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Fighting over WordsLanguage and Civil Law Cases$
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Roger W. Shuy

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195328837

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195328837.001.0001

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False Representation in a Government Contract

False Representation in a Government Contract

United States of America v. United Technologies Corporation

(p.213) CHAPTER 18 False Representation in a Government Contract
Fighting over Words

Roger W. Shuy (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

A complex procurement process is used by corporations that try to secure business with government agencies. It involves cost or pricing data, vendor quotations, production methods, cost trends, decrements, resources, and other things. A government auditor reviewed one such contract more than twenty years after the planes had been manufactured and concluded that fraud had been involved. The government first alleged that the contract used plain language and that this showed fraud. Linguistic analysis agreed that plain language was used, but that this language showed that nothing was fraudulent. Syntax and lexical uses (“assessment” and “estimate” in particular) were shown to be clear and supported by dictionary citations. After reviewing the linguistic analysis, the government changed its theory, now arguing that the corporation's words, such as “consideration,” “estimates,” “appropriate,” and “based on our review of,” were clear plain language but that the government's understanding was different from the corporation's. This opened the door to discovery of what those understandings were, appearing largely in the depositions of the government auditors. These revealed their inferences about the meanings of words and expressions the corporation had used in its proposal. The plaintiff's confusion was located in what the corporation did not say in its proposal. If the auditors did not understand how these expressions were being used, the speech act of requesting clarification was readily available. It was pointed out that requesting this would have been appropriate before the government granted the proposal.

Keywords:   fraud, procurement process, plain language, syntax, lexical, depositions, inferences, speech acts

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