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On February 1, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a relator’s (plaintiff’s) motion for summary judgment on an allegation of promissory fraud in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA) in a case against a rocket manufacturer and its subsidy (defendants). The court similarly denied the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment on the promissory fraud violation, but granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to allegations of false certification in violation of the FCA. According to the opinion, the plaintiff, who was briefly employed by defendants as the senior director for Cyber Security, Compliance, and Controls, alleged that the defendants fraudulently induced the government to contract with the defendants in 18 contracts, while knowingly out of compliance with Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation 48 C.F.R. § 252.204– 7012 and NASA Federal Acquisition Regulation 48 C.F.R. § 1852.204-76, which impose cybersecurity and confidentiality requirements applicable to persons who receive government contracts. The court noted that plaintiff’s claims were based in part on allegations that defendants failed to disclose data breaches when required to do so. Conversely, defendants argued that they had disclosed their non-compliance with the identified regulations to the DoD and to NASA on multiple occasions and had been working with the government to obtain a waiver. In light of this, the court denied summary judgment on the promissory fraud violation, holding that “[a] genuine dispute of material fact exists as to the sufficiency of the disclosures[.]” The court also decreased the number of contracts the court will assess from 18 to 7, holding that the court will only rule on allegations that pertain to events before the case was filed in 2015. Similarly, the court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to allegations of false certification on the grounds that “relator’s claim for false certification is based solely on an invoice payment under a NASA contract that was entered into after relator brought this action and is therefore not a proper basis for his false certification claim.”
On October 13, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a relator’s motion seeking indicative relief, ruling that post-ruling news reports were insufficient to reverse the dismissal of a qui tam suit accusing a UK-based bank and related entities (collectively, “defendants”) of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. In 2020, the court dismissed the complaint after finding that the government “had articulated multiple valid purposes served by dismissal, and that relator had not carried its burden to show that a dismissal would be ‘fraudulent, arbitrary or capricious, or illegal.’” The relator’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is pending. At the district court, the relator moved for indicative relief based on the premise that if the court had jurisdiction, it would have vacated the dismissal based on disclosures in post-dismissal media reports.
According to the opinion, the defendants entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the DOJ in 2012 following a multi-year, multi-agency investigation concerning allegations that defendants deceptively facilitated U.S. dollar transactions by Iranian clients between 2001 and 2007 in violation of U.S. sanctions and various New York and federal banking regulations. The defendants admitted to the violations and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and penalties. The relator subsequently filed a qui tam action alleging the defendants misled the government in negotiating the DPA. A government investigation found no support for the allegations. In 2019, the DOJ entered a new DPA with defendants. The relator amended its complaint alleging improper conduct related to the 2019 DPA, which the court dismissed.
The relator then filed the instant motion to reopen the case, arguing that news reports published in 2020 showed that the defendants engaged in transactions with sanctioned Iranian entities after 2007, which was contrary to the government’s representations when it moved to dismiss the case. The relator claimed that the government incorrectly asserted that it closely examined records before seeking dismissal and failed to honestly conclude that the allegations were meritless. In denying the relator’s motion, the court explained that the relator failed to show that the news reports would be admissible or were important enough to change the outcome of the earlier motion to dismiss. The court held that news reports are inadmissible and further concluded that none of the suspicious activity reports discussed in the news reports contradicted the government’s representations in its motion to dismiss.
On September 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the False Claims Act (FCA) does not guarantee relators an automatic in-person hearing before a case can be dismissed. According to the opinion, a relator filed a qui tam action against a Delaware non-profit organization, asserting claims on behalf of the United States and the State of Delaware under the FCA and the Delaware False Claims Act (DFCA), alleging the organization received funding from state and federal governments by misrepresenting material information. Delaware and the federal government declined to intervene and, three years later, both moved to dismiss the case. Both governments argued that the relator’s allegations were “factually incorrect and legally insufficient.” The district court granted the motions without conducting an in-person hearing. The relator appealed, arguing that the FCA guarantees an automatic in-person hearing before a case can be dismissed.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed with the relator. The appellate court noted that the government “has an interest in minimizing unnecessary or burdensome litigation costs,” and, once the government moved to dismiss, the burden shifted to the relator to prove that dismissal would be “fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal.” The appellate court concluded that the relator failed to do so, and rejected his argument that he should have been allowed to introduce evidence during a hearing to satisfy his burden. While the FCA and the DFCA state that a relator has an “‘opportunity for a hearing’ when the government moves to dismiss,” it is the relator’s responsibility to avail himself or herself of this opportunity, according to the appellate court. The court concluded that the FCA and DFCA do not guarantee an automatic in-person hearing and, because the relator failed to request a hearing and his motions failed to prove the dismissal was fraudulent, arbitrary, capricious, or illegal, the district court did not err in dismissing the action.