In March 2022, Beasley Allen Whistleblower Litigation Team secured a jury verdict for $1,438,467.74 in damages under the False Claims Act (FCA) against the Birmingham–Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) after whistleblowers alleged that the agency knew it was making false claims to federal transportation officials. One year later, U.S. District Judge Corey L. Maze affirmed the jury award and tripled the damages based on a provision in the FCA. Judge Maze also assessed civil penalties against the BJCTA for each of its 22 violations of the law, totaling $308,000. Judge Maze’s March 2023 order resulted in a final damage award of $4,623,403.22.
Larry Golston, a member of the firm’s Whistleblower Litigation Team who assisted the government with the case, said, “This case is a victory against government abuse and demonstrates why FCA cases brought by relators are essential in fighting fraud against the government and preventing bad actors wasting taxpayer’s money for their own personal benefit.”
At the center of the case is the federal funding used to help pay for a public transportation project, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) collaboration between the City of Birmingham and the BJCTA. The project was designed to update Birmingham’s inner-city transit system by connecting 25 neighborhoods.
The case began when two whistleblowers, also called relators, Starr Culpepper and O. Tameka Wren, filed a lawsuit alleging that the BJCTA flagrantly violated the Brooks Act selection requirements in selecting an architectural and engineering (A&E) services provider. The Brooks Act is a federal law that outlines the procedures for selecting vendors of such services when using federal funding. A&E service providers should be chosen based on their competency, qualifications and experience rather than by price.
The relators argued that BJCTA selected the third-most qualified A&E firm to provide all the related services for the BRT project. They claimed that instead of awarding contracts to the firm ranked as the most highly qualified A&E vendor, the BJCTA awarded contracts to a local A&E firm with political ties to the City of Birmingham’s former leadership.
The jury found that the BJCTA lied when it led the government to believe it had fulfilled the Brooks’ Act requirements. Over the last year, the parties filed post-trial motions.
The BJCTA asked the court to essentially invalidate the jury’s verdict, arguing that the relators failed to present sufficient evidence on falsity, scienter (knowledge) and materiality. The relators asked the court to issue a judgment to uphold the jury verdict because the damage amount is 100% of the grant monies the government awarded the BJCTA and assess penalties allowed by the law.
Judge Maze’s 44-page order is a comprehensive and candid analysis of how the relators’ evidence supported each BJCTA FCA violation. Most importantly, Judge Maze found that the U.S. government received no benefit from BJCTA’s noncompliant sole-sourced work.
Further, Judge Maze respected the jury’s finding of materiality throughout his analysis and directly dismissed the BJCTA’s primary argument. BJCTA argued that it should have an offset before the final damages were calculated against it. It claimed it should be credited from the A&E provider’s work because it offered the government an intangible benefit and enhanced the Birmingham transportation system. In dismissing the argument by the BJCTA, Judge Maze said, “…as a matter of policy and common sense, [BJCTA] should not be credited for satisfying one of Congress’s policy goals while violating another.”
The order also provides a sweeping, historical illustration of how the BJCTA knowingly and willfully acted against the best interest of the citizens it served as an agent of the federal government.
Beasley Allen attorneys Leon Hampton, Lauren Miles and Jessica Haynes also represented the relators. The case is United States Ex. Rel. Culpepper, et al., v. Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, et al., case no. 2:18-cv-567-CLM.