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Higgins Electric, Inc. v. O'Fallon Fire Protection District

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

January 14, 2015

HIGGINS ELECTRIC, INC., and LOCAL 57 OF THE ST. LOUIS DISTRICT COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS OF GREATER ST. LOUIS AND VICINITY, Plaintiff,
v.
O'FALLON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RONNIE L. WHITE, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

I. Background

Plaintiff Higgins Electric, Inc. ("Higgins") is a Missouri corporation located in Montgomery City, Missouri. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 7) Plaintiffs Local 57 of the St. Louis District Council of Carpenters of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity ("Carpenters") are a labor organization and bring the action on behalf of the class of members employed by Higgins. ( Id. at ¶ 2) Plaintiffs' action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges violations of their equal protection and due process rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. ( Id. at ¶¶ 4, 27-40) Plaintiffs also raise a claim of interference with freedom of association rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. ( Id. at ¶¶ 41-46) Finally, Plaintiffs claim that Defendant O'Fallon Fire Protection District ("District") violated Mo. Rev. Stat. § 321.220(4) and the Missouri Constitution. ( Id. at ¶¶ 47-56)

According to Plaintiffs, during the Spring of 2014, Defendant District solicited bids for the construction of a new fire house. ( Id. at ¶9) The "INSTRUCTIONS TO BIDDERS" contained an "INVITATION TO BID" with a Recommended Guide for Bidding Procedures and Contract Awards. ( Id. at ¶ 10) This guide provided that "the contract should be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder." ( Id. at ¶ 14) The guide also noted that the owner retained the right to reject any and all bids but that rejection should not be used as a subterfuge to award a contract to a bidder selected in advance. ( Id. at ¶ 12) Plaintiffs maintain that Higgins submitted the lowest responsible bid for the electrical construction on the fire house but was informed by an agent of the District that Higgins did not receive the award for electrical construction because Higgins' employees were represented by the Carpenters, which were not affiliated with the AFL-CIO. ( Id. at ¶¶15-17) According to Plaintiffs, an agent of Defendant District represented that the District was a signatory to a Project Labor Agreement ("PLA") and that the terms of said PLA barred Higgins from participating in the fire house construction. ( Id. at ¶ 18) However, at the time of bidding, the District had not entered into a PLA, and a document entitled "Determination of the O'Fallon Fire Protection District to Enter into a Union Project Labor Agreement" merely indicated that the District was authorized to enter into a union-only PLA. ( Id. at ¶¶ 19-24) On May 27, 2014, the District awarded the electrical construction work on the fire house to another electrical contractor who employed members of the Laborers' International Union of North America and were not affiliated with the AFL-CIO. ( Id. at ¶¶ 25-26)

In their Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that the Defendant District targeted Plaintiffs Higgins and the Carpenters and attempted to interfere with Higgins' business and employment of Carpenters because Higgins is not a signatory to a collective bargaining agreement with Local 1 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("IBEW"). ( Id. at ¶ 28) Plaintiffs contend that Defendant arbitrarily and maliciously treated Plaintiffs differently from other similarly situated electrical contractors and employees of said contractors, depriving Plaintiffs of their Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. ( Id. at ¶¶ 29-30) Further, Plaintiffs assert that the District failed to meet the basic standards of Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment because it did not have objective data to not award the electrical construction contract to Plaintiffs on more than surmise, guesswork, or a gut feeling. ( Id. at ¶¶ 35-37) Plaintiffs also claim that Defendant targeted Higgins and the Carpenters and attempted to interfere with the freedom of association because Higgins is not a signatory to a collective bargaining agreement with Local 1 of the IBEW. ( Id. at ¶ 42) Finally, Plaintiffs maintain that Defendant violated the Missouri Constitution and Mo. Rev. Stat. § 321.220(4) by not awarding the contract to the lowest responsible bidder and not allowing all bidders for electrical construction of the fire house to compete on equal terms. ( Id. at ¶¶ 48-52) Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.

II. Standard for Ruling on a Motion to Dismiss

A complaint must be dismissed under Federal Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if the complaint fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 570 (2007) (abrogating the "no set of facts" standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-16 (1957)). While the Court cautioned that the holding does not require a heightened fact pleading of specifics, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. In other words, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Id. This standard simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the claim. Id. at 556.

Courts must liberally construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept the factual allegations as true. See Id. at 555; see also Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008) (stating that in a motion to dismiss, courts accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint); Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008) (explaining that courts should liberally construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff). Further a court should not dismiss the complaint simply because the court is doubtful that the plaintiff will be able to prove all of the necessary factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. However, "[w]here the allegations show on the face of the complaint there is some insuperable bar to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate." Benton v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 524 F.3d 866, 870 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). Courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). When considering a motion to dismiss, a court can "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss. Id.

III. Discussion

A. Standing

Defendant District first argues that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring this suit. Defendant contends that it was not bound to award Higgins the contract, whether or not Higgins submitted the lowest bid. Thus, Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs were not deprived of anything to which it was legally entitled and cannot state a cause of action. Metcalf & Eddy Servs., Inc. v. City of St. Charles, 701 S.W.2d 497, 499 (Mo.Ct.App. 1985). Plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that they have standing to challenge a contract award where the contracting authority exercises its discretion to solicit and assess bids unlawfully or capriciously, or where the bidding procedure did not permit all bidders to compete on equal terms. Metro. Express Servs., Inc. v. City of Kansas City, 23 F.3d 1367, 1371 (8th Cir. 1994).

"[S]tanding is a jurisdictional prerequisite that must be resolved before reaching the merits of a suit." City of Clarkson Valley v. Mineta, 495 F.3d 567, 569 (8th Cir. 2007). Standing requires (1) that the plaintiff suffer an "injury in fact"; (2) that a causal connection exists between the injury and the conduct complained of; and (3) that the injury will likely be redressed by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (citations and internal quotations omitted). When standing is challenged in a motion to dismiss, "the standing inquiry must... be done in light of the factual allegations of the pleadings." City of Clarkson Valley, 495 F.3d at 570 (citation omitted). The party invoking federal jurisdiction has the burden of establishing standing. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 561.

"[M]ultiple Missouri cases have held that a disappointed bidder competing for a government contract does not have a special pecuniary interest in the award of the contract to it, and therefore generally lacks standing to challenge the award of the contract to another bidder." Pub. Commc'ns Servs., Inc. v. Simmons, 409 S.W.3d 538, 546 (Mo.Ct.App. 2013); see also Brannum v. City of Poplar Bluff, 439 S.W.3d 825, 829 (Mo.Ct.App. 2014); Metcalf & Eddy Servs., Inc. v. City of St. Charles, 701 S.W.2d 497, 499 (Mo.Ct.App. 1985); La Mar Constr. Co. v. Holt Cnty., R-II Sch. Dist., 542 S.W.2d 568, 570-71 (Mo.Ct.App. 1976). Indeed, the Missouri Supreme Court has explained that a disappointed bidder generally lacks standing because the advertisement was an offer to receive proposals for a contract, not an offer of a contract, and because the statute requiring contracts to be given to the lowest and best bidder was designed to benefit and protect the public, not the bidders. State ex rel. Johnson v. Sevier, 98 S.W.2d 677, 679 (Mo. 1936) (citation and internal quotations omitted). However, Missouri courts also "recognize that members of the public have standing to challenge a contract award where the contracting authority exercises its discretion to solicit and ...


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