United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. Eric Fields, Plaintiff,
THE BI-STATE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY OF THE MISSOURI-ILLINOIS METROPOLITAN DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. SIPPEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Eager Road Associates, LLC (“Eager Road”) moves
for summary judgment in this False Claims Act Case. Eager
Road argues that Relator Eric Fields has no evidence to show
that it presented or caused to be presented a false claim to
the federal government, within the meaning of 31 U.S.C.
§ 3729(a)(1). Because Fields has provided no evidence
that Eager Road presented or caused to be presented a false
claim to the federal government, I will grant Eager
Road's motion for summary judgment.
Eric Fields is a former employee of Defendant Bi-State
Development Agency (Bi-State) who filed this suit on July 28,
2014. In his first amended complaint, [No. 27], Fields claims
that Defendants Bi-State and Eager Road violated the False
Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729, et seq., by
falsely certifying compliance with federal law in order to
receive federal public transit funds. Defendants allegedly
certified that Bi-State was in compliance with the Hatch Act
and the Uniform Relocation Act when Bi-State sought federal
funds between 2009 and 2011. According to Fields, Bi-State
was in violation of both laws, because it (1) required its
employees to support St. Louis County Executive Charlie
Dooley's election campaign and a local sales tax
proposition, (2) instituted a “pay to play”
scheme with political donors like Eager Road managing member
Don Musick, III, and (3) failed to appraise a parking garage
(the Meridien) before purchasing it from Eager Road at an
inflated price. Fields seeks treble damages for the amount of
money that Bi-State acquired from the federal government
because of its false certifications.
case was stayed twice while Bi-State appealed my rulings in
the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In
September 2015, [No. 91], and September 2016, [No. 123], I
denied Bi-State's successive motions for summary
judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed my September 2016
ruling, United States ex rel. Fields v. Bi-State Dev.
Agency of Missouri-Illinois Metro. Dist., 872 F.3d 872,
883 (8th Cir. 2017), and the United States Supreme Court
denied Bi-State's petition for a writ of
certiorari. 138 S.Ct. 677 (2018).
denied Eager Road's motion to dismiss in September 2015,
except to the extent that Fields asserted claims against
Eager Road for a Hatch Act violation or for a False Claims
Act violation under a conspiracy liability theory. [No. 91].
I lifted the stay in this case in August, 2017, after the
Eighth Circuit ruled on Bi-State's second appeal. Within
a month, Eager Road moved for summary judgment. I allowed
Relator Fields to depose Musick and Bi-State's appraiser
Richard C. Shepard before filing his response to Eager
Road's motion for summary judgment. [No. 178]. The motion
is now fully briefed.
only grant summary judgment if the evidence, viewed in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates (1)
that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
(2) that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law. Lynn v. Deaconess Med. Ctr., 160 F.3d 484,
486 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). In this
evaluation, I view all facts and factual inferences in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 587 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the
burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue of
material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Once the moving party has met
this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the
allegations in its pleadings, but by affidavit or other
evidence, must set forth specific facts showing that a
genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotext Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P.
Road argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law because Fields has no evidence to prove that Eager Road
participated in Bi-State's certifications to the federal
government. To establish a prima facie case under 31 U.S.C.
§ 3729(a)(1)(A) a party must demonstrate (1) that the
defendant presented or “caused to be presented” a
claim against the United States (causation); (2) that the
claim was false or fraudulent; and (3) that the defendant
knew the claim was false or fraudulent (knowledge). Olson
v. Fairview Health Servs. of Minnesota, 831 F.3d 1063,
1070 (8th Cir. 2016). Eager Road argues that Fields does not
have evidence sufficient to satisfy the causation
Eighth Circuit has not articulated a bright line for
determining when the causation aspect of False Claims
liability is met. Instead, federal courts have required False
Claim Act relators to show that the defendant took an
“affirmative act, ” U.S. ex rel. Sikkenga v.
Regence Bluecross Blueshield of Utah, 472 F.3d 702, 714
(10th Cir. 2006), with “some degree of participation in
the claims process, ” United States v. President
& Fellows of Harvard Coll., 323 F.Supp.2d 151, 186-
87 (D. Mass. 2004). “Numerous courts have held that
some level of direct involvement in causing the submission of
false claims to the government is necessary for direct
liability under the FCA.” United States v. Exec.
Health Res., Inc., 196 F.Supp.3d 477, 513 (E.D. Pa.
theory of causation is attenuated. He argues that Eager
Road's managing member Don Musick, III, exercised
political control over St. Louis County Executive, Charlie
Dooley, through his donations. Dooley, in turn, allegedly
exercised control over Bi-State's dealings with Eager
Road. Fields argues that, by this chain of influence, Eager
Road forced Bi-State to enter into a sole source agreement to
construct the Meridien Garage, of which Bi-State would own
two thirds and Eager Road would own one third. Eager Road
also allegedly induced the St. Louis County Collector of
Revenue to cancel the tax sale of the Meridien Garage, when
Eager Road was delinquent on three years' tax payments.
Eager Road then allegedly induced Bi-State to purchase the
remaining one third of the Meridien Garage at an inflated
purchase price, for the primary purpose of helping Eager Road
settle its debts with lender Compass Bank.
offers some evidence to demonstrate that Eager Road
influenced Bi- State's actions. Specifically, Fields
offers the declaration of former Bi-State CEO Larry Salci,
who states that Charlie Dooley pressured him into approving
the sole source agreement. (ECF No. 192 at 7-8). Salci states
that he had previously rejected such an arrangement because
it violated Bi-State policies. (Id. at 8). Fields
also states that Bi-State conducted appraisals of the
Meridien Garage on two separate occasions before the 2010
purchase of Eager Road's one-third interest. (ECF No. 193
at 9). The 2009 appraisal allegedly produced values well
below the eventual sale price of the Garage. (Id. at
3-4). No. appraisal, however, was conducted in 2010 in
conjunction with the actual sale of the one-third interest.
This evidence may support Fields' claim that Bi-State
violated portions of the Hatch Act and Uniform Relocation
does not present any evidence, however, that Eager Road
participated in Bi-State's certification process in any
way. False Claims Act liability does not arise merely from
underlying violations of other laws. Instead, a defendant
must have “presented or caused to be presented”
the claim itself. 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A). Fields
argues that an ongoing business relationship with a false
claimant and a failure to cease doing business can satisfy
the elements of § 3729(a)(1)(A). (ECF No. 190 at 5)
(citing United States v. President and Fellows of Harvard
College, 323 F.Supp.2d 151, 187). But he misinterprets
the case law on this point. In Harvard College, a
professor who violated the conditions of a repeatedly renewed
federal grant, but did not approve invoices or expense
reports, did not “cause to be presented”
fraudulent claims. Id at 188-89. Fields cites this
case in support of his argument that inaction can satisfy the
causation element of False Claims Act liability. This
inference is incorrect. To establish causation, Fields must
present some evidence that Eager Road took some action and
had some degree of participation in the claims ...