KELLOGG BROWN & ROOT v. U.S. EX REL. CARTER

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
12-1497
Petitioner 
Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc.
Respondent 
United States, ex rel. Benjamin Carter
Decided By 
Advocates
(for the petitioners)
(Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, for the respondent)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

In early 2005, Benjamin Carter worked for Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a U.S. Government contractor providing logistical services to the U.S. military in Iraq. In 2006, Carter filed a whistleblower suit against KBR for fraudulent billing practices under the False Claims Act (FCA). Carter alleged that KBR had a standing policy of filling out fraudulent time sheets and thus overbilling the U.S. Government for services rendered in Iraq.

In 2010, just before trial, the U.S. Government informed the parties of a complaint that was filed earlier and alleging similar claims. The district court ruled that the earlier suit was related to Carter’s claims and dismissed the suit under the FCA’s “first-to-file” requirement, which bars a suit if a related one is pending. In 2011, Carter refiled his complaint, and KBR moved to dismiss by arguing that the latest complaint was filed after the FCA’s six-year statute of limitations had expired, and Carter’s complaint did not satisfy the first-to-file rule because there was yet another related matter pending. The district court dismissed Carter’s complaint, but the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed. The appellate court held that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA), which suspends the applicable six-year statute of limitations, only applies to criminal charges and, because the remaining related cases had since been dismissed, there was no pending related matter to prevent Carter’s claim from proceeding.

Question 

(1) Does the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act’s statute of limitations tolling provision be applied to claims of civil fraud brought by private parties in a manner that leads to indefinite tolling?

(2) Does the False Claims Act’s “first-to-file” bar act as a “one-case-at-a-time” rule allowing as many related claims to be filed as long as no prior claim is pending at the time of filing?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for United States ex rel. Cater, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: False Claims Act

No and yes. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., delivered the opinion for the unanimous Court. The Court looked to the WSLA’s text, structure, and history to show that it applies only to criminal offenses, and not to civil claims like the ones in this case. However, the Court also held that the False Claims Act’s first-to-file bar keeps new claims out of court only while related claims are still alive, not in perpetuity. The Court deemed KBR’s interpretation of the word “pending” to be “peculiar” and turned to the dictionary definition of “pending,” which means “remaining undecided; awaiting decision.”

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KELLOGG BROWN & ROOT v. U.S. EX REL. CARTER. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 03 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2014/2014_12_1497>.
KELLOGG BROWN & ROOT v. U.S. EX REL. CARTER, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2014/2014_12_1497 (last visited August 3, 2015).
"KELLOGG BROWN & ROOT v. U.S. EX REL. CARTER," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 3, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2014/2014_12_1497.