind these decision are defensible and not arbitrary.

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