PUBLISHERS CHOICE BOOK MFG. CO. GPO BCA 4-84 August 18, 1986 Michael F. DiMario ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE OPINION This appeal, timely filed by Publishers Choice Book Manufacturing Company, Mars Industrial Park, P.O. Box 709, Mars, PA 16046 (hereinafter Appellant or "PCBMC"), arises under the standard "Disputes" clause of Government Printing Office Contract Terms No. 1, which by reference was incorporated into and made a part of two identical, sequential, multiple award, definite term, requirements contracts between Appellant and the United States Government Printing Office (hereinafter Respondent or GPO), identified as Program B365-M. One contract was for the period beginning August 1, 1983, and ending July 31, 1984, while the other contract was for the period beginning August 1, 1984, and ending July 31, 1985. The appeal is from the Final Decision dated October 16, 1984, of Respondent's Contracting Officer, Alice S. Jennings, wherein Appellant was advised that it had been erroneously paid for certain invoiced work, that such invoices would be adjusted, and that future invoices if found to be incorrect would likewise be adjusted. The case is remanded back to the Contracting Officer for negotiation of quantum in accordance with the decision rendered hereinbelow holding "no contract" but recognizing quantum meruit entitlement. BACKGROUND Respondent, pursuant to a requisition of the Department of Agriculture, issued an Invitation for Bids (hereinafter "IFB") for procurement of the printing of such Soil Survey Maps as might be required from time to time during the term August 1, 1983, through July 31, 1984. The contract was to be awarded on a multiple basis; i.e., to more than one qualified bidder, in lowest bid rank order; such ranking to be used to place work during the contract term. The IFBs were sent to some 35 potential bidders. Eleven bids and 2 "no bids" were thereafter received by Respondent. The bids were abstracted for comparison purposes. Appellant was the second lowest bidder (Rule 4 File, hereinafter "R4 File", Tab 4), its bid having been made on June 23, 1983, in the amount of $487,357.00. This bid was in contrast to the lowest bid at $485,190.20 and the next higher bid of $563,277.97, which was followed by 4 bids ranging from $633,120.80 to $691,961.00, another bid at $777,793.52, and the remaining 3 bids from just below 2 million dollars upward to 2.7 million dollars. The contract in being for Program B365-M at that time was for $508,373.84. (R4 File, Tab 4). Thereafter, by letter of July 12, 1983 (R4 File, Tab 3), David A. Charnock, Appellant's Comptroller, assured Respondent's Printing Specialist, Stuart B. Friedman, of Appellant's capability to perform the work required under Program B365-M. There is no indication of what prompted the letter. However, on July 14, 1983, Alice Jennings, Contracting Officer, ordered a preaward survey to determine Appellant's capability to produce the required product. The survey was satisfactory except for Appellant's record of meeting delivery schedules under other GPO contracts. On July 19, 1983, Stuart Friedman telephoned Appellant and spoke to Michael D. Cheteyan, President, PCBMC, concerning its bid and "why some prices for one color are higher than 2 color." Cheteyan purportedly told him that "the prices are correct as bid" and that Appellant had "analyzed and bid the job as a complete package . . . this is a printing only job" and "they need work." Friedman purportedly also "cautioned" Cheteyan "that bids which are inconsistent or unrealistic in regard to others in the same offer could be rejected by the contracting officer." He also asked Cheteyan "about late orders on Program 198 and voluntary defaults on other orders." Friedman's notes show no response by Cheteyan but instead reflect a return telephone call from one Mike Biggerstaff explaining that Appellant "had problems with new equipment and personnel leaving without notice but they are working hard to get all the work out . . . ." Thereafter, Friedman and Jennings summarized the bids on a lowest bidder sequential basis as outlined above in a memorandum to the GPO Contract Review Board (CRB). The memorandum stated that "prices are fair and reasonable based on competitive bids. Propose award in the above sequence with no award beyond the number three contractor without prior approval of the CRB." The CRB concurred in this proposal and award was subsequently made to the 3 lowest bidders; the award to Appellant being by Purchase Order No. 30364, dated July 22, 1983. No work was placed with Appellant, however, until January 23, 1984, when Print Orders 3030, 3031, and 3032 were issued to it. Two days later on January 25, 1984, Respondent, "via a letter from Alice Jennings invoked the 'Exception Clause' on this program, stating her reason being that P.C. had had difficulty with compliance with schedules on other GPO programs." (R4 File, Tab 17) The Exception Clause of Section 3, page 11 of 15 (R4 File, Tab 2) states that: Noncompliance with the shipping and/or delivery schedule, or any other term, condition or specification of this contract will be cause, and the GPO reserves the right, to withhold further offers until the contractor is judged by the Government to have established adequate procedures to fulfill the requirements. Thereafter, Appellant completed its work and vouchered Print Orders 3030 and 3032 to Respondent on March 29, 1984, in the respective amounts of $8,078.84 and $6,824.00. Print Order 3031 was not vouchered by Appellant until April 30, 1984, due to a departmental error requiring a print order modification. (R4 File, Tab 7) At that time it was vouchered in the amount of $7,097.55. These vouchers, after application of the 5% prompt payment discount, were paid on May 22, May 4, and September 6, 1984, in the amounts of $7,681.19, $6,824.00, and $7,027.95, respectively. (R4 File, Tab 17) In mid-April, Appellant was reinstated on the contract. (R4 File, Tab 16). Thereafter, Appellant received 16 additional print orders from May 14, 1984, through July 30, 1984. (R4 File, Tab 7) Appellant submitted vouchers to Respondent for this additional work at various times between July 27, 1984 and August 14, 1984, except for Print Orders 3072 and 3073 which were not vouchered until October 18, 1984, and September 30, 1984, respectively. Thereafter, Appellant received payments for some of its vouchered work with other vouchers pending. (R4 File, Tab 8). Subsequently, by IFB of June 5, 1984 (R4 File, Tab 9), Appellant was invited to bid on the same Program B365-M to produce Soil Maps for the term beginning August 1, 1984, and ending July 31, 1985. This time 36 contractors were invited to bid. Nine "no bids" were received. In addition, Gateway Press, Inc., and Qualigraphics, Inc., the third and fourth low bidders on the previous Program B365-M contract, were declared to have nonresponsive bids "for failure to acknowledge amendment No. 1." Two other bidders, Graphic Litho Corp. and Studio Printing, were declared to be "nonresponsible bidders". The remaining 2 bidders were the Appellant with the lowest bid at $540,117.00 - 5% - $513.111.15 and Techna-Graphics (the low bidder under the previous contract) with a bid of $797,574.80 - 2% - $781,623.30. Jennings, by memo of July 26, 1984, recommended award to Publishers Choice and Techna-Graphics, declaring the prices to be "fair and reasonable based on bids received and comparison with current contract prices" noting also that Appellant "has the capacity to perform the majority and possibly all of this contract." (R4 File, Tab 11) A notation on this memo states, "[w]hile Techna-Graphics prices are high in comparison to Publishers Choice, a better comparison would be with Gateway's prices, who for a number of years produced this contract as the low bidder. Publishers Choice has reviewed and confirmed their prices - Biggerstaff to ASJ, 7/27/84." The memorandum was reviewed by one Barbara Chapman and concurred in by the Contract Review Board. (R4 File, Tab 11) Award was thereafter made to Appellant by Purchase Order No. 33385 dated August 3, 1984. Commencing on August 28, 1984, Appellant was issued 6 Print Orders numbered 10001 through 10006 under the contract; the last one being dated September 6, 1984. Later "during the month of September, payment was received in full on Print Orders . . ., 3054, 3057, and 3064." About this time.GPO's Financial Management Service, in examining another batch of Appellant's vouchers which it had previously submitted, discovered what they believed to be a billing error. They notified Friedman that Appellant had apparently billed double the amount they believed Appellant to be entitled to bill for map sheets printed two sides to a sheet under the Schedule of Prices provisions of the contract. In turn Friedman, on September 26, 1984, telephoned Appellant and spoke to Charnock, to ascertain the reason for such billing. Charnock told Friedman that in bidding and billing it had interpreted the words "map sheet" on the Schedule of Prices language to be virtually synonymous with the word "map" and therefore based its bid on a per map basis, and thus was entitled to bill map sheets printed on two sides on a per map basis. Friedman told Charnock that he would speak to Jennings about the matter and then get back to him. Two days later Friedman called Charnock and specifically informed him that Appellant's interpretation of the contract provision was incorrect. Charnock then asked for a conference with Jennings. Such conference was held on October 4, 1984, without reconciliation of the differences between the parties. Appellant then wrote to Paul Barlow, GPO Contract Specialist, restating its position regarding the contract. Barlow forwarded the letter to Jennings who by Final Decision letter of October 16, 1984, responded as follows: You have interpreted the descriptive words, "single map sheet", to mean that you must be reimbursed [sic] double the prices quoted for sheets printed two sides, [sic] This interpretation is not correct. The language on which you base your assertion simply describes the trim size which allows the variation in the product price for differing sizes of single sheets. Further, this interpretation disregards the language "Sheets Printed Two Sides". Your argument that this phrase describes the method of printing and not the method of billing is without merit. Methods of production are described under "Section 2 - Specifications", while the language under the "Schedule of Prices [sic] pertains to completed products. Therefore, adjustments must be made to incorrectly paid invoices and future invoices if found incorrect. Rule 4 File, Tab 18 Appellant then appealed to this Board. Subsequent thereto a prehearing conference was held on September 24, 1985, followed by a hearing on October 28, 1985, and submission of briefs thereafter. At the prehearing conference Respondent made a Motion for Summary Judgment in its favor based upon its contention from the pleadings of the parties that there is no genuine dispute as to the facts; and that Respondent is entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law. Such motion was renewed by Respondent at the time of the hearing. Appellant in turn has argued that the contract language was drafted by Respondent, was reasonably interpreted by Appellant based upon its experience with a companion program, the 198 Program, wherein it was required to take maps manufactured under Program B365-M, fold the maps, and bind the same with text material into book format; that such maps had printed on each side of each sheet the word "sheet" followed by sequential page numbering so that, for example, the words "SHEET NUMBER 1" appeared on one side of a sheet while on the reverse side of the same sheet appeared the words "SHEET NUMBER 2"; and that such familiarity and wording gave rise to Appellant reasonably interpreting the words "map sheet" in the caption "Single Map Sheet Trim Size" on page 13, 14, and 15 of the "Schedule of Prices" of the first contract IFB and pages 15, 16, and 17 of 18 on the second contract IFB, to be synonymous with the word "map" in light of the fact that neither contract defines the words "map" or "map sheets". Appellant further argues that it applied this reasonable interpretation consistently; and that such interpretation must be construed against the Respondent's drafters' construction. In the alternative Appellant argues that should the Board find that there was "no contract" on the basis that there was no requisite "meeting of the minds" to contract formation, Appellant should be entitled to be compensated for its costs and a reasonably expected profit on the basis of quantum meruit. Moreover, Appellant asserts that the doctrine of equitable estoppel should also be applied against the Government's set-off action because the Government had notice of Appellant's interpretation of the contract upon Appellant's submission of its first vouchers and thus had ample opportunity after such notice to have raised the issue before Appellant acted at its financial jeopardy with respect to performing under subsequent print orders. The case is before the Board for decision in this form. ISSUE The issue is whether or not there was a contract between the parties. If there was a contract, what were its terms with respect to defining production units for bidding and billing purposes when "maps" were to be printed on both the face and reverse sides of a press sheet? If such units were as contended by the Respondent, should it nevertheless be equitably estopped from recovery of overpayments? If no contract, does Appellant have a right to compensation on the basis of quantum meruit? If so, in what amount? DISCUSSION At the outset of this discussion, suffice it to say that the Board finds that there are no factual disagreements between the parties. Accordingly, the Board finds that the record and testimony in this case supports Appellant's uncontroverted claim that at the time it first bid for the B365-M Program and at all pertinent times thereafter, Appellant did indeed construe the term "map sheet" to be synonymous with the term "map" based upon its familiarity with the 198 Program. The Board's conclusion in this regard is further influenced by the fact that at the time of this initial bid, Respondent's employee, Mr. Friedman, sensed a possible mistake in bid, appropriately pointed to what he believed were inconsistencies, and asked Appellant to review and confirm in that light. Appellant, given its interpretation of the disputed language, believed its bid to be correct, and thus confirmed it. We conclude from this that Appellant clearly intended the bid that it made and thus did not assert a post-award mistake in its bid as Respondent anticipated it would, but rather asserted that based upon the prior course of dealing in Program 198 it reasonably interpreted the Program B365-M IFB language and bid accordingly.. Respondent, while accepting without argument the truthfulness of Appellant's assertion, denies that it was reasonable claiming instead that Appellant, in reading the language as it has, made a mistake in judgment for which it should not be compensated. Thus, Respondent has consistently objected to the relevancy of admitting Program 198 materials into evidence. (Respondent's Exhibit 29.) This Board admitted such material for whatever probative value it might have. On the question of the weight to be given a course of prior dealings, Professors Nash and Cibinic in examining the principal case of L. W. Foster Sportswear, Co. v. United States, 186 Ct.Cl. 499, 405 F.2d 1,285 (1969), tell us that in Government contract law "[w]here the parties to an interpretation dispute have interpreted, either expressly or by their actions, the provisions of a similar, previously performed contract in a certain manner, they will be presumed to have intended the same meaning for those provisions in the disputed contract. This presumption is rebuttable by clear evidence that the parties have changed their intent or are in disagreement at the time they enter into the disputed contract. See, e.g., Lockeed Aircraft Corp. v. United States, 192 Ct.Cl. 36, 426 F.2d (1970)." Ralph C. Nash, Jr. and John Cibinic, Jr., Federal Procurement Law, Third Edition, The George Washington University, 1980, at 969 n.l (emphasis added). They further tell us in footnote 2 that "[w]hen the contract language is clear and precise, the court or board will normally give lesser weight to a prior course of dealing. [T] he governing factor in such cases is the degree of clarity or exactness with which the disputed term or clause is written, Robert McMullan & Sons, Inc., ASBCA 21455, 77-1 BCA ¶ 12, 456 (1977) . . . however, superficially exact language may not correctly express the parties agreement. Generally more convincing evidence of a course of prior dealing will be required to controvert contract language which is stated precisely. Cf. Doyle Shirt Manufacturing Corp. v. United States, 199 Ct. Cl. 150, 462 F.2d 1150 (1972)." Id. at 970, n.3. In addition, they tell us that "[t]he parties may be bound by their interpretation of prior contracts even though the language of the disputed contract has been altered." Id. at 971, n.3. Lastly, they tell us that "[t]he reasoning underlying the prior course of dealing rule requires that both parties have had actual knowledge of the prior course of dealing and of its significance to the contract. Clearly, it would be unreasonable to find that a party had agreed to a term which he was not aware." Id. at 972, n.5 (emphasis added). In addition, the United States Claims Court in Opalack v. United States, 5 Cl.Ct. 349 (1984), at 359, tells us that: [6-8] Ordinarily, when interpreting a contract, the plain meaning of the contract is binding upon the court unless the contract by its very terms is inherently ambiguous.19 A contract is ambiguous if it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation.20 But it is not appropriate to strain the language of the contract to create an ambiguity.21 (citations omitted) (emphasis added) This Board believes that the meaning of language is best derived by applying Professor Williston's "standard of reasonable expectation" which we recently applied in the case of Fry Communications, Inc.-InfoConversion Joint Venture, Jacket No. 421-710 (878-85-067). As stated therein at page 9 and 10, that standard holds that contract language should be given "the meaning that the party making the manifestation should reasonably expect the other party to give it." John D. Calamari and Joseph M. Perillo, The Law of Contracts, West Publishing Co., St. Paul, MI (1977), § 310, at 118. As we further cited in Fry, supra, Professors Calamari and Perillo in footnote 18, at 118, tell us: This test is somewhat similar to, but not exactly the same as, the test of the reasonable man in the position of the party other than the one making the manifestation, a standard of reasonable understanding. See Sect. 2-2 supra. The standard of reasonable understanding takes into account what the other party knows or should know, whereas the standard chosen by Williston would take this into account only where the party making the manifestation knew or should know of the knowledge of the other party. A compromise between the two tests is employed by Corbin. See test at note 35 infra. Sometimes the test is stated in terms of what a reasonable person in the position of the parties would have concluded. James v. Goldberg, 256 Md. 520, 261 A.2d 753 (1970). Turning to the IFBs, respecting their clarity and precision, the Board, taking into account the course of prior dealings in light of the legal principles enunciated herein, finds that there is no ambiguity in the language given its plain ordinary meaning derived from the context in which it appears. The term "sheets" clearly represents the concept of a piece of paper or a "sheet" having both a "face" and a "back", either or both of which may be printed upon. The vertical references to "sheets" clearly and precisely convey the same thought. Moreover, this concept of "sheet" is conveyed throughout the contract document. The fact that the word "sheet" is coupled with the word "map" in the horizontal captions does not transform the concept of a "2-sided" piece of paper into a "map", a concept generally conveying the thought of a one- sided, flat representation of a geographic area. As such, the Board rules that the language is susceptible to being given only one reasonable meaning; that being the interpretation given the language by Respondent. We turn next to whether or not there was in fact a contract. Having accepted the truthfulness of Appellant's claim as to its construction of the Schedule of Prices language and having found the meaning of such language to be unambiguous and as contended by Respondent, the Board necessarily finds that there was no contract since there was no mutuality of assent to the quantum of consideration. This being the case, the Board further rules that the Appellant is entitled to be compensated for its work on the basis of quantum meruit, since to do otherwise would result in unjust enrichment to the Government. In furtherance of settlement of this issue, the Board directs the parties to enter into negotiations, respecting the proper quantum to be paid to Appellant subject to the following guidelines. Appellant is to be paid on a reasonable cost basis, which shall include a reasonable profit for work actually performed; all such reasonable costs and profit to be subject to audit by Respondent's Office of Inspector General; provided, however, that the payments to Appellant on each of its two respective claims shall not be less than the next lower bid price or contract then in being, nor more than the next higher bid price, as applicable. Having ruled that there was no contract and that entitlement to compensation is upon the equitable principle of quantum meruit, this Board further rules that there is no basis for Appellant's assertion of equitable estoppel. The case is remanded back to the Contracting Officer for processing in accordance with this decision.