SCOTUS Considers Rocky Flats Case

In a qui tam action, a whistleblower whose tip reveals that someone has defrauded the federal government can sometimes get part of the recovery for him or herself.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to determine when a whistleblower is entitled to this recovery, in a case arising from Denver’s Rocky Flats. 
  The high court declined Boeing’s suggestion to revisit the constitutionality of the qui tam statute all together, which makes the decision to take up the case particularly surprising as the constitutionality issue was the “sexy” issue in the case. 

According to the Denver Post, the case involves:

a $4.2 million award won by James S. Stone, a retired engineer who accused the company of making false statements about environmental, health and safety activities at its Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility outside Denver. . . . Soon after his departure, he began giving information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Environmental Protection Agency about various environmental, safety and health problems at the plant. The government’s investigation culminated in 1992, when Rockwell pleaded guilty to 10 federal environmental violations.

Boeing argues that the information he provided wasn’t directly enough related to the fraud violations Boeing committed to merit a personal recovery for Stone.  The Bush Administration backs Stone in the case and urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to take the case.

The case is Rockwell International v. U.S. ex rel Stone, and was decided by the U.S. District Court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Stone’s favor.  Rockwell International is a Boeing subsidiary that handles defense contracts.

According to SCOTUS Blog, the leading blog covering the U.S. Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court, in a later order, set up expedited briefing schedules in 05-1272, Rockwell International v. U.S., and 05-1629, Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez (05-1629). This means that those cases will be scheduled for oral argument in December; the other new grants will be heard, probably, in January.

Given the fact that the issues in Rockwell are not inherently pressing, as they involve a money judgment against a fiscally sound defendant, the expedited briefing schedule presumably reflects a court determination that the issues in the case (the meaning of “original source” in a specific statute that contains a definition of that word) are narrow and thus capable of being fully briefed quickly.

The key part of the statute in question states:

(4)(A) No court shall have jurisdiction over an action under this section based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions in a criminal, civil, or administrative hearing, in a congressional, administrative, or Government Accounting Office report, hearing, audit, or investigation, or from the news media, unless the action is brought by the Attorney General or the person bringing the action is an original source of the information.
(B) For purposes of this paragraph, “original source” means an individual who has direct and independent knowledge of the information on which the allegations are based and has voluntarily provided the information to the Government before filing an action under this section which is based on the information.

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