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Williams v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 9, 2019

JAMETTE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Relator,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMIT P. MEHTA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff-Relator Jamette Williams brings both qui tam and retaliation claims against her former employer, Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”), under the federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729, et seq., and similar state and District of Columbia statutes. Plaintiff claims that WMATA violated the anti-fraud provisions of these laws by presenting false claims for payment, and that WMATA retaliated against her for reporting alleged violations. WMATA moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). WMATA primarily argues that the federal and state qui tam statutes do not apply to it, and that it cannot be sued for retaliation under state law. WMATA also argues that it enjoys immunity from suit for retaliation claims under the federal False Claims Act.

         For the reasons that follow, the court grants WMATA's Motion to Dismiss and dismisses this suit in its entirety.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1.Plaintiff's Discovery of Financial Irregularities

         WMATA is an interstate compact funded by the United States; Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia (collectively, “Jurisdictions”); certain counties and cities within Virginia and Maryland; and customer sales. Compl., ECF No. 1, [hereinafter Compl.] ¶ 13. The WMATA Compact is currently codified as D.C. Code § 9-1107.01; Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 10-204; and Va. Code Ann. § 33.2-3100. Plaintiff admits that WMATA “is an agency and instrumentality of DC, Maryland, and Virginia.” Compl. ¶ 11.

         WMATA employed Plaintiff as a Certified Public Accountant from 2002 to 2016. Id. ¶¶ 14, 78. Plaintiff's job consisted of managing and supporting funds transfers, monitoring WMATA's billing, and completing financial reports. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff also was responsible for providing functional support for the PeopleSoft Financial Suite and allocating the appropriate proportion of public funding for WMATA's projects. Id. ¶ 17.

         In or around June 2010, WMATA entered into a funding agreement called the Capital Funding Agreement (“CFA”), which provides $5 billion in funds to WMATA's Capital Improvement Plan, a system-wide improvement and maintenance plan. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. The CFA provides various grants to WMATA, which are funded in different proportions by the Federal Transit Authority (“FTA”), a federal agency, and each of the Jurisdictions. Id. ¶ 20. The CFA requires WMATA to complete a budget reconciliation by October 15th of each year. Id. ¶ 21. As part of that process, WMATA's Budget Department is required to produce an annual CFA report, which provides financial information on “actual expenditures on projects and activities; each Jurisdiction's actual and projected allocation contributions, as compared to each Jurisdiction's scheduled contribution; forecast of expenditures; and the estimated cost to complete remaining projects.” Id. ¶ 21. The FTA and the Jurisdictions rely on the CFA reports to determine “how much funding is due to [WMATA], and how [WMATA] spent funds in the previous year.” Id. at ¶ 22. The CFA also identifies surplus funds for reassignment to a different project or refunding to the payor. Id.

         Beginning in 2012, Plaintiff began noticing problems with financial data contained in the newly upgraded PeopleSoft system. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. Those problems included that Jurisdiction-funded grants were not correctly established in the system, meaning that funds were being used in incorrect proportions. Id. ¶ 24. She also discovered that WMATA was not reconciling the budget at the end of the fiscal year, “leading to [WMATA]'s withholding of funds that should have been either reassigned to a new project or refunded to the payor government.” Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff also noticed that WMATA had requested twice as much funding as necessary for many projects but failed to redistribute or refund the extra money to the FTA. Id. ¶ 26.

         Plaintiff began raising concerns about WMATA's financial recordkeeping in December 2013. Id. ¶ 37. Specifically, she “complained of lack of internal controls between the Budget and Accounting Departments, improper billing adjustments, and duplicate draws from the FTA and Jurisdictions.” Id. After initially discussing these issues with her supervisor, Ian Greaves, id., Plaintiff met with WMATA's General Counsel Kathryn Pett as part of a whistleblower investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in February 2014, id. ¶ 38. Plaintiff voiced concerns and shared files with Pett during this meeting, id., and Pett forwarded the information to the Managing Director, Office of Management and Budget, Tom Webster, id. ¶ 39. According to Plaintiff, Webster took no action on her concerns. Id. As a result of the DOJ investigation, FTA placed WMATA on a “draw restriction.” Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiff met with WMATA's Deputy Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) Blair Fishburn to review reconciliations she had developed and to show him duplicate draws, but Fishburn also failed to take corrective action. Id. ¶ 42.

         In August 2014, WMATA's Office of the Inspector General began investigating WMATA's failure to complete CFA reports in FY2013 and FY2014. Id. ¶ 43. Plaintiff met with investigators and shared her concerns about the integrity of the PeopleSoft financial data, which she believed “inevitably led to inaccurate CFA reports.” Id. ¶ 45. Soon afterward, in October 2014, WMATA's new CFO Dennis Anosike asked Plaintiff to prepare a list of the Accounting Department's responsibilities, and she sent him a list of tasks that “that needed to be performed to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the data used for both the annual CFA report and the Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards.” Id. ¶ 47. Later, Plaintiff notified Anosike about a “black hole, ” a term used to signify expenditures that had not been assigned to a funding source within the grants management system. Id. ¶ 49. Anosike took no action in response to Plaintiff's communications. Id. ¶¶ 48-49.

         WMATA's accounting issues continued into the next fiscal year. Plaintiff alleges that in FY2015, WMATA “failed to record several invoices for reimbursement to the FTA in PeopleSoft, ” resulting in $86 million inaccurately accumulated as a credit on WMATA's balance sheets. Id. ¶ 50. WMATA also did not redistribute FTA funds between July and December 2014, resulting in a $290 million deficiency in funding for all projects. Id. ¶ 52.

         In the end, Plaintiff claims that between 2012 and 2016, WMATA failed to properly bill $1.1 billion, approximately $700 million of which came from the Jurisdictions and $414 million of which came from the FTA. Id. ¶ 53.

         2. WMATA Retaliates against Plaintiff

         In November 2014, Plaintiff had several interactions with her first-line supervisor, Ian Greaves, concerning the purposeful manipulation of financial data by WMATA's employees and the magnitude of the inaccuracies. Id. ¶¶ 54-55. Greaves responded to one such conversation on November 24, 2014, by stating, “man you should see the emails coming and going from [CFO] ...


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