Jeff Mercer’s battle with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (“DOTD”) sounds like the plot of a TV show. Mercer refused to pay a bribe to DOTD inspector Willie Jenkins, who promised to make “this job go better” if Mercer paid him in cash and equipment. Mercer reported the bribe and the DOTD fired Jenkins, but the lawsuit alleges that the state agency then engaged in a retaliatory campaign against Mercer by withholding payment for projects and reporting him to the FBI for crimes he did not commit.
According to the lawsuit, the DOTD’s malicious campaign forced Mercer to close his business, putting 20 to 40 local Louisiana construction workers out of the job. Additionally, Mercer’s company was a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (“DBE”), a classification intended “to level the playing field for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals wanting to do business with the DOTD on U.S. Department of Transportation federally assisted projects,” according to the DOTD website.
Mercer recently won a unanimous jury decision for his lawsuit against the DOTD awarding him $20 million. First filed in 2007, the lawsuit sought $20 million in damages for lost future income based on what the business was making at the time it was forced to close. Now there will be interest added to the jury award because the suit dragged on for eight years due to the defendants attempting to avoid going to court.
The Center for Public Integrity (“CPI”) evaluates the level of government accountability and transparency to determine the level of corruption in the state. Louisiana received an “F” on the latest study, along with ten other states. Additionally, the construction industry ranks second for corruption and fraud across all industries. Unfortunately, this means that Mercer’s case is not unique and that contractors in Louisiana need to know what to do when faced with similar circumstances.
With private construction spending fluctuating in recent years, public contracting work in Louisiana has experienced stable growth. However, public contracting – and especially federal contracting – requires careful planning and an understanding of the process. That’s where Smiley Law Group comes in.
Our Louisiana public and federal contracting lawyers have the experience and resources to assist your contracting business with whatever it needs to succeed. From properly registering your company and securing protections like DOTD DBE certification to preparing and evaluating bids, we do it all. Call the Smiley Law Group today Law Group today for a free consultation about how we can help your contracting business.