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U.S. ex. rel. Reeves v. Bechtel National Co., Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

October 3, 2014

U.S. ex rel. ELIZABETH REEVES, Plaintiff,
v.
BECHTEL NATIONAL COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

ORDER DENYING RELATOR'S MOTION [22] TO SEAL, GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION [23] TO AMEND TEXT ONLY ORDER, AND DIRECTING THE CLERK OF COURT TO FILE RELATOR'S SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT ON THE DOCKET UNSEALED

JOHN C. GARGIULO, Magistrate Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are two motions: (1) pro se Relator Elizabeth Reeve's Motion [22] to Seal her Second Amended Complaint, and (2) Defendant Bechtel National, Inc.'s Motion [23] to Amend Text Only Order dated September 2, 2014. Having considered the Motions, the record, and relevant legal authorities, the Court finds that Relator's Motion [22] should be denied, and Defendant's Motion [23] should be granted.

The Clerk of Court will file Relator's Second Amended Complaint on the docket unsealed, and Defendant shall have thirty days thereafter to answer or otherwise respond to the Second Amended Complaint. The voluminous exhibits submitted by Relator with her Second Amended Complaint will not be filed on the docket as attachments to the Second Amended Complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

This qui tam False Claims Act action, filed on May 14, 2013, by pro se Relator alleges fraud against Defendant in association with Defendant's work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This case was under seal until April 15, 2014, while the Government investigated the Complaint and determined whether it would intervene. On March 26, 2014, the Government elected not to intervene.

Relator first amended her Complaint on March 27, 2014, and on August 4, 2014, requested leave to file a second amended complaint. The Court ordered Relator to file her second amended complaint and serve Defendant on or before September 22, 2014. Order [18]. On September 19, 2014, the Clerk of Court received by mail a copy of Relator's Second Amended Complaint, as well as sixteen exhibits of voluminous documents Relator purports to be "new evidence" against Defendant. Relator emailed the Court and stated that she was filing the Second Amended Complaint and exhibits under seal. No motion to seal accompanied the Second Amended Complaint. Rather, the Second Amended Complaint was stamped by Relator as "Filed Under Seal."[1]

Relator was informed by the Clerk of Court that the Second Amended Complaint would be filed unsealed unless a motion to seal was filed and granted by the Court. On September 22, 2014, Relator filed a Motion [22] to Seal the Second Amended Complaint, and Relator's Second Amended Complaint has not yet been filed on the docket pending resolution of the Motion. Defendant's Motion [23] requests that Defendants not be required to answer or otherwise respond to the Second Amended Complaint until thirty (30) days after the Second Amended Complaint is filed on the docket.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Relator's Motion [22] to Seal

The False Claims Act requires a qui tam complaint to be filed under seal for at least 60 days to allow the Government an adequate opportunity to determine whether it will intervene. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(2). "The Government may, for good cause shown, move the court for extensions of the time during which the complaint remains under seal...." Id. at § 3730(b)(3).

As an initial matter, Relator's Motion [22] to Seal should be denied because Relator did not file her motion to seal in accordance with the requirements of Local Uniform Civil Rule 79, which governs the sealing of court records. Rule 79 requires that a motion to seal contain "[r]eferences to governing case law" and be accompanied by a proposed order that "recite[s] the findings by governing case law to support the proposed sealing." L.U.Civ.R. 79(e)(4)(C) and (E). Relator's Motion references no authority addressing the issue here, which is whether qui tam complaints amended after the Government has declined intervention should be sealed.[2] Relator furthermore has not provided a proposed order that "recite[s] the finding required by governing case law to support the proposed sealing." L.U.Civ.R. 79(e)(4)(E).

Relator's Motion [22] to Seal should also be denied because the relief requested would not "secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination" of this action, Fed.R.Civ.P. 1, and sealing does not advance the policies underlying the False Claims Act's requirement that "[t]he complaint" be filed under seal, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(2). Other courts have found that whether a qui tam complaint amended after the Government has declined intervention should be filed under seal depends on considerations such as these. United States, ex rel. Sean McCurdy v. Gen. Dynamics Nat. Steel and Shipbuilding, No. 07cv982 BTM (CAB), 2010 WL 1608411, *1-2 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 20, 2010); United States ex rel. Ubl v. IIF Data Solutions, No. 1:06-cv-641, 2009 WL 1254704, *4 n.4 (E.D. Va. May 5, 2009).

This case has been pending for one year and four months. It was under seal for over eight months. Four months after the case was unsealed, Relator had still not accomplished service of process. Relator requested an additional four months to serve Defendant and file a second amended complaint. The Court denied Relator the lengthy extension she requested and ordered her to file her second amended complaint and serve Defendant on or before September 22, 2014. Order [18]. The Court's interest in achieving the orderly and expeditious disposition of its cases weighs against resealing and further delaying the resolution of this case. Link v. Wabash R.R., 370 U.S. 626 (1962); Larson v. Scott, 157 F.3d 1030 (5th Cir.1998); McCullough v. Lynaugh, 835 F.2d 1126 (5th Cir. 1988).

While sealing of an initial qui tam complaint allows the Government an opportunity to discreetly investigate the complaint and decide whether to intervene without the alleged wrongdoer being alerted to the investigation, those interests are not served here. Defendant has already received a copy of the Second Amended Complaint, along with Relator's sixteen exhibits. No interest in discreetness is advanced by sealing the Second Amended Complaint. The allegations in Relator's Second Amended Complaint furthermore are not substantially different than those made against Defendant in Relator's First Amended Complaint. For the most part, the Second Amended Complaint offers additional details regarding the same general allegations. The Government investigated Relator's essential complaints for a period of over eight ...


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