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FOIA disclosure bars lawsuit

Washington (Dolan) — A federal agency’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request is a “report” within the meaning of the False Claims Act’s public disclosure bar, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-3 decision.

The plaintiff filed a False Claims Act suit against a federal contractor, alleging that the company failed to meet a statutory obligation to report the number of veterans it employed to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The contractor argued that the lawsuit was precluded by the Act’s public disclosure bar because it was based in large part on information the plaintiff obtained after submitting requests to the Department of Labor under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Court agreed that the written responses obtained by the plaintiff as the result of his FOIA request fell within the plain meaning of a “report” under the False Claims Act’s public disclosure bar.

“The other sources of public disclosure in §3730(e)(4)(A) [of the False Claims Act], especially ‘news media,’ suggest that the public disclosure bar provides ‘a broa[d] sweep.’ The statute also mentions ‘administrative hearings’ twice, reflecting intent to avoid underinclusiveness even at the risk of redundancy,” the Court said.

It remanded the matter for a determination of whether the plaintiff’s lawsuit was in fact based on the responses to his FOIA requests.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the decision.

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