David Frankel entered a contest sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission. Had he won, the story would end here, but Mr. Frankel did not win. So, he did what seems to be every American’s way of correcting a wrong: he sued. Frankel, now known as the Plaintiff at the Court of Federal Claims, alleged that the FTC failed to comply with the rules for the contest and if they had plaintiff’s proposal would have had a substantial likelihood of winning. At this point, you may have many questions. Why is the FTC running contests and how much free time does David Frankel have?
Let’s go with the contest question first. As part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, Federal agencies “may carry out a program to award prizes competitively to stimulate innovation that has the potential to advance the mission of’ the agency.” Pursuant to the Act, the FTC created a competition, the “FTC Robocall Challenge”, in which the public would “create innovative solutions that [would] block illegal robocalls on landlines and mobile phones.” The agency offered a $50,000 prize to the “Best Overall Solution.” It issued a set of detailed rules governing how the Contest would be run and how entries would be judged.
Now as to the second issue, evidently Mr. Frankel has lots of free time. He first filed a protest at the GAO before the COFC lawsuit. He is an inventor in Silicon Valley according to Next Gov who interviewed him on the GAO protest.
From the opinion by Judge Allegra:
The materials before the court indicate that a contract was formed between the FTC and each of the competitors when the competitors accepted the offer embodied in the competition by submitting entries. The FTC was obligated to provide the winner of the competition – who followed the rules – the $50,000 first place cash prize.
While defendant asserts that there is nothing in the rules of the Contest that legally binds the FTC to pay for the solutions, the detailed rules of the Contest (which go on for 18 pages) plainly suggest otherwise and instead anticipate that the FTC’s selection of winning submissions would give rise to a binding contract. In the court’s view, plaintiff has properly alleged that that contract has been breached, potentially providing him with monetary compensation.
The court went on to order the parties to have a discussion about settlement.
DAVID FRANKEL, pro se v. THE UNITED STATES, COFC No. 13-546C, August 27, 2014.