A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s ruling that three Ohio residents failed to assert a claim under the False Claims Act (“FCA”) in a recent lawsuit challenging oil and natural gas leases entered into by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (“MWCD”). The Sixth Circuit case, United States ex rel. Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, 6th Cir., No. 15-4406, is an appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, in which the relators challenged the MWCD’s leases under the FCA. Mealey’s Fracking Report notes that District Court Judge Sara Lioi had dismissed the suit because “it was clear the relators were not the ‘model whistleblowers’ contemplated by the FCA.”

In their appeal to the Sixth Circuit panel, the relators challenged the district court’s determinations that (1) the relators failed to state a claim under the FCA’s reverse false claim and public-disclosure provisions, and (2) the public-disclosure bar and Federal Rules of Civil of Civil Procedure 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirements applied to the relators’ claims. In affirming the district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, the majority of the Sixth Circuit panel said the relators “failed to state facts from which MWCD’s awareness of the alleged FCA violations may be inferred even under the more liberal pleading standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a).”

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