U.S. District Court in Nevada Holds that Native American Tribes Are Not “Persons” Liable Under False Claims Act


In United States ex rel. Howard v. Shoshone Paiute Tribes, Case No. 2:10-cv-01890-GMN-PAL, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 182149 (D. Nev. Dec. 26, 2012), the U.S. District Court in Nevada ruled that Native American tribes are not “persons” subject to suit under the qui tam provisions of the  False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729 et seq.

Allegations and Procedural History: The relators alleged that the defendant Shoshone Paiute Tribes, Duck Valley Indian Reservation committed Medicare and Medicaid fraud against the federal government.  The Government declined to intervene in the relators’ action.  In a brief opinion, the court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the federally-recognized Native American tribe defendant was not subject to suit by aqui tam plaintiff under the FCA.

Ruling on Whether Native American Tribes Can Be Sued Under FCA:  In an opinion by Judge Gloria M. Navarro, the court explained that because Native American tribes are sovereigns they are “entitled to the application of the ‘longstanding interpretive presumption’ that they are not ‘persons’ subject to qui tam liability under the FCA absent a showing of statutory intent to the contrary.”  Howard, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 182149, at *6 (quoting Vt. Agency of Natural Res. v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765, 780-81 (2000)).  Using the analysis employed by the Supreme Court in Stevens, the court then looked at the historical evidence and the FCA’s statutory scheme to see if anything therein rebutted this presumption.   The court concluded that nothing rebutted the presumption, but expressly limited its decision to suits by qui tam plaintiffs, noting that it was not opining on the question of whether the Government could bring an FCA action against a Native American tribe.