case law update

Appeals Court Rules No Private Right of Action for False Statements By Government

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A former federal employee terminated by the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) appealed his termination from both agencies under Title VII and also contended that NOAA violated a criminal statute that prohibits making false statements when the Agency allegedly lied about why he was terminated. 

On June 16, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit addressed whether 18 U.S.C. § 1001 creates a private right of action.

After being terminated by USAID and NOAA (both of which employed the employee through a federal contracting firm called SSAI), the employee contacted several entities, including NOAA, to determine why he had been terminated following the denial of a security clearance that the employee believed was motivated by discriminatory animus due to his national origin. After his EEOC complaint against SSAI was dismissed, the employee sued USAID and NOAA in district court, and claimed that NOAA violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001 by falsely stating during the EEO investigation that SSAI, rather than NOAA, had fired him. The district court dismissed the suit with prejudice after making judgment on the pleadings, ruling that the employee “does not have a Title VII claim against the federal government because he was a federal contractor,” and that “the employee failed to timely exhaust his administrative remedies.” The district court also found that 18 U.S.C. § 1001 does not provide a private right of action. The employee appealed to the appeals court, and the agencies moved for summary affirmance.

The appeals court noted that claims under Section 1001 are a “recurring issue,” and that it would address the issue because there were no published decisions on the issue. The appeals court observed that Congress creates federal rights of action to enforce federal laws, and that such causes of action may be created explicitly or implicitly, with Congressional intent serving as the “touchstone.” The appeals court found that Congress had created no explicit private right of action to enforce 18 U.S.C. § 1001.

The appeals court then looked to the text and structure of the statute to determine whether an implied right of action had been created. The appeals court cited Chrysler Corp. v. Brown, 441 U.S. 281 (1979) to state that the United States Supreme Court has “rarely implied a private right of action under a criminal statute.” Finding that nothing in the text of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 suggested that Congress intended to create a private right of action, the appeals court moved on to the legislative history of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. The appeals court found that 18 U.S.C. § 1001 was a Civil War statute “enacted to protect against ‘bilk[ing] the Government out of money or property.’” The statute was amended in 1934, and Congress broadened the purpose of the statute in order to “aid the enforcement of laws” and to protect “federal agencies from the variety of deceptive practices plaguing the New Deal administration.”

In 1996, the appeals court found, the Supreme Court’s decision in Hubbard v. United States, 514 U.S. 695 (1995) prompted Congress to amend the statute again to clarify that it criminalizes making knowing, willful, material false statements not only to the executive branch, but also to the other branches of government. None of the amendments, the appeals court found, indicated an intent by Congress to create a private right of action against the Government.

For the above stated reasons, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the former employee’s 18 U.S.C. § 1001.

Read the full case: Lee v. USAID and NOAA


This case law update was written by Conor D. Dirks, associate attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth, PC.

For thirty years, Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. has provided superior representation on a wide range of federal employment law issues, from representing federal employees nationwide in administrative investigations, disciplinary and performance actions, and Bivens lawsuits, to handling security clearance adjudications and employment discrimination cases.



Posted in Case Law Update

Tags: USAID, NOAA, Title VII