E-mail Signature Not Enough to Certify a Claim

Construction project professionals routinely send e-mails with “signatures,” which typically include the sender’s typewritten name, title, contact information, and/or company logo.  But, this sort of e-mail “signature” is not enough to certify a claim to the Government.

A recent decision of the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals dismissed an appeal by finding the claimant’s typical e-mail signature was not enough to properly certify a claim.  The Board stated proper signatures could have been handwritten or digital (as applied in a pdf).

On a project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Manas International Airport, Kyrgyzstan, the Contractor submitted a claim by attaching it to an e-mail.  The Contractor properly included all the words certifying the claim in the body of the transmittal e-mail.  The “Director” for the Contractor “signed” the e-mail with his typewritten name, title, and contact information (a typical e-mail “signature” block).

Under FAR § 2.101, a proper signature is “a discrete, verifiable symbol of an individual.”  Under this Board decision, there are two proper signatures:

  • A handwritten signature or
  • Digital signature (as in a pdf).

But, other types of proper signatures could include:

  • Fingerprint or
  • Photograph of your face (think about unlocking an iPhoneX).

These other types were not addressed by this Board decision, but could be considered “discrete, verifiable symbol(s) of an individual.”  Nevertheless, I would stick with the tried and true handwritten signature.

Interestingly, the Board did not discuss how a password necessary to digitally sign a pdf compares to the password access necessary to send an e-mail.  If the two are comparably secure, then a typewritten e-mail signature block should be as effective as digitally signing a pdf.

Appeal of NileCo General Contracting, LLC, Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals No. 60912, September 22, 2017.

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