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    Government Contracting Database

    Contra Proferentem

    Under the rule of Contra Proferentem, “where the Government draws specifications which are fairly susceptible of a certain construction and the contractor actually and reasonably so construes them, justice and equity require that that construction be adopted.” Folk Construction Co., Inc. v. United States, 2 Cl. Ct. 681 (1983).

    The underlying issue in the application of “contra proferentem” is the reasonableness of the contractor’s interpretation. Where the contractor can establish that its interpretation falls within the “zone of reasonableness,” the contract will be construed against the government. See Appeal of Pascal & Ludwig Engineers, EN GBCA No. 6377, 99 – 1 BCA ¶ 30135; City Electric, Inc., ASBCA 24565, 82 – 2 BCA ¶ 16057. Thus, the contractor’s interpretation will be upheld even if it is not the most preferable one.

    Once the existence of a latent ambiguity is established, the board must determine whether to apply the rule of “contra proferentem” and adopt the contractor’s interpretation of the ambiguous contract language. A means of choosing among conflicting, reasonable interpretations of ambiguous contract language, “contra proferentem” places the risk of ambiguity and lack of clarity on the drafting party. See Sturm v. United States, 421 F.2d 723, 727 (Ct.Cl. 1970). Thus, where a contractor reasonably interprets an ambiguous government specification, the rule requires that the contractor’s interpretation be upheld. See Tecom, Inc. v. United States, 66 Fed. Cl. 736, 748 (2005) (citing Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. v. United States, 109 Ct.Cl. 390, 418 (1947 ) ) .

    This doctrine of contra proferentem “ ‘pushes the drafters toward improving contractual forms and it saves contractors from hidden traps not of their own making.’ ” Horn & Assocs., Inc. v. United States, 104 Fed. Cl. 121, 133 (2012) (quoting Fry Commc’ns, Inc. v. United States, 22 Cl.Ct. 497, 503 (1991)).

    Updated: July 30, 2018

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