(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Supreme Court

The first case for Tues 1/14 is Cook County v. US ex rel Chandler. It is a "qui tam" case. That means that it's a case under the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era statute that provides for lawsuits against those who defraud the government. One interesting thing about this law is that it allows a private individual to sue "on behalf of" the U.S., when the individual knows of the fraud. Hence the funny name of the case -- this "US ex rel" business. The individual can even get some of the recovery, as a reward for bringing the fraud to light. Fun fun fun. Corporations and other defendants hate the law, of course.

The question here is whether a municipality (county or city) can be a "person" that is subject to suit under this law. (The law says that "any person" who does the enumerated bad things shall be liable.). The Supreme Court has already told us that States aren't "persons" within the meaning of this law, and can't be sued. Naturally enough, counties and cities want that immunity too. But I think it's perfectly clear that they're not entitled to it. The reason, in a nutshell, is that the Supreme Court has long interpreted the word "person", in statutes from that era, as including municipalities while not including States. (Compare, e.g., this (cities are "persons" within 42 U.S.C. § 1983) and this (States aren't).). The Court should, and will, AFFIRM the decision of the Seventh Circuit. In fact, the affirmance should be unanimous, leaving only the question why they bothered to take the case.

posted by sam 11:21 AM 0 comments


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