On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.
Approved for Publication December 2, 1997.
Before Judges Baime, Brochin and Wefing. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wefing, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wefing
The opinion of the court was delivered by
This matter is a sequel to N.E.R.I. Corp. v. New Jersey Highway Authority, 147 N.J. 223, 686 A.2d 328 (1996) (N.E.R.I.), in which our Supreme Court concluded that the New Jersey Highway Authority (Authority) was required to solicit public bids and award its contracts for towing and storage services on the Garden State Parkway (Parkway) to the lowest responsible bidder. In this matter, plaintiffs (hereinafter referred to generally as Sevell's) challenge the specifications that the Authority prepared in conjunction with its attempt to secure public bids for towing and storage contracts on the Parkway.
The trial court upheld the specifications and Sevell's appealed. We affirm.
The earlier history of this matter is set forth at length in the Court's opinion in N.E.R.I., and we shall not repeat it here. On June 13, 1997, in accordance with the Court's directive in N.E.R.I., the Authority publicly advertised for submission of bids for towing and storage contracts for eight separate segments or zones on the Parkway. On June 17, 1997, Sevell's sought and obtained an Order to Show Cause returnable on July 3, 1977 directing the Authority to show cause why the specifications should not be declared invalid. In Sevell's verified complaint, it listed by way of example three deficiencies within the specifications: a failure to require performance or consent of surety bonding; a failure to require submission of all mandatory qualification documentation simultaneously with submission of the bid itself; and an insufficient affidavit of moral integrity. Sevell's also asserted that the provision within the specifications which required the successful low bidder to pay a "contract fee" to the Authority was illegal.
On June 24, 1997, after issuance of the Order to Show Cause but prior to its return date, the Authority held a pre-bid conference with prospective bidders. In response to concerns and questions which arose at that meeting, the Authority, on July 1, 1997, issued certain clarifications and addenda to the specifications.
In response to the Order to Show Cause, the Authority filed a "Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment." The trial court granted N.E.R.I. Corp. and Joseph Neri permission to appear as amici curiae. *fn1 After extensive legal argument on the return date, the trial court granted the Authority's motion for summary judgment.
To analyze plaintiffs' challenge, it is necessary to understand the framework the Authority employed in drafting these specifications. First, it divided the Parkway into sixteen separate segments or towing zones and solicited separate bids for eight of the zones. Towing companies were permitted to bid on more than one zone, but in that instance, they had to meet the required specifications separately for each zone.
The specifications covered a wide variety of topics. They included, for instance, detailed provisions on the broad insurance coverage required of each bidder and on the disclosure of ownership interests of the bidders. The specifications also required the bidders to have such various items as waiting and rest room facilities for customers, minimum hours of availability for release and surrender of vehicles and property, the ability to reach any disabled vehicle within twenty minutes of notification, and the capacity to store a minimum of seventy-five vehicles on property zoned for such long-term storage. The specifications also detailed the equipment that each potential bidder was required to have and the qualifications that the bidders' various employees needed.
In addition to the above, the specifications directed the towing companies to provide their rates for eight separate categories of service, such as towing, tire change, battery boost, and storage; they also listed what the maximum permissible rate could be for each category. Under the procedure adopted by the Authority, the determination of the lowest overall bidder for each zone involved a weighted percentile rating process covering each of these eight separate service categories.
In recognition of the detailed qualification requirements, the Authority determined that bidders need not submit with their bids all of the documentation to establish that they met the qualifications; rather, all bidders had to submit with their bids:
1) a list of all vehicles that would be used during the contract term, including each vehicle's make, year, capacity, condition and registration number, together with copies of registration and proof of ownership or lease interest;
2) the name and address of their principal place of business and the location of any branch offices and storage facilities; 3) an ...