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United States ex rel El-Amin v. George Washington University

May 2, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. SHEILA EL-AMIN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS/RELATORS
v.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Garrett Penn United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion To Dismiss [650]. Defendant "moves the Court to dismiss the claims brought by relator Sheila El-Amin for lack of subject matter jurisdiction." Def.'s Mot. at 1. Defendant claims that "Ms. El-Amin executed a release discharging all causes of actions against GW, thereby extinguishing her qui tam claims, her standing to sue, and this Court's subject matter jurisdiction over her claims." Id. The Court concludes that the release executed by Ms. El-Amin, which became effective two days after the filing of her qui tam complaint under seal, is unenforceable because it violates several key public policy underpinnings of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, et seq. The release was executed without the United States' knowledge or consent, and before the United States was given an opportunity to investigate fully the allegations in the qui tam complaint. The release does not bar Relator El-Amin's qui tam claims or deprive this Court of jurisdiction to hear them. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1).

BACKGROUND

The named relator in this action, Sheila El-Amin, was employed as a nurse anesthetist for George Washington University from 1982 to 1995. See Declaration of Relator Sheila El-Amin ¶ 2.*fn1 In May of1995, Ms. El-Amin received a letter from George Washington University informing her that her position at the hospital was being terminated. See El-Amin Deposition at 7; El-Amin Decl. ¶ 2. A few months later, on October 19, 1995, Ms. El-Amin signed a Separation Agreement and Release ("Release") with the hospital. As part of the release, Ms. El-Amin received a one-time severance payment of $7,892.00. See El-Amin Decl. ¶ 3; Release ¶ 3. She agreed to release certain claims against George Washington University. The release provided, in relevant part:

Ms. El-Amin . . . releases and discharges forever any and all charges, complaints, demands, claims or causes of action (whether known or unknown) which she has or may have against the University, . . . including but not limited to any and all claims arising from or relating to her employment with the University or the termination thereof, and any claims arising under any federal, state, District of Columbia or other local law, relating to discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, disability or other illegal basis, including but not limited to the Age Discrimination In Employment Act of 1967. Ms. El-Amin further agrees not to sue or otherwise institute or . . . voluntarily participate in the prosecution of any complaints or charges against any person or entities released herein in any federal, state, District of Columbia or other court, administrative agency or other forum concerning any claims released herein.

Release ¶ 4. Ms. El-Amin waived the 21-day "consideration period," electing to sign the release without consulting an attorney.*fn2 After signing the release -- but before it became effective -- Ms. El- Amin joined three other relators in filing this action on October 24, 1995. The release became effective two days after she filed the complaint.*fn3 Release ¶ 6.

DISCUSSION

I.

Defendant suggests the Court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of Relator Sheila ElAmin's claims because she executed a release, as part of a severance agreement, that purportedly discharged all causes of action against her former employer, George Washington University, including her qui tam claims under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq. Because she released all causes of action she had against George Washington University, necessarily surrendering her authority to prosecute what amounts to a partial assignment of the government's False Claims Act claims, Defendant argues that Ms. El-Amin has no legally protected interest and, as a consequence, no standing to sue. See United States ex rel. Hall v. Teledyne Wah Chang Albany, 104 F.3d 230 (9th Cir. 1997). Defendant seeks dismissal of her claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

In opposition, Relator El-Amin claims that the release, which became effective after the filing of the qui tam complaint, is unenforceable as a matter of public policy. She asserts that the government must have knowledge of the allegations in a qui tam complaint and be given an opportunity to investigate those claims, as well as the terms of the release, before a release becomes enforceable. She notes that there is no evidence that the government was given an opportunity to investigate the terms of the release or the underlying complaint before the release became effective. Relator El-Amin directs the Court to United States ex rel. Longhi v. Lithium Power Techs., Inc., a*fn4 recent opinion entered in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where, she says, a similar post-complaint release was held to be unenforceable. Alternatively, Relator El-Amin claims the release does not encompass the claims raised in her qui tam complaint because these claims belong to the United States, not her. She reasons that she could not have unilaterally released claims that belong to the federal government.*fn5

II.

"Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, 'the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion to establish subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence.'" Alliance for Democracy v. FEC, 362 F. Supp. 2d 138, 141-42 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. United States Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1998)). "For purposes of ruling on a motion to dismiss for want of standing, both the trial and reviewing courts must accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2206 (1975) (citing Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421-22, 89 S.Ct. 1843, 1849 (1969)). "Additionally, in deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, it is well established in this Circuit that a court is not limited to the allegations in the complaint, but may also consider material outside of the pleadings in its effort to determine whether ...


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