On Jan. 7, 2019, McDonald Hopkins attorneys Jennifer D. Armstrong and Peter D. Welin, representing the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, successfully defeated a relator’s petition for certiorari in a False Claims Act case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
This is the second time the Supreme Court has declined to hear the dispute from the relators, who claimed the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District violated a flood control agreement with the federal government dating from 1939 by retaining and opening watershed land up to oil and gas extraction – and in doing so, subjected the MWCD to liability under the False Claims Act because of fracking and water payments gained from the land. In affirming the district court’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit for failure to state a claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the relators had not plausibly shown that the fracking leases violated MWCD’s obligations to the federal government.
“It is not enough that a defendant was aware of an obligation and failed to fulfill it; rather, the defendant must have been aware (or deliberately ignored or recklessly disregarded) that its actions violated the obligation,” the Sixth Circuit said.
An article by Law360, states “Jim Pringle, chief counsel for MWCD, said Monday that the conservancy district was ‘gratified to have this litigation concluded.’ He noted that the FCA public disclosure bar had been found to apply in the relators’ previous suit, which he said showed that “all of the activities of the conservancy district with respect to mineral development were conducted in full view of the public.”
The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce the effects of flooding and conserve water for beneficial public use. It is the largest conservancy district in the state of Ohio and is a partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the operation of the system of dams and reservoirs in the Muskingum River Watershed.