4th Circuit Rules Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act Tolls Qui Tam Claims

 

In a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court has now accepted certioriari, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March 2013 that a qui tam plaintiff may rely upon the five year tolling provision in the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA) even when the United States has declined to intervene in the action.  U.S. ex rel. Carter v. Halliburton, 710 F.3d 171 (4th Cir. 2013).   The Court of Appeals held that the relator could bring a False Claims Act (FCA) case against the defendant for knowingly overbilling U.S. military forces in Iraq after the date when the FCA’s statute of limitations (SOL) would otherwise expire.

Allegations and Procedural History

In June 2011, following the dismissal of another action with arguably overlapping allegations, Relator Benjamin Carter filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia alleging that Halliburton during early 2005 falsely billed the U.S. military for water purification services in Iraq that were not, in fact, performed.  His complaint restated allegations he had made in earlier actions that had been dismissed under the first-to- file provision and Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.   Carter’s new action was filed, however, more than six years after the alleged misconduct and more than three years after the United States learned of the alleged misconduct.   The district court dismissed the non-intervened in action for failure to comply with the FCA’s statute of limitations, rejecting the relator’s reliance on the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act on the ground that the tolling provision in that law is available only to the Government .

The Court’s Holding

The Court of Appeals ruled that the tolling provision in the WSLA is available equally to aqui tam relator and the United States because “the suspension of limitations in the WSLA depends upon whether the country is at war and not who brings the case.” 710 F.3d at 180.   Addressing the question of whether the nation was at war during the applicable time period, the Court found that the WSLA, both prior to and after a 2008 amendment, does not require a formal declaration of “war” before the United States shall be deemed at war and that Congress’ October 11, 2002, Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq launched a war that continued through the filing of the action.  710 F.3d at 178.  The Court also ruled that the WSLA’s tolling of SOLs on an “offense involving fraud” applied to actions brought under the civil False Claims Act.