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State, IBM contest $62 million award for canceled welfare contract

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Indiana Court of Appeals judges spent the better part of a 90-minute oral argument Nov. 25 focused on whether a trial judge’s order applied the proper legal standards in awarding $62 million to IBM after the state canceled its $1.3 billion contract to overhaul Indiana’s welfare administration.

Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer in July 2012 awarded IBM $52 million plus about $10 million in prejudgment interest after the state negated the 10-year deal involving the Family and Social Services Agency after just three years.

apb-il-ibm03-15col.jpg Arguing for the state, Peter Rusthoven tells the Court of Appeals a $62 million judgment for IBM should be vacated. (IL Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

In State of Indiana v. IBM, 49D10-1005-PL-021451, Barnes & Thornburg LLP partner Peter Rusthoven argued for the state – to the sometimes skeptical appellate judges – that the record was replete with evidence that the contract was canceled for cause.

“The trial court ruling was clearly erroneous,” Rusthoven said. He argued that IBM officials promised more than they could deliver in promoting an advanced, totally computerized welfare-intake system, then later claimed, “We’re just the Geek Squad from Best Buy” taking orders from the state.

Before the trial court, the state sought the maximum it could recover from IBM – $125 million of the $437 million it paid during the first three years of its contract. IBM sought more than $100 million – claims it restated to the appeals panel during oral arguments.

“During the early part of the contract, IBM was being underpaid,” said IBM attorney Jay

Lefkowitz of the New York firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP. “… Our costs were going to be significantly more than $10 million a month” that the state was paying at the outset.

IBM’s efforts to upgrade the state’s computer systems for screening and processing claims for welfare, food stamps and Medicaid was “plagued with problems from the start,” Rusthoven told the Court of Appeals panel. He argued the judges would have to determine whether Dreyer’s opinion was “infected from top to bottom with legal errors,” beginning with the ruling that IBM was not in material breach.

Judge Nancy Vaidik countered Rusthoven’s assessment of IBM’s performance. The trial court made particular findings of fact, for instance, that “IBM was curing these problems” at the time the contract was nixed, Vaidik said.

Rusthoven said that was among the clear errors in the trial court ruling. He pointed to language in the IBM contract saying the state had to be satisfied with the company’s overall performance. He said the court had to look at IBM’s performance under the contract in totality. “The state was not satisfied in 2009,” he said.

apb-il-ibm02-15col.jpg Company attorney Jay Lefkowitz argues the state should pay more than $100 million for canceling its contract to upgrade Indiana’s welfare system. (IL Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

“You paid $437 million for something,” Judge Ezra Friedlander interjected. “You had to be satisfied with something.” Presiding Judge John Baker also pointed to the amount the state paid before canceling the contract and arguing breach.

Rusthoven said the state never argued that IBM did nothing, but rather that the company wasn’t hitting performance goals. And just because the state continued paying IBM roughly $10 million a month under the contract, “That doesn’t give (IBM) a blank ‘no-material-breach’ check,” he said.

Rusthoven answered Vaidik’s query of what he would have the court do by urging the panel to vacate the awards.

He also told the panel key IBM witnesses and the company’s internal documents showed that some of the claimed damages IBM sought under the contract were “arbitrary” and unenforceable.

But Lefkowitz dismissed testimony of “arbitrary” claims as coming from “a much more junior member of the team.” He said his client was entitled to sums in addition to those awarded by the trial court. Lefkowitz pushed for total damages of about $106.6 million.

That increased amount would include an additional $43 million in deferred fees – a “true-up” or “make-whole payment” reflecting the greater amount of upfront work IBM performed at the outset of the contract, plus compensation for lost revenue.

The trial court ruled the state failed to show IBM in material breach despite evidence of poor performance under the contract. The state also received benefits including improved FSSA performance as a result of the contract, a ruling the trial court also found precluded a determination of material breach.

The court’s $52 million in damages includes $40 million in assignment fees Indiana owes IBM because the state retained the company’s subcontractors after it dropped IBM. Another $9.5 million in equipment expenses was awarded to pay for computers, monitors, furniture and other assets procured under the contract, and an additional $2.5 million was awarded in early termination close-out payments. That includes actual costs to IBM that were incurred as a result of the state’s cancellation of the contract.

apb-il-ibm01-15col.jpg Presiding Court of Appeals Judge John Baker addresses a question to counsel in State v. IBM during oral arguments Nov. 25. Panelists flanking Baker are Judges Ezra Friedlander and Nancy Vaidik. (IL Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Lefkowitz said the state received clear benefits from hiring the same subcontractors IBM lined up to do the work, and that when Gov. Mitch Daniels canceled the contract, IBM experienced a tangible loss that can only be compensated by the additional $43 million award. “We were going to make $4.7 million a year just from one of the subcontractors,” Lefkowitz told the panel.

The state is still using equipment provided under the IBM contract, according to Lefkowitz. “It makes perfect sense you’ve got to buy this equipment if you want to use it.”

Rusthoven countered to the panel that the argument for deferred fees would set a dangerous precedent. “IBM is claiming it had a right to make a loan to the state which the state now has to repay.”

While Rusthoven also argued the state has sovereign immunity from paying prejudgment interest, Lefkowitz disagreed, claiming “the state stands on the same footing as any other party.”

A day after oral arguments in State v. IBM, a separate appeals court panel affirmed Dreyer’s rulings in a suit IBM filed against a subcontractor, ACS Human Services Inc. That appeals panel upheld a ruling that IBM owed ACS $709,398.95 in costs related to discovery and costs of production of documents as a nonparty in the state suit. Also affirmed was the trial court’s grant to IBM of $425,178.85 in sanctions against ACS.

The Court of Appeals will rule in State v. IBM at a later date.•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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