Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied October 4, 1977.
GEE, Circuit Judge:
In this appeal we review the district court's dismissal of plaintiff Weinberger's action, pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6), for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. By his suit, Weinberger sought a declaratory judgment that government employment of Equifax, Inc. (formerly Retail Credit Co.) to provide information on prospective government employees violated the Anti-Pinkerton Act, 5 U.S.C. § 3108 (1970).
The villain in Weinberger's scenario is Equifax, a corporation in the business of collecting and providing information for business decisions. Equifax's credit-reporting activities qualify it as a consumer reporting agency under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. See 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(f) (1970), but it also furnishes information concerning prospective customers and employees to businesses. On occasion, agencies of the United States have contracted with Equifax to gather information on prospective employees. Weinberger alleges that in collecting information, Equifax does not confine itself to examinations of files and public records; in some cases it uses investigative techniques similar to those employed by detective agencies. These alleged investigative techniques sparked this lawsuit.
In his action seeking a judgment declaratory of 5 U.S.C. § 3108, Weinberger asserts that because Equifax employs detective-like investigative techniques, it is an organization "similar" to the Pinkerton Detective Agency and thus barred from government employment by the Anti-Pinkerton Act. Weinberger lacks standing to assert this claim. To have standing, Weinberger must assert a personal stake in the outcome "warranting his invocation of federal court jurisdiction and to justify exercise of the court's remedial powers on his behalf." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498-99, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2205, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). Under Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 90 S.Ct. 827, 25 L.Ed.2d 184 (1970), standing turns on "whether the plaintiff alleges that the challenged action has
Weinberger's qui tam action under the False Claims Act, however, fares somewhat better here than it did in the district court. The district court ruled that Weinberger lacked standing to assert his informer's suit, that he had failed to comply with procedural requirements of the Act, and that he had failed to state a claim under the Act. We hold that Weinberger had standing under the False Claims Act and properly pursued the action, but we agree with the district court that he failed to state a claim under the Act.
In 31 U.S.C. § 232 (1970), Congress specifically provides for informer's suits. It grants informers standing to sue and an award for successful action under the statute. See 31 U.S.C. § 232(B) and (E)(2) (1970). To maintain the action the informer is required only to notify the United States of the suit. The United States may then choose whether to join the action. If it elects not to enter an appearance, the informer's suit may continue. See 31 U.S.C. § 232(C) (1970). A jurisdictional requirement of the informer's suit is that it must rest on information not in the possession of the United States prior to filing the action. See 31 U.S.C. § 232(C) (1970). None of these procedural requirements doom Weinberger's action.
After Weinberger filed his informer's action, he notified the United States of his suit. And though the United States elected not to join, his action was not affected by this. See 31 U.S.C. § 232(C) (1970). The statute clearly accords him standing to bring the action so long as he predicates his claim on information not in the possession of the United States at the time of his suit. Id. At no time has Equifax suggested that the information essential to Weinberger's suit was already in the possession of the government. The district court erred in holding that Weinberger lacked standing and had failed to meet procedural requirements.
Nevertheless, Weinberger still fails to state a claim under the False Claims Act. That Act prohibits false or fraudulent claims to government payment. The penal nature of the statute requires careful scrutiny to see if the alleged misconduct violates the statute. See United States ex rel. Marcus v. Hess, 317 U.S. 537, 542, 63 S.Ct. 379, 87 L.Ed. 443 (1943). The False Claims Act "was not designed to reach every kind of fraud practiced on the Government." United States v. McNinch, 356 U.S. 595, 599, 78 S.Ct. 950, 2 L.Ed.2d 1001 (1958). The statute is primarily directed against government contractors' billing for non-existent or worthless goods or charging exorbitant prices for delivered goods. Id. Equifax plainly did not submit a false claim under this reading of the statute: no one has suggested that Equifax's reporting activities for the government were not properly carried out. Weinberger has alleged no false claim in this sense.
Even had Weinberger alleged, however, that the government did make nondetective agency status a prerequisite to a reporting contract, Weinberger would still have failed to state a claim because we conclude that he has not alleged facts bringing Equifax under the proscriptions of the Anti-Pinkerton Act. Weinberger has not alleged facts indicating that Equifax operates like the Pinkerton Detective Agency did in 1892—i. e., that it is a general detective agency, that it provides watchmen for plants and buildings, and that it offers for hire a mercenary, quasi-military armed force.
The Anti-Pinkerton Act is an expression of legislative frustration. In the 1890's, the nascent labor movement was increasingly involved in sometimes violent confrontations with factory owners over wages and working conditions. When the owners' resort to legal remedies proved fruitless or when the local police force was ineffectual in handling strikes, owners frequently engaged the Pinkerton Agency to supply large bodies of armed men to discourage strikers from interfering with the orderly operation of business. One particularly violent and bloody confrontation occurred in Homestead, Pennsylvania, when the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers struck a Carnegie Steel Mill. Managers of the mill employed an armed force of 300 Pinkertons to protect the mill. As the Pinkertons approached the mill, floating on barges down the Monongahela River, a firefight ensued between them and strikers on the banks. Numerous injuries and some deaths resulted from this struggle. The Homestead incident prompted congressional investigations on ways to prevent employers' reliance on Pinkertons to solve labor disputes. See S. Rep. No. 1280, 52d Cong., 2d Sess. (1893); H. Rep. No. 2447, 52d Cong., 2d Sess. (1893). Although Congress wished to ban the employment of Pinkertons as a private mercenary force, it concluded that it lacked the power to enact such a ban and looked to the states to control Pinkerton conduct. See H. Rep. No. 2447, 52d Cong., 2d Sess., p. XVI (1893).
But it did feel empowered to do something. Simultaneously with its investigation of the Pinkertons, Congress was discussing the 1892 civil appropriations bill. Representative O'Neill of Missouri offered an amendment to prevent the government from contracting with entities that employed "Pinkerton detectives or any other association of men as armed guards" and to prevent the government itself from employing the Pinkerton Detective Agency or any similar agency. When the Senate refused to accept the amendment, viewing the first proscription as too broad, the conference committee deleted it but retained a reworded
The district court, after reviewing the legislative history, concluded that the Anti-Pinkerton Act prohibited only government use of detectives during labor disputes. Although it is true that the impetus for the Anti-Pinkerton Act arose from the employment of armed guards in labor disputes, the congressional enactment banning Pinkerton employment must be read more broadly. Congress clearly generally intended to prohibit employment by the government of the Pinkerton Agency as then constituted, or any similar agency. In this sense, the district court erred in its restrictive interpretation of the Anti-Pinkerton Act.
Weinberger urges that Equifax is an organization similar to the Pinkerton Detective Agency, but his allegations fall short of those required by the Act. Weinberger alleges that Equifax operates like a detective agency and that it even considers the present-day Pinkerton Agency a competitor. Yet the nature of the statute directs us, not to the present-day Pinkerton Agency for comparison, but to the agency as it existed in 1892. Congress enacted a broad proscription against government employment of a class. Rather than specifically defining the class, it used one example by which others falling in the class could be identified. We cannot change that definition by looking to the example organization as it presently exists.
The purpose of the Act and the legislative history reveal that an organization was "similar" to the Pinkerton Detective Agency only if it offered for hire mercenary, quasi-military forces as strikebreakers and armed guards. It had the secondary effect of deterring any other organization from providing such services lest it be branded a "similar organization." The legislative history supports this view and no other.
In investigating the Homestead incident, the Senate Report clearly distinguished between types of detective agencies:
S. Rep. No. 1280, p. II (Feb. 10, 1893). In his amendment to the 1892 appropriations act, Representative O'Neill urged the language "Pinkerton detectives or any other association of men as armed guards" in his proposed prohibition of the employment of government contractors that used Pinkertons. It is true, as Weinberger argues, that this portion of O'Neill's amendment was disapproved by the Congress, but only because of its fear that the prohibition was too broad, not because of its more specific reference to the "armed guard" aspect of the Pinkerton Agency's activities. In fact, the explanation for Congress' action on this matter given by the ranking member of the House Conference Committee, Representative Holman, provides further support for our reading:
S. Rep. No. 447, 88th Cong., 1st Sess. (Aug. 20, 1963) (including description of 1893 conference) (emphasis supplied). Representative O'Neill's response to Mr. Holman further highlights the intent of the congressional originator of the Anti-Pinkerton Act:
In light of the purpose of the Act and its legislative history, we conclude that an organization is not "similar" to the (quondam) Pinkerton Detective Agency unless it offers quasi-military armed forces for hire. Because Weinberger fails to allege that Equifax provides so much as an armed guard,
Weinberger also appeals the district judge's failure to stand recused after discovering that his son was an associate of the law firm representing Equifax. Weinberger reinforces the suggestion of partiality by alleging other supposed instances of bias or prejudice by the district judge. For example, Weinberger protests that the court entered an order of dismissal only four days after Equifax filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint and before Weinberger could file a reply memorandum. Weinberger also complains of comments by the district judge denigrating plaintiff's complaint. In our view, however, the most serious claim is that the district judge's son was associated with the defendant's legal counsel.
The current statute providing for disqualification of a judge for bias suggests that he "shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned," 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), and that he must disqualify himself if he or his spouse or a "person within the third degree of relationship" is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding, 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(ii), or has a financial interest in the outcome of the proceeding, 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(iii). None of the provisions requiring recusal apply here. It is undisputed that the district judge's son did not actively participate in Equifax's defense. That the son's law firm participated in the proceeding does not mean that he was "acting as a lawyer in the proceeding." See SCA Services, Inc. v. Morgan, 557 F.2d 110 (7th Cir., 1977). That provision requires actual participation. The fears of judicial bias that might result from an offspring's active participation in a proceeding do not merit automatic disqualification of the law firm to which the relative belongs. The "financial interest" provision might apply if the district judge's son were a partner in the firm. But his status as an associate removes that fear. See id. His salary interest as an associate is too remote to fall under this "financial interest" prohibition.
Although none of these matters require disqualification, they are considerations
Thus, we conclude that the district court correctly determined that Weinberger lacked standing to assert a direct action for violation of the Anti-Pinkerton Act but erred in denying him standing under the False Claims Act. Nevertheless, Weinberger failed to state a claim under the False Claims Act for two reasons: first, even granting an Anti-Pinkerton Act violation, Weinberger's action based on that violation did not state a "false" claim; and second, Weinberger failed to allege facts bringing the defendant within the Anti-Pinkerton Act proscription and thus failed to form the basis for his false claim. Finally, the district judge did not abuse his discretion in declining to stand recused. The district court's order of dismissal is
5 U.S.C. § 3108 (1970).
§ 232. Same; suits; procedure