Freedom of Information Request Can’t Be Used for Whistle-Blower Suit, Supreme Court Says
Whistle-blowers hoping to recover money by suing government contractors for alleged fraud can’t base their suits on information collected in freedom of information requests, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.
The Supreme Court ruled (PDF) against whistle-blower Daniel Kirk in a 5-3 opinion, according to the Associated Press and United Press International. Kirk had alleged his former employer, Schindler Elevator Corp., misreported the numbers of veterans it employed, and had supported his allegations with information gleaned from requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
Kirk sued under the False Claims Act, which authorizes private whistle-blower suits to combat government fraud. The law, however, does not allow the suits to be based on public disclosure of allegations “in a congressional, administrative or Government Accounting Office report, hearing, audit or investigation.” Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the FOIA information was a “report” within the meaning of the law.
Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented in an opinion joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. The majority opinion “severely limits whistle-blowers’ ability to substantiate their allegations before commencing suit,” Ginsburg wrote.
The case is Schindler Elevator Corp. v. United States.