The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia recently issued an opinion that should get the attention of any contractor or subcontractor performing work on a federal funded construction project. In U.S. ex rel IBEW Local 98 v. The Fairfield Company, the federal court held that a contractor on a SEPTA project could be held liable under the False Claims Act for failing to pay its workers under the Davis Bacon Act. The court found that liability was appropriate under the FCA even through the contractor did not knowingly violate the Davis Bacon Act. The court awarded the plaintiff over $1,000,000 in damages and an additional over $1,000,000 in attorneys fees.
An Extremely Brief Primer on the FCA
A full discussion of the FCA is beyond the realm of this blog post and you could write a book on FCA cases. But in a nutshell, the FCA prohibits a contractor from knowingly submitting a claim for payment to the federal government (or an entity receiving funding from the federal government, like SEPTA) that is false. Importantly, knowingly does not equal actual knowledge of the falsity of the claim. Rather, “reckless disregard of the truth or falsity” of the submission is sufficient. As explained below, this standard played an important role in the court’s decision and should give contractors performing work on federally funded projects pause.