Posted by Kristin Graham Koehler and Amy Markopoulos
Relators may be able to recover on claims additional to those they originally brought if the additional claims are closely related and would not otherwise have been discovered. The Eighth Circuit held on March 1, in Rille et al. v. Accenture, LLP et al., No. 11-2054 (8th Cir. 2013), that two whistleblowers were entitled to 15 percent of the federal government’s settlement with Hewlett-Packard Co. (“HP”) even though the claim was not part of the original suit they filed. The relators initially alleged that HP engaged in unlawful kickback and defective pricing schemes in its sale of computer equipment to the federal government. The United States intervened in the action and reached a $55 million settlement with HP, allocating $9 million of the settlement to the kickback scheme and $46 million to the defective pricing scheme. The district court awarded the relators a 21% share of the kickback settlement and a 15% share of the defective pricing settlement.
The government then sued to prevent the two whistleblowers from receiving part of its recovery from the qui tam action. The government claimed, inter alia, (1) that the relators’ defective pricing claim was a different defective pricing claim than the one settled, and (2) that the government learned about the conduct through HP’s voluntary disclosure and not from the relators’ qui tam. The trial court found that the government would have had no knowledge of the defective pricing scheme other than from the whistleblowers’ suit. The Eighth Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision, finding that the whistleblower’s defective pricing claim was sufficiently related to the original action to justify the relators’ share of the settlement. The dissent argued, however, that the False Claims Act allows the relator to “recover only from the proceeds of the settlement of the claim that he brought.”
Although, as here, very similar facts would be required for a whistleblower to recover on a claim different from the one actually brought, this case illustrates an expansion of the statute in favor of relators, which will likely only serve to embolden the whistleblowers’ bar.