Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States

Jonathan Stevens, a former attorney for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (“the agency”), filed a suit against the agency on the basis that they had falsified claims to the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). Stevens explained that these false claims were submitted in the hopes that EPA would allocate more grant money to the agency than it was rightfully entitled to. Stevens filed his claim under the False Claims Act (“FCA”), a federal law. The State of Vermont disputed his claim on the grounds that the agency is not a “person”, and is therefore not subject to liability under the clause. The State of Vermont further argued that attempts to make qui tam claims in federal court against a state is not permitted under the Eleventh Amendment.

The question raised in this case was whether a private individual is able to bring a federal suit on behalf of the U.S against a state or a state agency through the False Claims Act.

The National Whistleblower Center (“NWC”) filed an amicus brief in support of Stevens. In its brief, the NWC explains that the instant case questions Congress’ authority under the constitution, and whether it includes the authority to bring states within the jurisdiction of the FCA. The brief explains that rulings in previous cases, such as United States ex reI. Marcus v. Hess and United States v. Morris affirm that the answer is yes. The brief further explains how the case hinges on the Spending and Property Clause of the U.S Constitution, and whether states have “adequate notice” for their liability. The NWC highlights how the previous legislative history behind the FCA unquestionably establish the authority to utilize qui tam relators (whistleblowers) to protect the fiscal situation and to enforce Congress’ broad powers.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State of Vermont. The Justices decided that Stevens, as a private individual, does not have the authority to bring a case in federal court against a state or a state agency. This decision limited the reach of the FCA.

The NWC is working to ensure that whistleblower protections are consistently updated and maintained. This work is critical in protecting the U.S government, and its economy, from fraudulent activity. To learn more about the FCA and what the NWC is doing to preserve it, click here.

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