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Lombardi v. George Washington University

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 11, 2014

JOHN LOMBARDI, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant

For JOHN LOMBARDI, Plaintiff: Lynne A. Bernabei, BERNABEI & WACHTEL, PLLC, Washington, DC.

For GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant: Peter Jacobs Eyre, LEAD ATTORNEY, CROWELL & MORING LLP, Washington, DC.

OPINION

ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

Page 227

John Lombardi was fired from George Washington University after he complained about efforts to replace him as principal investigator on a subcontract with the U.S. Department of State. He claims that his termination constituted unlawful retaliation because George Washington University fired him after he reported concerns about the failure to obtain prior approval to replace him on the subcontract. He now sues George Washington University under the False Claims Act, alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for attempting to prevent future false certifications on a government subcontract. George Washington University moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion.

I. FACTS

John Lombardi has extensive experience in emergency preparedness and medical planning. He served in the U.S. Army for twenty-eight years, including as the Army's Director of Domestic Emergency Preparedness for Medical Programs. In 2007, Mr. Lombardi joined George Washington University (GW) as the Director of Grants and Training in the Office of Homeland Security. GW maintains several research centers and institutes, which are directed by University personnel but rely on funding from external sources. The University tasked Mr. Lombardi with securing external funding for research centers and institutes within the Office of Homeland Security. From 2007 to 2009, Mr. Lombardi doubled GW's grant and contract revenue, which helped fund various University departments, centers, and institutes. From 2007 to 2011, Mr. Lombardi also served as GW's principal investigator on grants and contracts worth approximately $18 million. Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ ¶ 5-6.

A. GATA Subcontract

In 2010, the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a major government contractor, prepared to submit a bid to the U.S. Department of State (State Department) for the Global Anti-Terrorism Training Assistance (GATA) project.[1]

Page 228

Mr. Lombardi proposed that SAIC enter into a subcontracting agreement with GW to service the GATA project.

On June 22, 2011, the State Department awarded SAIC the prime contract for the GATA project, along with GW and twelve other subcontractors identified in SAIC's proposal. Id. ¶ 9. GW had represented to SAIC that Mr. Lombardi would serve as principal investigator on the GATA subcontract to GW, and therefore would certify the proposal and verify future regulatory compliance. In turn, SAIC had represented to the State Department that Mr. Lombardi would serve as principal investigator on the GATA subcontract to GW. Id. This arrangement was referenced in the subcontract, which identified Mr. Lombardi as the technical representative[2] responsible for performing task orders on the subcontract. GW expected to earn approximately $5 million over five years from the GATA subcontract.

B. Center for Preparedness and Resilience

Mr. Lombardi worked alongside other staff members in GW's Grants and Training Department. Until the fall of 2011, the salaries of Mr. Lombardi and his team were funded by a multi-year grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). After the grant expired, GW required the Grants and Training Department to seek external funding under the moniker " the Center for Preparedness and Resilience." [3]

In July of 2011, Daniel Kaniewski, Assistant Vice President for GW's Office of Homeland Security, informed Mr. Lombardi that he would have to secure new sources of outside funding to support his salary. Id. ¶ 14. Mr. Kaniewski stated that, " to provide Grants and Training sufficient time to generate new sponsored programs, the University would fully fund the Center's staff for Fiscal Year 2012 (June 30, 2011 through July 1, 2012) and would provide 60 percent of its funding for Fiscal Year 2013." Id. Mr. Kaniewski also directed Mr. Lombardi to " attract new sponsors and create a pool of contracts and awards that would allow the Center to become self-sufficient by the end of Fiscal Year 2013." Id. ¶ 15. This funding structure provided GW funding at reduced amounts, requiring Mr. Lombardi to terminate several employees in the Grants and Training Department during the summer of 2011.

Mr. Lombardi did not anticipate any further restrictions based on the new funding structure. As of September 2011, the Center for Preparedness and Resilience expected to earn approximately $5 million on the GATA subcontract. The Center applied for two anti-terrorism awareness seminars with the State Department, which would have provided GW with approximately $120,000 per event, and also applied for a revenue-sharing arrangement with a conference hosting company worth

Page 229

approximately $100,000. Finally, the Center anticipated twenty-four additional projects with SAIC, federal agencies, and outside sponsors by the end of 2012. Id. ¶ 13.

Dr. Leo Chalupa, GW's Vice President for Research, initially directed that the Center for Preparedness and Resilience would be required to raise $2 million in its first two years, i.e., by December of 2013. However, Mr. Lombardi alleges that, " [a]t a meeting in October 2011, Mr. Kaniewski suddenly reversed this arrangement and stated that he would be evaluating the Center's financial contributions to the University on a week-to-week basis in consultation with the [Office of the Vice President for Research]." Id. ¶ 20.

Mr. Lombardi submitted a proposal to establish the Center for Preparedness and Resilience formally in November of 2011. The request was approved on December 12, 2011, by Dr. Chalupa, and the Center was placed within GW's Office of Homeland Security. Thus, after December 12, 2011, GW's Office of Homeland Security was comprised of two subdivisions: (1) the Center for Preparedness and Resilience and (2) the Homeland Security Policy Institute. Id. ¶ 17.

The charter for the Center for Preparedness and Resilience provided that the organization would exist for at least five years and would report to the Homeland Security Policy Institute. Mr. Lombardi served as Director of the Center for Preparedness and Resilience. His direct supervisor, Frank Ciluffo, was the Director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute and the Associate Vice President for Homeland Security. Mr. Lombardi also reported to Mr. Kaniewski, the Deputy Director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute.[4]

Mr. Lombardi alleges that, after the formal establishment of the Center for Preparedness and Resilience, Mr. Kaniewski altered the financial reporting structure to give the Homeland Security Policy Institute greater control over the Center. Financial analyses were initially performed by Scott Solomon, the Senior Assistant Director for Finance and Operations, and the financial expert within the Center for Preparedness and Resilience. However, Mr. Kaniewski insisted that any financial analyses should be performed by the Homeland Security Policy Institute and " unilaterally arranged for all payments made to [the Center] to be routed to [the Homeland Security Policy Institute's] account," which prevented the Center from documenting its increased revenue. Id. ΒΆ 21. Mr. Lombardi alleges that Mr. Kaniewski altered the financial reporting structure to " hide the fact that the Center was generating sponsored projects and new sources of funding for GW, while [the Homeland Security Policy Institute] failed to generate any revenue ...


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