549 U.S. 457 (2007), 05-1272, Rockwell International Corp. v. United States

Docket Nº:05-1272.
Citation:549 U.S. 457, 127 S.Ct. 1397, 167 L.Ed.2d 190
Opinion Judge:Scalia, Justice
Case Date:March 27, 2007
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 457

549 U.S. 457 (2007)

127 S.Ct. 1397, 167 L.Ed.2d 190




No. 05-1272.

United States Supreme Court

March 27, 2007

Argued December 5, 2006.


[127 S.Ct. 1398] [127 S.Ct. 1399] Syllabus

While employed as an engineer at a nuclear weapons plant run by petitioner Rockwell under a Government contract, respondent Stone predicted that Rockwell's system for creating solid "pondcrete" blocks from toxic pond sludge and cement would not work because of problems in piping the sludge. However, Rockwell successfully made such blocks and discovered "in solid" ones only after Stone was laid off in 1986. In 1989, Stone filed a quit am suit under the False Claims Act, which prohibits submitting false or fraudulent payment claims to the United States, 31 U.S.C. §3729(a); permits remedial civil actions to be brought by the Attorney General, §3730(a), or by private individuals in the Government's name, §3730(b)(1); but eliminates federal-court jurisdiction over actions "based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions . . ., unless the action is brought by the Attorney General or the person bringing the action is an original source of the information," §3730(e)(4)(A). An "original source" "has direct and independent knowledge of the information on which the allegations are based and has voluntarily provided the information to the Government before filing an action . . . based on the information." §3730(e)(4)(B). In 1996, the Government intervened, and, with Stone, filed an amended complaint, which did not allege that Stone's predicted piping-system defect caused the in solid blocks. Nor was such defect mentioned in a statement of claims included in the final pretrial order, which instead alleged that the pondcrete failed because a new foreman used an insufficient cement-to-sludge ratio. The jury found for respondents with respect to claims covering the pondcrete allegations, but found for Rockwell with respect to all other claims. The District Court denied Rockwell's post verdict motion to dismiss Stone's claims, finding that Stone was an original source. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, but remanded for the District Court to determine whether Stone had disclosed his information to the Government before filing the action. The District Court found [127 S.Ct. 1400] Stone's disclosure inadequate, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed and held that Stone was an original source.

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1. Section 3730(e)(4)'s original-source requirement is jurisdictional. Thus, regardless of whether Rockwell conceded Stone's original-source status, this Court must decide whether Stone meets this jurisdictional requirement. Pp. 467-470.

2. Because Stone does not meet §3730(e)(4)(B)'s requirement that a relator have "direct and independent knowledge of the information on which the allegations are based," he is not an original source. Pp. 470-476.

(a) The "information" to which subparagraph (B) speaks is the information on which the relator's allegations are based rather than the information on which the publicly disclosed allegations that triggered the public-disclosure bar are based. The subparagraph standing on its own suggests that disposition. And those "allegations" are not the same as the allegations referred to in subparagraph (A), which bars actions based on the "public disclosure of allegations or transactions" with an exception for cases brought by "an original source of the information." Had Congress wanted to link original-source status to information underlying public disclosure it would have used the identical phrase, "allegations or transactions." Furthermore, it is difficult to understand why Congress would care whether a relator knows about the information underlying a publicly disclosed allegation when the relator has direct and independent knowledge of different information supporting the same allegation. Pp. 470-472.

(b) In determining which "allegations" are relevant, that term is not limited to "allegations" in the original complaint, but includes the allegations as amended. The statute speaks of the relator's "allegations," simpliciter. Absent some limitation of §3730(e)(4)'s requirement to the initial complaint, this Court will not infer one. Here, where the final pretrial order superseded prior pleadings, this Court looks to the final pretrial order to determine original-source status. Pp. 473-475.

(c) Judged according to these principles, Stone's knowledge falls short. The only false claims found by the jury involved in solid pondcrete discovered after Stone left his employment. Thus, he did not know that the pondcrete had failed; he predicted it. And his prediction was a failed one, for Stone believed the piping system was defective when, in fact, the pondcrete problem would be caused by a foreman's actions after Stone had left the plant. Stone's original-source status with respect to a separate, spray-irrigation claim did not provide jurisdiction over all of his claims. Section 3730(e)(4) does not permit

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jurisdiction in gross just because a relator is an original source with respect to some claim. Pp. 475-476.

3. The Government's intervention in this case did not provide an independent basis of jurisdiction with respect to Stone. The statute draws a sharp distinction between actions brought by a private person under §3730(b) and actions brought by the Attorney General under §3730(b). An action originally brought by a private person, which the Attorney General has joined, becomes an action brought by the Attorney General only after the private person has been ousted. Pp. 476-479.

92 Fed.Appx. 708, reversed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, SOUTER, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, [127 S.Ct. 1401] J., joined, post, p. 479. Breyer, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.


Maureen E. Mahoney argued the cause for petitioners. With her on the briefs were J. Scott Ballenger, Barry J. Blonien, Christopher J. Koenigs, and Michael B. Carroll.

Maria T. Vullo argued the cause for respondent Stone. With her on the brief were Evan Norris and Hartley David Alley.

Malcolm L. Stewart argued the cause for respondent United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Clement, Assistant Attorney General Keisler, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Douglas N. Letter, and Peter R. Maier.[*]

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Scalia, Justice

The False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§3729-3733, eliminates federal-court jurisdiction over actions under §3730 of the Act that are based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions "unless the action is brought by the Attorney General or the person bringing the action is an original source of the information." §3730(e)(4)(A). We decide whether respondent James Stone was an original source.


The mixture of concrete and pond sludge that is the subject of this case has taken nearly two decades to seep, so to speak, into this Court. Given the long history and the complexity of this litigation, it is well to describe the facts in some detail.


From 1975 through 1989, petitioner Rockwell International Corp. was under a management and operating contract with the Department of Energy (DOE) to run the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado. The most significant portion of Rockwell's compensation came in the form of a semiannual "'award fee,'" the amount of which depended on DOE's evaluation of Rockwell's performance in a number of areas, including environmental, safety, and health concerns. United States ex rel. Stone v. Rockwell Int'l, Corp., 92 Fed.Appx. 708, 714 (C.A.10 2004).

From November 1980 through March 1986, James Stone worked as an engineer at the Rocky Flats plant. In the early 1980's, Rockwell explored the possibility of disposing of the toxic pond sludge that accumulated in solar evaporation

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ponds at the facility, by mixing it with cement. The idea was to pour the mixture into large rectangular boxes, where it would solidify into "pondcrete" blocks that could be stored onsite or transported to other sites for disposal.

Stone reviewed a proposed manufacturing process for pondcrete in 1982. He concluded that the proposal "would not work," App. 175, and communicated that conclusion to Rockwell management in a [127 S.Ct. 1402] written "Engineering Order." As Stone would later explain, he believed "the suggested process would result in an unstable mixture that would later deteriorate and cause unwanted release of toxic wastes to the environment." Ibid. He believed this because he "foresaw that the piping system" that extracted sludge from the solar ponds "would not properly remove the sludge and would lead to an inadequate mixture of sludge/waste and cement such that the 'pond crete' blocks would rapidly disintegrate thus creating additional contamination problems." Id., at 290.

Notwithstanding Stone's prediction, Rockwell proceeded with its pondcrete project and successfully manufactured "concrete hard" pondcrete during the period of Stone's employment at Rocky Flats. It was only after Stone was laid off in March 1986 that what the parties have called "in solid" pondcrete blocks were discovered. According to respondents, Rockwell knew by October 1986 that a substantial number of pondcrete blocks were in solid, but DOE did not become aware of the problem until May 1988, when several pondcrete blocks began to leak, leading to the discovery of thousands of other in solid blocks. The media reported these discoveries, 3 Appellants' App. in Nos. 99-1351, 99-1352, 99-1353 (CA10), pp. 889-38 to 889-39; and attributed the malfunction to Rockwell's reduction of the ratio of concrete to...

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