Goodall v. DHHS, or Caveat Government


The SJC issued a decision recently confirming that anyone doing business with the government had better not hold their breath thinking they can hold the State to its promises:

The zinger here is at page 7, where the SJC holds that the government has no duty to pay within a reasonable time. 

Now I understand that the Legislature can’t bind future Legislatures, and precedent has put us on notice as to the difficulties of winning any kind of argument about the government reneging on a contract (Car-tech, anyone?).  It’s somewhat understandable that the vagaries of a fluctuating economy and changing governmental priorities can affect how Augusta deals with the providers of services and goods.  But golly, isn’t there something a little counterintuitive in a legal principle that holds us, the people, as a government, to a standard lower than us, the people, in ordinary business practices?

The facts in Goodall are at least somewhat understandable — the government ran out of money, so it’s taking it forever to pay back health providers.  That’s awfully hard on those providers, but at least from the text of the decision, it looks like the State is trying, albeit verrrry slowly.  The problem is, that when one of the providers comes to the Court looking for legal redress in this generally unfortunate situation, it forces the Court says to make pronouncements that will seem to be applicable generally.  This case seems to state, flatly, that the government can basically take forever to pay — and this language does not seem limited to the particular regulatory context of the case, but rather could apply in the ordinary course of entering a contract with the State.

In another recent decision, the SJC reminded us that outside UCC Article 2, there’s no duty of good faith and fair dealing in Maine:

I guess the moral of this story is, if you contract with the State, make sure you get everything explicitly in writing.  Get a date by which it must pay you.   Then pray.