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Federal judge: qui tam suits against D.C. have 3-year limit

On Monday, a federal court in Washington determined that there is a three-year statute of limitations for filing a whistleblower lawsuit against the District of Columbia.

The statute of limitations length was established by Congress under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. According to sources, Monday's decision clarified an ambiguity in an earlier version of that act, as well as case law that was ambiguous as to how to treat qui tam suits filed before the newer version of the law was passed.

The case arose from a 2002 suit against D.C. in which a woman-formerly an employee of the city's Office of Chief Technology from 1982 to 2000-claimed to have been wrongfully terminated for reporting mistakes as to how the Chief Technology Officer was utilizing federal funds.

Sometime after the suit was filed, the city filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the statute of limitations prevented the suit from proceeding. The federal judge in charge of the case refused the city's motion to dismiss and said that since there was no timeframe under federal law, the court would therefore borrow the timeframe from the most appropriate state law.

While the city believed that D.C.'s Whistleblower Protection Act should be applied to the case, the Judge agreed with the former employee that D.C.'s False Claims Act was the appropriate law to apply, since both were nearly identical. Under D.C.'s False Claims Act, there is a three-year time frame in its statute of limitations, and the court borrowed that timeframe.

The judge in the case did not make a decision as to whether the statute of limitations under Dodd-Frank should be applied retroactively. The issue has apparently not yet been settled among the courts.

Source: The Blog of Legal times, "Judge Affirms 3-Year Limit For Federal False Claims Acts Against D.C.," Zoe Tillman, 6 June 2011.

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