Kellogg Brown & Root v. U.S. ex rel. Carter

PETITIONER: Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc.
RESPONDENT: United States, ex rel. Benjamin Carter
LOCATION: U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 12-1497
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 575 US (2015)
GRANTED: Jul 01, 2014
ARGUED: Jan 13, 2015
DECIDED: May 26, 2015

ADVOCATES:
John P. Elwood - for the petitioners
Malcolm L. Stewart - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, for the respondent
David S Stone - on behalf of respondent

Facts of the case

In early 2005, Benjamin Carter worked for Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a U.S. Government contractor providing logistical services to the U.S. military in Iraq. In 2006, Carter filed a whistleblower suit against KBR for fraudulent billing practices under the False Claims Act (FCA). Carter alleged that KBR had a standing policy of filling out fraudulent time sheets and thus overbilling the U.S. Government for services rendered in Iraq.

In 2010, just before trial, the U.S. Government informed the parties of a complaint that was filed earlier and alleging similar claims. The district court ruled that the earlier suit was related to Carter’s claims and dismissed the suit under the FCA’s “first-to-file” requirement, which bars a suit if a related one is pending. In 2011, Carter refiled his complaint, and KBR moved to dismiss by arguing that the latest complaint was filed after the FCA’s six-year statute of limitations had expired, and Carter’s complaint did not satisfy the first-to-file rule because there was yet another related matter pending. The district court dismissed Carter’s complaint, but the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed. The appellate court held that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA), which suspends the applicable six-year statute of limitations, only applies to criminal charges and, because the remaining related cases had since been dismissed, there was no pending related matter to prevent Carter’s claim from proceeding.

Question

(1) Does the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act’s statute of limitations tolling provision be applied to claims of civil fraud brought by private parties in a manner that leads to indefinite tolling?

(2) Does the False Claims Act’s “first-to-file” bar act as a “one-case-at-a-time” rule allowing as many related claims to be filed as long as no prior claim is pending at the time of filing?

Media for Kellogg Brown & Root v. U.S. ex rel. Carter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 2015 in Kellogg Brown & Root v. U.S. ex rel. Carter

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 26, 2015 in Kellogg Brown & Root v. U.S. ex rel. Carter

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has our opinion this morning in case 12-1497, Kellogg Brown & Root v. Carter.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

In this case we decide two questions concerning laws that relate to frauds committed against the federal government during wartime.

One of these laws is the False Claims Act.

Under that act the government can sue those who present false or fraudulent claims for payment to the government.

Individuals can also bring qui tam actions on the government's behalf.

The other law is the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act and as the name of the act suggests what this does is to suspend the Statute of Limitation for fraud offenses, that's the term ‘offenses,’ committed during war.

One of the questions presented in this case is whether the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act applies solely to criminal charges or also to civil claims.

We hold that it applies only to criminal charges.

The term offenses generally refers to crimes not civil wrongs and that is the way the term is uniformly used in Title XVIII of the United States Code which is the title under which most federal crimes are grouped.

For this reason it is telling that Congress codified the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act in Title XVIII.

The wording of the statutory predecessors of the current statute is also revealing.

Those earlier measures referred to offenses now indictable.

Since only crimes are indictable those earlier provisions clearly applied only to criminal charges and we are persuaded that the deletion of the words ‘now indictable’ was not meant to effect a radical change in meaning.

The second question in this case concerns the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act.

That provision bars the filing of an action while a related action is “pending”.

The question in this case is whether this bar persists after the earlier action is dismissed?

We hold that it does not.

We reject the argument that the first action remains pending in perpetuity that is simply not what the term pending means.

For these and other reasons provided in our opinion the decision of the Fourth Circuit in this case is affirmed in part and reversed in part and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The decision is unanimous.