Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765 (2000)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit

No. 98-1828. Argued November 29, 1999—Decided May 22, 2000

Under the False Claims Act (FCA), a private person (the relator) may bring a qui tam civil action "in the name of the [Federal] Government," 31 U. S. C. 3730(b)(1), against "[a]ny person" who, inter alia, "knowingly presents . . . to . . . the . . . Government . . . a false or fraudulent claim for payment," 3729(a). The relator receives a share of any proceeds from the action. 3730(d)(1)-(2). Respondent Stevens brought such an action against petitioner state agency, alleging that it had submitted false claims to the Environmental Protection Agency in connection with federal grant programs the EPA administered. Petitioner moved to dismiss, arguing that a State (or state agency) is not a "person" subject to FCA liability and that a qui tam action in federal court against a State is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The District Court denied the motion, and petitioner filed an interlocutory appeal. Respondent United States intervened in the appeal in support of respondent Stevens. The Second Circuit affirmed.

Held: A private individual may not bring suit in federal court on behalf of the United States against a State (or state agency) under the FCA. Pp. 771-788.

(a) A private individual has standing to bring suit in federal court on behalf of the United States under the FCA. Stevens meets the requirements necessary to establish Article III standing. In particular, he has demonstrated "injury in fact"—a harm that is both "concrete" and "actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical." Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U. S. 149, 155. He contends he is suing to remedy injury in fact suffered by the United States—both the injury to its sovereignty arising from violation of its laws and the proprietary injury resulting from the alleged fraud. The concrete private interest that Stevens has in the outcome of his suit, in the form of the bounty he will receive if the suit is successful, is insufficient to confer standing, since that interest does not consist of obtaining compensation for, or preventing, the violation of a legally protected right. An adequate basis for Stevens' standing, however, is found in the doctrine that the assignee of a claim has standing to assert the injury in fact suffered by the assignor. Because the FCA can reasonably be regarded as effect-


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