In a recent decision, Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy Dist., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a qui tam action brought under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729, against the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD). MWCD received property through a deed from the United States government. The deed contained restrictions providing that the property would revert to the United States if MWCD alienated it or stopped using it for recreation, conservation, or reservoir-development purposes. Between 2011 and 2014, MWCD executed several oil and gas leases on the property. The relators were several Ohio residents who alleged that by entering into the leases, MWCD had triggered the reversionary provisions of the deed, and that its continued possession of the property violated provisions of the FCA concerning unlawful retention of government property. On November 21, 2016, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit, concluding that relators relied on provisions of the FCA that contained scienter requirements, and that relators’ complaint failed to allege that MWCD knowingly committed any of the alleged violations.
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