Prosecutor Not Allowed to Intervene in Lawsuit against Sprint
Joining a suit as a whistleblower is not always cut and dry. This was proven to be the case when earlier this month, The Ninth Circuit court in San Francisco ruled that a prosecutor, who had accused Sprint of cheating the United States out of millions of dollars in surveillance services, would not be able to intervene in the government’s lawsuit against the telecom. A three-judge appeals panel ruled that the prosecutor, John Christopher Prather, did not have a “significantly protectable interest” in the government’s False Claim Act suit against Sprint. The court also ruled that Prather was not entitled to a share of the settlement simply because he had filed a qui tam lawsuit in 2009. U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the court in a 20-page opinion that Prather could not, “…obtain a monetary bounty under the FCA on his jurisdictionally barred claims…by joining a related FCA action brought by the government after the dismissal of his qui tam action.”
Prather maintains that while working for the New York Attorney General’s Organized Crime Taskforce and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the Inspector General in the 2000s he noticed the cost of government wiretapping rising greatly. Prather stated that the labor cost of bugging cell phones should have been less expensive than bugging landline phones. Prather maintained that the FBI and the Justice Department was charged 10 times what they should have been. Prather says he grew suspicious of these rising costs and decided to file a whistleblower suit in 2009 under the FCA against Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and two other phone companies. The government did not intervene in the case at the time. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed the suit in 2013 because Prather wasn’t the original source of the fraud allegations. Sprint eventually agreed to pay $15 million to settle the case.
The Ninth Circuit ruling was based on in part by The Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Rockwell International Corp. v. United States. The court ruled in that case that government intervention could not supersede a plaintiff’s failure to qualify as the originator of the FCA suit. If you have chosen to disclose wrongdoing it is also advised that you contact a qui tam law firm. Attorneys who work for qui tam law firms can advise you on such matters and will work to protect your rights under the law.