An opinion (PDF) today in Washington federal court confirms a three-year statute of limitations for bringing a federal False Claims Act against the city.
Congress established a three-year timeframe for bringing federal False Claims Act lawsuits under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, but the earlier version did not have a time frame and previous case law was unclear on how to treat lawsuits filed before the law went into effect.
In the underlying case, Theresa Saunders had sued the city in 2002, claiming she was unlawfully fired for reporting on alleged “deficiencies” in how the Office of Chief Technology Officer was using federal funding. Saunders worked in that office from 1982 to 2000.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in denying the city’s motion to dismiss (PDF) on the grounds that the suit was time-barred, noted that in absence of a timeframe in the federal law, courts borrowed from the most appropriate state law. In this case, she relied on the three-year statute of limitations from the D.C. False Claims Act.
The city had argued that, in the absence of a statute in the law itself, the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act should be applied because it similarly had to do with retaliation claims. Saunders, who is being represented by Wendy Kahn of Washington’s Zwerding, Paul, Kahn & Wolly, claimed (PDF) the local version of the False Claims Act was most similar to the language in the federal statute.
Kollar-Kotelly agreed with Saunders.
“A side-by-side comparison of the two statutes reveals that they are virtually identical in scope,” she wrote.
The judge had also questioned whether the statute of limitations under the Dodd-Frank Act could be applied retroactively. In a footnote, she said only two other courts have addressed the issue, with one declining to take a side and the other finding that it could not apply to earlier cases; the second case is now on appeal in the Fifth Circuit.
Kollar-Kotelly chided both sides for failing to address the issue in briefs, but said it ultimately didn’t matter because the local False Claims Act could fill in the gap on a statute of limitations.
Saunders’ attorney, Kahn, and a representative of the Office of Chief Technology Officer did not immediately return a request for comment. Ariel Waldman, senior counsel to the city attorney general’s office, declined to comment this afternoon.