Can I Appear Pro Se in Government Contracts Litigation?
Rather than hiring a government contracts attorney, some company owners attempt to file their own dispute against the federal government. This is called appearing pro se – choosing to advocate on your own behalf than being represented by a lawyer. Choosing to appear pro se can cause all sorts of risks and problems. For example, contract claims are often dismissed for something as small as a procedural error.
Two recent contract dispute cases before the Court of Federal Claims were dismissed essentially because the claimant who was appearing pro se was not familiar with the procedural rules such as the statute of limitations, where a claims appeal can be filed, and if an individual could file on the corporation’s behalf.
Know Where and When to File a Pro Se Government Contracts Dispute
In one case, the claimant who was appearing pro se, first filed their claims appeal in the wrong court. See John C, Brisbin v. United States (Jan. 13 2015). The claims, for over $823,000 in damages based on a government breach of contract, were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Under the Contract Disputes Act, claims over $10,000 in damages for breach of contract give exclusive jurisdiction to the Federal Claims Court.
The contractor then filed his claim in the proper court, but because the district court where he initially filed did not discuss transferring the case to the proper court and the 12-month statute of limitations had tolled, the Court of Federal Claims dismissed the case again.
It is clear from the above example that the risk was an expensive one. The contractor lost out on $823,000 in potential damages.
- Filing in the proper court at least gives you a chance to have your claim heard.
No Appearing Pro Se for Corporation Representation
Generally, an individual appearing pro se cannot represent a corporation in government contracts litigation. Rule 83.1(a)(3). This rule cannot be waived except in the case of a bid protest. If a corporation does not obtain counsel, the ordinary course of action for the court is to dismiss the case.
In a recent case, the government entered into a contract with a corporation, Treasure Valley, and not the owner in an individual capacity. Dan Balbach v. United States (Jan. 9 2015). The owner brought a claim and chose to appear pro se on behalf of his corporation for $60,000 in damages for an improper termination for cause.
Even if the court could have heard the claim and ignore the corporation pro se rule, it would have been dismissed as untimely because it was brought 2 days after the statute of limitations had run. This is yet another costly risk of appearing pro se.
Avoid the costly mistakes of the corporation pro se rule. Contact any of our experienced Government Contracts Attorneys at 1-866-601-5518 for a free initial consultation.