You often read about state attorneys general joining together to sue a company, in the process making headlines as “fighters” by wringing money out of a company. The lead AG’s office in one state does all the work — or farms out the litigation work to buddies in the trial bar — and the other attorneys general sign on for the publicity and political gains.
But sometimes attorneys general say “no.” Given an opportunity to tag along on an anti-business lawsuit with all the potential monetary and PR rewards, an attorney general will actually refuse the blandishments and AG peer pressure and say, “No, this suit does not serve the interest of the citizens of my state.”
Indiana’s attorney general, Greg Zoeller, is the latest state AG to make such a decision earlier this month when he declined to support a qui tam lawsuit against JM Eagle, the world’s leading manufacturer of PVC and plastic piping.
Qui tam is the Latin and legal term for whistleblower lawsuits, that is, a lawsuit by someone claiming to be revealing previously hidden accounts of wrongdoing. The term “whistleblower” generally has a positive connotation, but too often the lawsuits are filed by employees who have been fired or otherwise disciplined. Combine revenge with a profit motive — the Federal False Claims Act (FCA) allows the claimant to receive a portion of the money the government recoups — and you wind up with big incentives for frivolous or abusive litigation.
Such is surely the case with the litigation that Zoeller is refusing to support, a position shared by the AGs from California, Massachusetts and Florida. And their refusal is news.
The basics of the litigation are this: A disgruntled former employee, John Hendrix, sued the company after he was fired, claiming JM Eagle produced substandard pipe that led to burst water pipes around the country. Hendrix gained the institutional backing from the big qui tam, class-action law firm, Phillips and Cohen. The trial lawyers have been doing what trial lawyers do — recruiting more people to sue, ginning up PR, and working to damage the company’s reputation.