The City of Baldwin has appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court a ruling by the Court of Appeals that it must pay $203,000 to an engineering firm for work it did on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The city argues there was never a valid contract for the work.
In 2008, federal stimulus funds became available for construction projects through the Georgia Environmental Financing Authority. The city of Baldwin had an old wastewater treatment plant in need of repairs, so it approached Woodard & Curran, Inc., an engineering and design firm, to help it apply for the funds. In May 2009, the city and firm entered into a contract stating that for $5,000, Woodard and Curran would provide supporting engineering documents for the city’s funding application for the stimulus funds.
The May agreement also stated that “under separate covers we will be preparing a scope, budget and schedule for the actual design work” and a grant application to fund the development of a master plan for the wastewater system. In June 2009, the firm submitted a proposal which contained a schedule of the work and a scope of services for a total fee not to exceed $210,000. Then-Mayor Michael Kelley signed the June proposal, authorizing the firm to proceed with the work necessary to continue the application process, which included hiring surveyors, hiring geo-technical core drillers, getting bids for the work, and completing the design plans. The city paid Woodard & Curran the $5,000 as it had contracted to do. But when the engineering firm submitted an invoice to the city for $203,870.44, after completing a substantial amount of the work, the city denied payment, claiming the June proposal was “ultra vires” – or unauthorized – and therefore not binding because it had not been approved by a quorum of the city council, as the city charter required. The city also claimed that the June 2009 proposal was to secure the stimulus funds and the firm failed to get them.
Woodard & Curran then sued the city in Habersham County Superior Court, seeking $210,000 for breach of contract or, in the alternative, $203,870.44 as the value of the services it had already provided. At trial, a tape was played for the jury of a city council meeting in September 2009 where representatives of Woodard & Curran told the city officials about the work they had completed and the work that still needed to be done before filing the application for funds. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Woodard & Curran for $203,000. On appeal, the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.