In an opinion handed down on July 25, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a False Claims Act (FCA) suit because it violated the first-to-file bar, ruling that a relator must re-file a qui tam action and cannot merely amend a complaint where the relator’s complaint was filed when a related qui tam case was still pending. The first-to-file bar provides that if an individual brings an action under the FCA, “no person other than the Government may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending action.”
The case concerned a qui tam relator who claimed that a telecommunications company overbilled on government contracts, thereby violating the FCA, which “penalizes the knowing submission of a false or fraudulent claim for payment to the federal government.” While the first suit was still pending, the relator filed a second suit alleging that the fraud was more widespread. The related suit was then resolved, but a district court dismissed the second suit based on the FCA’s first-to-file bar, which the D.C. Circuit affirmed. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the relator’s petition for certiorari, and vacated the D.C. Circuit’s decision, citing a holding in Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc., et al v. Carter, 135 S. Ct. 1970 (2015), in which the Court claimed that the first-to-file bar only applies when a previous suit is pending—not once it has been resolved. Therefore, once the first-filed suit has been resolved, the first-to-file bar “no longer prohibits bringing a new action.” Because the statute of limitations period had run while the case was being appealed to the Supreme Court, the relator sought to amend his complaint rather than file a new action. The defendant moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the defendant’s motion. The relator appealed the ruling back to the D.C. Circuit, but the appellate court sided with the defendants and dismissed the relator’s action without prejudice. However, the appellate court expressly declined to opine on whether the statute of limitations would be equitably tolled if the relator were to re-file his complaint.