Wednesday, December 18, 2013

White v. Berenda Mesa Water District case brief

White v. Berenda Mesa Water District case brief summary
87 Cal.Rptr. 338 (1970)

Plaintiffs, the low bidder on a public construction contract and its surety, sought review of a decision from the trial court (California), dismissing their declaratory judgment suit for rescission of the contract and the return of a $ 42,800 bond and awarding defendant county water district damages on its cross-complaint.

The low bidder submitted a bid of $ 427,900 to the water district to construct a regulating reservoir. Before the water district had accepted or rejected any of the other eight bids, the low bidder informed the water district that he had made an "error in judgment" by vastly under-calculating the amount of hard rock to be excavated and asked to be permitted to withdraw his bid. The water district awarded the project to the next lowest bidder but kept the $ 42,800 surety bond.


  • On appeal, the court held that the low bidder had made a mixed mistake of fact and judgment by relying on an erroneous soil report provided to all bidders by the water district, then failing to correlate the soil report with the project's plans and specifications. 
  • The court held that although the low bidder was negligent, he was not grossly negligent, even though the water district expressly warned bidders that it did not warrant the accuracy of its soil report. 
  • Because the low bidder was not grossly negligent, he did not neglect his legal duty in calculating his bid. 
  • The water district was not harmed because it had not yet awarded the contract when informed of the mistake.

The court reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of the water district, ordered that the low bidder be permitted to withdraw his bid, and required the return of the 10 per cent bond to the surety.

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