Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Whistleblower's False Claims Act Case Does Not Toll Statute of Limitations If Relator Seeks to Later Add a Retaliation Claim

When a relator files a False Claim Act case and seeks to later add a claim that his or her employer retaliated against them, is the three-year statute of limitations for retaliation claims "tolled" during the time the relator's False Claims Act claims are pending? And, if a relator seeks to amend his or her False Claims Act case to add a retaliation claim, does the retaliation claim "relate back" in time to when the relator originally filed their False Claims Act case? In a thoughtful opinion, the Court in Hayes v. Department of Education of the City of New York, __ F.Supp. 2d__, 2014 WL 2048196 (May 16, 2014 S.D.N.Y.) addressed both of these questions and found that a relator's attempt to amend her False Claims Act complaint long after she had filed it in order to add a retaliation claim was futile and barred by the statute of limitations.

In Hayes, the relator's attorney withdrew from relator's False Claims Act case. After several attempts to obtain new counsel, the Court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the relator could not bring the case without an attorney or pro se. Relator sought to amend her False Claims Act complaint to add a claim of retaliation, a claim for which she did not need an attorney to pursue. Relator's proposed retaliation claim was more than three years after the events in question.

The Court considered the question of "when a relator herself tolls the statute of limitations for her own claim." While the relators' filing of the False Claims Act complaint may toll the statute of limitations for claims pled in that complaint, the Court concluded that the statue is not tolled for relator's claims which are not brought in the original complaint. The statute of limitations for a retaliation claim related to an underlying False Claims Act case would continue to run, the Court found, even if the case were under seal for a period.

Finding the relator's claim to be barred by the statute, the Court next considered whether the relator may be permitted to amend her complaint to add a retaliation claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. After undertaking a lengthy analysis, the Court found that "an amended pleading adding a retaliation claim may not relate back to the original complaint filed here: neither Rule 15(c)(1)(A) nor 15(c)(1)(B) permits it."

This decision prevents relators from trying to belatedly salvage their False Claims Act cases by trying to add a retaliation claim more than three years after the events at issue. It is not clear, however, how much effect this case will have: False Claims Act cases by ex-employees almost invariably contain retaliation claims and such claims are frequently the bases for settlements when relators' False Claims Act cases fail.

A. Brian Albritton
June 10,2014

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