FAY, Circuit Judge:
This case presents the question of whether a government employee may file a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733 (1988), based upon information acquired in the course of his government employment. Appellant Arthur P. Williams worked as an attorney for the United States Air Force. During the course of his employment with the government, Williams became aware of bidrigging on the part of a corporation seeking telecommunications contracts with the United States. When Williams filed a qui tam complaint, on behalf of the United States, against the corporation allegedly engaged in bidrigging, the United States moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice to Williams. Maintaining that Williams acquired and developed the information that formed the basis of his complaint during the course of his employment with the Air Force, the United States argued that the False Claims Act jurisdictionally bars any suit by a government employee based upon information acquired in the course of his government employment. The district court granted the government's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons that follow, we find that nothing in the False Claims Act prohibits a government employee from filing a qui tam action based upon information acquired while working for the government. Therefore, the dismissal of Williams's complaint by the district court was in error.
I. Procedural History
Appellant Arthur P. Williams filed a qui tam complaint on March 30, 1989,
II. Factual Background
Arthur Williams worked as an attorney for the United States Air Force.
III. The False Claims Act
"The False Claims Act `prohibits false or fraudulent claims to government payment.'" United States ex rel. Weinberger v. Florida, 615 F.2d 1370, 1370 (5th Cir.1980) (quoting United States ex rel. Weinberger v. Equifax, Inc., 557 F.2d 456, 460 (5th Cir.1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1035, 98 S.Ct. 768, 54 L.Ed.2d 782 (1978)).
The language of the original False Claims Act permitted a private relator to initiate suit even though that private individual contributed nothing to the exposure of the fraud alleged. See United States ex rel. Stinson v. Provident Life & Accident Ins., 721 F.Supp. 1247, 1249 (S.D.Fla.1989). In the late 1930's, however, numerous "parasitical suits" were filed in which the relator sued upon information copied from government files and indictments. Id. (citation omitted). Following a ruling by the Supreme Court that the False Claims Act did not specifically prohibit suits brought by relators who obtained their information from government indictments and contributed nothing to the discovery of the fraud alleged, see United States ex rel. Marcus v. Hess, 317 U.S. 537, 545-48, 63 S.Ct. 379, 384-86, 87 L.Ed. 443 (1943), Congress amended the Act in 1943.
Following the Supreme Court's decision in Hess, "[t]he immediate concern of Congress was to do away with these so-called `parasitical suits.'" Pettis ex rel. United States v. Morrisson-Knudsen Co., 577 F.2d 668, 671 (9th Cir.1978) (citing United States v. Pittman, 151 F.2d 851, 854 (5th Cir.1945), cert. denied, 328 U.S. 843, 66 S.Ct. 1022, 90 L.Ed. 1617 (1946); United States v. Rippetoe, 178 F.2d 735, 736 (4th Cir.1949)). As a result, the 1943 Act contained a broad jurisdictional bar against qui tam suits "whenever it shall be made to appear that such suit was based upon evidence or information in the possession of the United States, or any agency, officer or employee thereof, at the time such suit was brought." 31 U.S.C. § 232(C) (Supp. III 1943), 57 Stat. 608 (1943). "Although Congress's immediate concern in enacting the 1943 amendment was to do away with the `parasitical suits' allowed by Hess, the language and effect of the 1943 amendment in fact is much broader." United States ex rel. Wisconsin v. Dean, 729 F.2d 1100, 1104 (7th Cir.1984). After 1943, therefore, government employees were effectively prohibited from bringing suit under the False Claims Act. United States v. CAC-Ramsay, Inc., 744 F.Supp. 1158, 1161 (S.D.Fla.1990); Erickson, 716 F.Supp. at 916.
In 1986, Congress once again amended the False Claims Act. "[F]ollowing a decline in the use of qui tam suits as a weapon in fighting fraud against the government, the 1986 amendments sought to expand the qui tam provisions to `encourage more private enforcement suits.'" CAC-Ramsay, Inc., 744 F.Supp. at 1161 (quoting S.Rep. at 23, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1986, at 5288); see also United States ex rel. LaValley v. First Nat'l Bank, 707 F.Supp. 1351, 1355 (D.Mass.1988) ("The legislative history in both houses of Congress reveals a sense that fraud against the Government was apparently so rampant and difficult to identify that the Government could use all the help it could
It is the jurisdictional requirements of the False Claims Act that are at issue here. We must determine whether the district court was correct in dismissing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction the qui tam suit filed by Williams which was based upon information that he developed while employed as an attorney for the United States Air Force. In so doing, we must also decide the broader question of whether the False Claims Act prohibits government employees from filing qui tam suits based upon information acquired in the course of their government employment. Because we are called upon to review the district court's interpretation of a statute, our review is de novo. Frio Ice, S.A. v. Sunfruit, Inc., 918 F.2d 154, 157 (11th Cir.1990); Keys Jet Ski, Inc. v. Kays, 893 F.2d 1225, 1227 (11th Cir.1990).
"[T]he starting point for interpreting a statute is the language of the statute itself. Absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive." Consumer Prod. Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, 447 U.S. 102, 108, 100 S.Ct. 2051, 2056, 64 L.Ed.2d 766 (1980); see also United States v. Rush, 874 F.2d 1513, 1514 (11th Cir.1989) (citations omitted). Unless the statutory language is ambiguous or would lead to absurd results, the plain meaning of the statute must control. Blue Cross & Blue Shield v. Weitz, 913 F.2d 1544, 1548 (11th Cir.1990); United States v. Kattan-Kassin, 696 F.2d 893, 895 (11th Cir.1983). Thus, "[u]nless exceptional circumstances dictate otherwise, `[w]hen we find the terms of a statute unambiguous, judicial inquiry is complete.'" Burlington N.R.R. v. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n, 481 U.S. 454, 461, 107 S.Ct. 1855, 1860, 95 L.Ed.2d 404 (1987) (quoting Rubin v. United States, 449 U.S. 424, 430, 101 S.Ct. 698, 701-02, 66 L.Ed.2d 633 (1981)).
Where the statutory language is ambiguous, or application of the plain meaning of the statute would lead to absurd results, then a court may look to legislative history in an effort to determine the intent of Congress. Kattan-Kassin, 696 F.2d at 895. The plainer the statutory language, however, the more convincing contrary legislative history must be in order to support a reading of the statute which departs from its plain language.
The United States maintains that the qui tam action brought by Williams was properly dismissed because a government employee is barred by section 3730(e)(4)(A) of the False Claims Act from bringing such an action. Section 3730(e)(4)(A) states,
31 U.S.C. § 3730(e)(4)(A) (1988). The United States argues first, that Williams's qui tam action was based on information that was "publicly disclosed" within the meaning of section 3730(e)(4)(A). Secondly, the United States asserts that Williams was not an "original source" of the publicly disclosed information forming the basis of his suit, as that term is defined in section 3730(e)(4)(B) of the Act. In addition, the United States advances the more general proposition that the comprehensive bar against qui tam suits by government employees in the 1943 version of the False Claims Act was never repealed by the 1986 amendments to the Act. And finally, the United States offers several public policy reasons for finding that Congress intended to bar government employees from initiating qui tam suits based upon information acquired in the course of their government employment. For the reasons that follow, we disagree on all counts.
A. Public Disclosure
The United States' argument that Williams's qui tam suit was based on the "public disclosure" of information under section 3730(e)(4)(A), relies on a characterization of government employees as occupying a dual status. According to the United States, as long as the government employee uses official information in his official capacity only, no public disclosure occurs. Brief for United States at 23-24. Once the government employee uses official information outside the scope of his employment, however, he "reverts to a status as a private member of the public." Id. at 24. Under the dual status theory, therefore, when the government employee uses official information as a private citizen, he has disclosed the information to himself so that a "public disclosure" occurs.
Notwithstanding the dubious logic of this dual status argument, it ignores the plain language of section 3730(e)(4)(A), which bars actions based upon information that is publicly disclosed only in certain enumerated instances. Under this section of the Act, actions are prohibited if "based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions in a criminal, civil, or administrative hearing, in a congressional, administrative, or Government Accounting Office report, hearing, audit, or investigation, or from the news media." 31 U.S.C. § 3730(e)(4)(A). As a preliminary matter, we find that the methods of "public disclosure" set forth in section 3730(e)(4)(A) are exclusive of the types of public disclosure that would defeat jurisdiction under that section. The list of methods of "public disclosure" is specific and is not qualified by words that would indicate that they are only examples of the types of "public disclosure" to which the jurisdictional bar would apply. Congress could easily have used "such as" or "for example" to indicate that its list was not exhaustive. Because it did not, however, we will not give
The United States argues that even if the narrower reading of what constitutes "public disclosure" is adopted, Williams's qui tam action must still be barred because it was based upon information "publicly disclosed" in a government "investigation." Brief for United States at 24 n. 19. Once again, this argument ignores the plain language of the statute. Under section 3730(e)(4)(A), a qui tam action is barred only if based upon information disclosed in "a congressional, administrative, or Government Accounting Office report, hearing, audit, or investigation...." 31 U.S.C. § 3730(e)(4)(A). A plain reading of this language reveals that "congressional, administrative, or Government Accounting Office" modifies "report, hearing, audit, or investigation." Any other reading of that phrase would be illogical. Because Williams's report on bidding practices was not issued by Congress, an administrative agency, or out of the Government Accounting Office, therefore, it is not a "public disclosure" within the meaning of section 3730(e)(4)(A).
Because we find no "public disclosure" under section 3730(e)(4)(A), Williams's qui tam action is not jurisdictionally barred under that section. Therefore, we need not reach the question of whether Williams was an "original source" of the information that formed the basis of his suit. The "original source" inquiry only becomes necessary once a court makes a factual determination that the particular qui tam suit before it was based upon information that was publicly disclosed. See LaValley, 707 F.Supp. at 1366 (court declined to reach original source issue in light of its holding that the complaint before it was not "`based upon a public disclosure'") (quoting 31 U.S.C. § 3730); see also United States ex rel. Stinson v. Blue Cross Blue Shield, 755 F.Supp. 1040, 1050 (S.D.Ga.1990) (where the court found that the suit was not based upon information publicly disclosed, it found it unnecessary to reach the question of whether the relator was an "original source").
B. General Prohibition Against Government Employees
The United States also argues that the comprehensive bar against qui tam suits by government employees in the 1943 version of the False Claims Act was never repealed by the 1986 amendments to the
A straightforward reading of the 1986 False Claims Act reveals that Congress did not explicitly exclude government employees from the class of proper qui tam plaintiffs. See CAC-Ramsay, 744 F.Supp. at 1160 ("Congress could have chosen to specifically exclude present and/or former government employees from bringing a qui tam action, but Congress did not."); see also Erickson, 716 F.Supp. at 910 ("Congress chose to exclude from the class of permissible qui tam relators only limited groups of persons in certain, defined circumstances"). Furthermore, the structure of the False Claims Act is revealing in that it sets forth a right of any person to bring a qui tam action, and then specifically enumerates certain actions which are barred in section 3730(e). One district court has noted:
Erickson, 716 F.Supp. at 912, 913 (footnote omitted).
Furthermore, this circuit has noted that "[w]hen the legislature deletes certain language as it amends a statute, it generally indicates an intent to change the meaning of the statute." In re Request for Assistance, 848 F.2d 1151, 1154 (11th Cir.1988) (citations omitted), cert. denied sub nom. Azar v. Minister of Legal Affairs, 488 U.S. 1005, 109 S.Ct. 784, 102 L.Ed.2d 776 (1989). Where, as here, the legislature deletes language that contained a general prohibition and replaces it with a grant of jurisdiction followed by certain enumerated exceptions, it is logical for a court to conclude that Congress intended to do away with the general prohibition.
It is also a generally recognized rule of statutory interpretation that a court should interpret a statute so as to give effect to each of its provisions. United States v. Menasche, 348 U.S. 528, 538-39, 75 S.Ct. 513, 519-20, 99 L.Ed. 615 (1955); United States v. Rawlings, 821 F.2d 1543, 1545 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 979, 108 S.Ct. 494, 98 L.Ed.2d 492 (1987). "[A]ny interpretation which renders parts or words in a statute inoperative or superfluous is to be avoided." Rawlings, 821 F.2d at 1545. To read the False Claims Act to prohibit government employees from initiating qui tam actions based upon information acquired in the course of their government employment, would render superfluous one of the four limits on jurisdiction in section 3730(e) of the Act. The first limit on jurisdiction states that "[n]o court shall have jurisdiction over an action brought by a former or present member of the armed forces under subsection (b) of this section against a member of the armed forces arising out of such person's service in the armed forces." 31 U.S.C. § 3730(e)(1). This exclusion would clearly be unnecessary if, as the government contends, the Act contained a general exclusion against all government employees as qui tam plaintiffs.
In addition, where a statute explicitly enumerates certain exceptions to a general grant of power, courts should be reluctant to imply additional exceptions in the absence of a clear legislative intent to the contrary. See Andrus v. Glover Constr. Co., 446 U.S. 608, 616-17, 100 S.Ct. 1905, 1910-11, 64 L.Ed.2d 548 (1980). As the structure of the False Claims Act makes
C. Public Policy Arguments
The United States has offered several public policy reasons for finding that Congress intended to bar government employees from initiating qui tam suits based upon information acquired in the course of their government employment. The essence of the government's public policy arguments is that the False Claims Act should not allow a personal reward to government employees for the "parasitical" use of information obtained and developed in the course of government employment. More specifically, the United States maintains that a "parasitical" suit brought by a government employee based upon government information while a government investigation is under way will prematurely disclose the information in the possession of the government to the defendant, and thereby prejudice the government's case. In addition, the government warns of races to the courthouse in which government employees seek to file suit as private qui tam relators before the Attorney General can file suit on behalf of the United States. Such races, it asserts, would force the Attorney General "to file suits based on facts that are only in a preliminary stage of investigation, with corresponding disclosure to the potential defendant of the existence of the inquiry and undermining of the government's case." Brief for United States at 25. And finally, the United States asserts that government employees should not receive compensation via the False Claims Act for reporting fraud against the government when it is part of their duties as government employees to report such fraud notwithstanding the Act.
We recognize that the concerns articulated by the United States may be legitimate ones, and that the application of the False Claims Act since its 1986 amendment may have revealed difficulties in the administration of qui tam suits, particularly those brought by government employees.
Addison v. Holly Hill Fruit Prods., 322 U.S. 607, 617-18, 64 S.Ct. 1215, 1221, 88 L.Ed. 1488 (1944). Congress could have certainly indicated its desire to prevent government employees from filing qui tam suits based upon information acquired in the course of their government employment.
For the reasons articulated above, we REVERSE the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction with prejudice against Arthur P. Williams and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Brief for the United States, at 5 n. 5.
Williams, on the other hand, maintains that his investigations were conducted during non-work hours, in the evenings and during weekends.
The United States counters that the Air Force did not ignore Williams's allegations, but rather is presently "conducting an active ongoing investigation of the allegations of bidrigging." Brief for United States at 6. The United States maintains that,
Id. at 5 n. 5.
We note that nothing in the False Claims Act requires that a private relator wait until the United States declines to initiate suit before filing his qui tam complaint. Williams complied with the procedural requirements of the Act, as set forth in section 3730(b)(2): Williams served a copy of the complaint and written disclosure of all material evidence and information he possessed on the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida and upon the Attorney General of the United States. In addition, Williams filed his complaint in camera and under seal.
Although the United States at oral argument advanced several public policy justifications for a requirement that the private qui tam relator give the government an opportunity to file suit on its own behalf before that relator initiates a qui tam action on behalf of the government, nothing in the False Claims Act mandates such deference. Even if a government investigation was pending at the time Williams filed his qui tam complaint, such fact would not jurisdictionally bar Williams from initiating suit under the False Claims Act.
31 U.S.C. § 3730(d) (1988).
Because the bidrigging scheme allegedly resulted in dollar losses to the United States in the tens of millions, Williams' percentage of any recovery in the suit stands to be quite significant.
31 U.S.C. § 3730(e) (1988).
U.S. ex rel. Stinson et al. v. Prudential Ins., 736 F.Supp. 614, 617 (D.N.J.1990) (emphasis added); LaValley, 707 F.Supp. at 1366 (emphasis added).
In addition, the district court in Raytheon determined that the government employee cannot qualify for the "original source" exception to the jurisdictional bar of § 3730(e)(4)(A). Id. at 176. The court here implied that because the government employee is required, as a condition of employment, to uncover and report fraud, two of the requirements for the "original source" exception were not met: first, the government employee is not someone with "independent knowledge" because the fruits of his efforts belong to his employer, the government; and second, the government employee cannot provide information to the government "voluntarily" if he must do so in response to the obligations of his employment. Id. In a broad holding, therefore, the district court concluded that:
Id. at 177 (footnote omitted).
On appeal, the First Circuit disagreed with the conclusion of the district court that "all qui tam actions brought by government employees are excluded by the False Claims Act." United States ex rel. LeBlanc v. Raytheon Co., 913 F.2d at 18. Declaring the district court's holding too broad, the circuit court found that § 3730(e)(4)(A) "does not prevent government employees from bringing qui tam actions based on information acquired during the course of their employment but not as the result of a government hearing, investigation or audit or through the news media." Id. at 20.
But while apparently rejecting the conclusion of the district court that there had been a public disclosure of the information upon which the qui tam suit had been brought, the circuit court nevertheless went on to address the question of whether the "original source" exception applied. Agreeing with the district court that a government employee, whose responsibility it was to uncover fraud as a condition of his employment, could not qualify as an "original source" of the information upon which the suit was based, the circuit court affirmed the district court's denial of subject matter jurisdiction. Id.
Thus, the Raytheon court, after apparently finding that there had been no "public disclosure" on the facts before it, nevertheless went on to determine whether the qui tam relator qualified for the "original source" exception to the jurisdictional bar of section 3730(e)(4)(A). Finding that the relator "[could not] qualify for the `original source' exception to § 3730(e)(4)'s jurisdictional bar," the court upheld the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. at 20.
In our view, the Raytheon court went one step too far. Once it found no "public disclosure," its inquiry should have ended and jurisdiction should have been acknowledged. The application of the "original source" exception to the jurisdictional bar in order to defeat jurisdiction that already existed, was improper.
12 U.S.C.A. § 4204(a)(5) (West 1991). In the first exception, however, Congress explicitly bars actions filed by government employees and based upon information acquired in the course of their government employment. That exception states that an action is not valid if,
12 U.S.C.A. § 4204(a)(1) (West 1991).