by Ben Vernia | September 14th, 2016
On September 9, U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar, in United States ex rel. Griffith v. Conn (E.D.Ky.) denied motions by the United States and a defendant attorney to stay the case pending the outcome of a criminal case against the attorney in the same district. Both the qui tam and the criminal indictment allege that the attorney and an Administrative Law Judge conspired to fix disability appeals. The case was brought by two former Social Security Administration employees; the United States intervened earlier this year, after the case had already entered discovery.
Judge Thapar first rejected the whistleblowers’ argument that the False Claims Act’s stay provision, 31 U.S.C. 3730(c)(4) governed all stays of FCA matters, reasoning that in passing that provision, Congress had not clearly expressed an intent to limit the Court’s inherent authority to stay cases. Because the government’s argument that key witnesses might take the Fifth Amendment in the civil case was not addressed in 3730(c)(4), he found, its requested stay did not fall within the limits of that provision.
But although Judge Thapar concluded that he had the authority to grant the requested stay, he chose not to exercise that authority on the facts before him. Applying a six-factor test, he concluded that only two of the six factors weighed in favor of a stay, and that the harm a stay would cause outweighed those interests.
Disclosure: The Vernia Law Firm represents the whistleblowers in this case.