City school system sues architecture firm for $6.2 million

It alleges that firm intentionally kept $98,000 overpayment

August 09, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore City school board is suing a local architectural company for $6.2 million, alleging that the firm intentionally kept a $98,000 overpayment and continued to try to bill the school system for tens of thousands of dollars.

According to a lawsuit filed July 2 in Baltimore City Circuit Court and moved to U.S. District Court on Aug. 2, Buck Simpers Architects + Associates Inc. knowingly withheld an overpayment of more than $98,000 that the school board made in error in July 2008 to the company for renovation work at Carver Vocational-Technical High School.

Buck Simpers Architects, the lawsuit says, cashed the overpaid check — the bill was originally for $620 — and also billed the school system for about $86,000 more over the course of four months in 2008, without acknowledging or applying the excess payment.

The lawsuit alleges that the company, including its owners, "knowingly, intentionally, maliciously and fraudulently accepted the check issued by the board," and then "acted willfully and intentionally to secure monies not due from the board by using fraudulent billing methods," in continuing to bill the school system for work at Carver.

The school board is requesting a jury trial in the civil case and alleging four instances of fraud. The lawsuit says that the company's owner, Ralph "Buck" Simpers, "acknowledged the overpayment internally and conspired to withhold the overpayment from the board." The board is seeking $1 million in each of the four instances.

Neither Simpers nor his partner, Charles Simpers, returned calls Monday seeking comment. The school system does not comment on pending litigation.

Additionally, the school board is seeking $1 million for negligent design, alleging that the company produced plans that did not meet Baltimore City codes or industry standards; a refund of $98,779 for the overpayment, in addition to $1 million for wrongful taking; and another $98,779 because it says the company's negligence hampered access to and use of the school system's property.

The school system contracted the company for engineering and architectural work in October 2005.

According to the lawsuit, the company issued the first bill of $620 to the school system in June 2008, to which the board responded in error with a payment of $98,779.

About a month later, the company submitted another invoice, for about $20,000; it then billed the school system for about $48,000 in September 2008 and another $17,000 in October. It was unclear from the lawsuit whether the school board paid those bills.

In November 2008, the lawsuit says, the board realized that an overpayment had been made. A representative of the school board confronted Charles Simpers, who denied knowing of the overpayment, "despite his receipt of internal e-mails in which the overpayment was referenced and the additional payments were anticipated," according to the lawsuit.

An earlier version of this story stated the lawsuit was filed Aug. 2 in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The lawsuit was filed July 2 in Baltimore City Circuit Court and was moved to U.S. District Court on Aug. 2. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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