The Sovereign, Not the Plaintiff, Is King

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 04, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

John D. King was mad when he discovered the government had settled a case for $7.5 million -- because it was his case!

Or so he alleged in King v. United States Government. King said the government secretly settled his qui tam action, which he had initiated on behalf of the federal government.

In that underlying case, he claimed several corporations violated the False Claims Act. But to get a share of the recovery, he had to get around the United States' sovereign immunity.

Sovereign Immunity

A trial judge had dismissed the qui tam case because King violated discovery rules. In the meantime, the U.S. was investigating his claims.

After the federal government settled with the defendants for costs incurred in the investigation, King sued the government. The district court said his claim was barred by sovereign immunity.

On appeal, King argued the government waived its immunity under Sections 3730 of the False Claims Act. The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The appeals court said the Act provides "no express waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States for a collateral attack on a settlement between the government and a qui tam defendant."

"Different Kind of King"

To frame their decision, the judges invoked a treatise by Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner called "Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts."

"King wants to sue a different kind of king, but we are 'heirs to a system in which the sovereign, the king, was not amenable to suit,'" they wrote.

Absent a waiver, the panel said, the government and its agencies are immune. A waiver cannot be implied.

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