The opinion of the court was delivered by: GANEY
Plaintiff, B. H. Deacon Co., Inc., and the defendant, United States of America, entered into a contract designated N155-29836, on April 24, 1957. The contract called for the purchase of 475 lavatories as $ 16.10 each, with a total contract price of $ 7,647.50 with delivery within ninety days of specified numbers at various designations.
On August 15, 1957, 255 lavatories were inspected and approved by a Navy Inspector at the factory of plaintiff's supplier and were eventually paid for by defendant. Later, the defendant discovered the lavatories did not conform to the specifications required by the contract, and the goods delivered to the Naval activities were rejected. Plaintiff, when notified, submitted a written complaint concerning the rejection to the Contracting Officer, a procedure which was set up by section 29 of the Contract entitled 'Disputes.'
Subsequently, the contract was terminated by letter dated December 31, 1957, and defendant entered into a replacement contract for $ 11,172.00 bearing No. N155-36734 and dated March 27, 1958, with another, Noland Co., Inc. Defendant tried unsuccessfully to get the money it had already paid on the Deacon contract and the increment between the first and second contracts.
Plaintiff then filed its complaint in this action and later moved for a summary judgment under F.R.Civ.P. 56, 28 U.S.C. for the amount unpaid on its original contract, which was $ 3,542, while defendant counterclaimed for the amount it had paid plaintiff plus the extra expenses incurred by reason of the replacement contract. It also moved for a summary judgment on the counterclaim.
The only dispute before the Contracting Officer was a factual one. The question was whether or not the contract called for holes to be drilled on 4 inch or 8 inch centers. The plaintiff claimed the former and the defendant, the latter. Under the powers given him in clause 29 of the contract, the Contracting Officer decided against plaintiff with respect to the dispute. It was not contested at any time during the dispute that there was no contract. A thirty-day period for appeal was given by clause 29 and it was not taken. Since plaintiff agreed to settlement of disputes by this procedure when the contract was entered into and since plaintiff did not exhaust its administrative remedies under the contract, this court is precluded from hearing any issue of fact and the Contracting Officer's decision on factual issues stands. As the Supreme Court of the United States said in United States v. Moorman, 1949, 338 U.S. 457, 462, 70 S. Ct. 288, 291, 94 L. Ed. 256:
'It is true that the intention of parties to submit their contractual disputes to final determination outside the courts should be made manifest by plain language. Mercantile Trust Co. v. Hensey, 205 U.S. 298, 309 (27 S. Ct. 535, 51 L. Ed. 811). But this does not mean that hostility to such provisions can justify blindness to a plain intent of parties to adopt this method for settlement of their disputes, nor should such an agreement of parties he frustrated by judicial 'interpretation' of contracts. If parties competent to decide for themselves are to be deprived of the privilege of making such anticipatory provisions for settlement of disputes, this deprivation should come from the legislative branch of government.' (Emphasis added.)
While it is clear that only questions of fact were to be submitted to the Contracting Officer under the disputes clause, there existed only questions of fact in issue and therefore plaintiff can't be heard to complain if plaintiff agreed to abide by the procedure outlined in clause 29 and then failed to exhaust the safeguards outlined in the procedure. The force and the effect of such a disputes clause as 29 were discussed in United States v. Joseph A. Holpuch Co., 1946, 328 U.S. 234, 235, 239, 66 S. Ct. 1000, 1003, 90 L. Ed. 1192, wherein the Court said of Article 15 of the contract (a similar provision to 29 of the present contract),
'It is a clear, unambiguous provision applicable at all times and binding on all parties to the contract. No court is justified in disregarding its letter or spirit. Article 15 is controlling as to all disputes 'concerning questions arising under this contract' unless otherwise specified in the contract. It creates a mechanism whereby adjustments may be made and errors corrected on an administrative level, thereby permitting the Government to mitigate or avoid large damage claims that might otherwise be created. United States v. Blair, 321 U.S. 730, 735 (64 S. Ct. 820, 88 L. Ed. 1039). This mechanism, moreover, is exclusive in nature. Solely through its operation may claims be made and adjudicated as to matters arising under the contract. United States v. Blair, supra; United States v. Callahan Walker (Const.) Co., 317 U.S. 56, 61 (63 S. Ct. 113, 87 L. Ed. 49). And in the absence of some clear evidence that the appeal procedure is inadequate or unavailable, that procedure must be pursued and exhausted before a contractor can be heard to complain in a court. It follows that when a contractor chooses without due cause to ignore the provisions of Article 15 he destroys his right to sue for damages in the Court of Claims.'
Thus, plaintiff cannot now claim that the specifications were otherwise than what the Contracting Officer said they were. See also Henry E. Wile Co. v. United States, Ct.Cl.1959, 169 F.Supp. 249, 251, where a similar clause provided the only method for appealing a question of fact under a contract. Nor can we say that the administrative remedies were so inadequate as to be unfair to plaintiff. And even if they were, our courts have held that administrative remedies must first be exhausted before there is an appeal to the courts. See Hellander v. United States, Ct.Cl.1959, 178 F.Supp. 932, 938, 939.
Plaintiff raised two points that can quickly be disposed of with respect to its right of appeal to the courts. The first is that after being notified of the rejection, it did not resort to the dispute procedure under the contract. However, in the letter of September 26, 1957, the term appeal was specifically used by it in setting forth its arguments to the Contracting Officer why its goods were conforming. These arguments were rejected by the Contracting Officer in his decision. The second point in that the dispute involves a question of law, rather than fact, which is not within the scope of dispute clause 29. The question of law asserted is that, when the goods were delivered, accepted, inspected and approved at Woodbridge, New Jersey, this constituted final acceptance within the meaning of the contract. The contract on pages 1-6 makes it clear that:
'Acceptance of property to be furnished hereunder shall be made at destination by the receiving activity.'
Plaintiff's assertion cannot be accepted. Thus, even though Woodbridge, New Jersey was the place of inspection, it was not the receiving activity within the meaning of the contract, as the goods had in no way reached the base of naval activity. Instead it was a place of preliminary inspection. Furthermore, the contract incorporated General Provisions by reference. One of them is Form 111 (Rev. 12-54) entitled Additional General Provisions, which provides in paragraph 22 as follows:
'Notwithstanding paragraph 5 of the General Provisions entitled Inspection, the Contractor guarantees that at the time of delivery thereof the articles provided for under this contract will be free from any defects in material or workmanship and will conform to the requirements of this contract. Notice of any such defect or nonconformance shall be given by the Government to the Contractor within one year of the delivery of the defective or non-conforming article. If required by the Government within a reasonable time after such ...