United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ex. rel. RONALD BIAS
TANGIPAHOA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
the Court is Defendant Tangipahoa Parish School Board's
motion for judgment on the pleadings. R. Doc. 195. Plaintiff
opposes this motion. R. Doc. 213. Additionally, before the
Court are cross-motions for summary judgment from relator
Ronald Bias, and the sole remaining Defendant Tangipahoa
Parish School Board (“TPSB”). R. Docs. 197, 206.
Having considered the parties' briefs and the applicable
law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.
action arises out of an alleged misappropriation of United
States Marine Corps (“USMC”) funds and resulting
retaliation. On November 1, 2006, relator Ronald Bias retired
from the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel. Following his
retirement, he was employed by the Tangipahoa Parish School
Board as a senior marine instructor for the Junior
Officers' Training Corps ("JROTC") at Amite
High School. On June 18, 2009, the USMC contacted Mr. Bias to
inform him that it had mistakenly allowed him to retire two
years early. As a result of this error, the Marine Corps paid
Mr. Bias $106, 000 for which he had been ineligible.
Accordingly, he was provided with the option of repaying
those benefits or re-enlisting for a period of 15 months so
as to become eligible for retirement. Mr. Bias chose the
latter. Although JROTC positions are ordinarily filled by
retired officers and employed by the schools, the USMC
allowed Plaintiff Bias to continue his position as a JROTC
instructor at Amite High School in order to fulfill his re-
enlistment. Therefore, Mr. Bias was to be employed by the
USMC rather than the school. According to Mr. Bias, he was
informed that he would remain at this assignment for 15
months, at which point he could either re-enlist or retire.
senior marine instructor, Mr. Bias supervised Mr. Foster, a
marine instructor and retired master sergeant in the Marine
Corps, and reported to Mr. Stant, principal of Amite High
School, both of whom were employees of the Tangipahoa Parish
School Board. Mr. Bias alleges that in September 2009, he
became aware that Mr. Foster planned to request that the
Marine Corps reimburse him for non-JROTC activities,
including an out-of-state trip by the school's
crosscountry team. Mr. Bias then notified both Mr. Stant and
the Marine Corps of Mr. Foster's intentions. However,
with Mr. Stant's approval, Mr. Foster persisted and made
the request, which was denied. As a result, in part, Mr.
Foster was decertified as a senior instructor with the JROTC.
Mr. Bias reported an additional alleged misappropriation in
April 2010, which involved reimbursement for non-JROTC
related concession stand supplies.
that month, on April 12, 2010, Mr. Bias was informed by the
Marine Corps that he would be transferred to a New Orleans
school district if he did not retire. Mr. Bias asserts that
this transfer constituted retaliation against him for
“whistleblowing.” Because Bias believed the
transfer would be detrimental to his career and would cause
considerable strain to his family, Mr. Bias chose to retire
instead of taking the assignment. His retirement occurred
sometime after he had completed his 15 months of active
service. Additionally, Mr. Bias asserts that between the time
of the reported misappropriation of funds and the transfer
order, Stant and Foster attempted to undermine his ability to
perform his job by shouting at him, badgering him at school
meetings, and spreading rumors.
September 2012, Bias filed this lawsuit against the
Tangipahoa Parish School Board as well as Mr. Stant and Mr.
Foster, in their official capacities. R. Doc. 1. He asserted
claims under the False Claims Act (“FCA”), 31
U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733, including a qui tam
action and a retaliation claim. Bias later amended his
complaint to add claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state
law against the defendants. The defendants moved to dismiss
for failure to state a claim or, alternatively, for summary
judgment. This Court, relying on Rule 12(b)(6), dismissed
Bias's FCA retaliation claim because he had not
sufficiently alleged that the defendants caused his employer,
the Marine Corps, to transfer him. The Court additionally
dismissed Bias's Section 1983 and state law claims as
time-barred. After the Court entered a scheduling order
regarding Bias's sole remaining claim, the FCA qui
tam action, Bias moved for leave to file a second
amended complaint. This was denied by the magistrate judge
and that denial was affirmed by this Court. The parties
settled the remaining FCA claim and final judgment was
entered on the previously-dismissed claims in the
defendants' favor in January 2015.
timely appealed the Court's ruling and in March 2016, the
Fifth Circuit affirmed the ruling in part and remanded in
part. R. Doc. 129. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district
court's dismissal of the Section 1983 claims and state
law claims as time-barred. However, the Fifth Circuit
reversed the dismissal of Bias's FCA retaliation claim
against the School Board and remanded it to the district
court in accordance with its opinion. R. Doc. 129. In
reversing the district court's dismissal of the claim,
the Fifth Circuit found that although Bias was employed by a
different entity, the School Board may be liable because,
under § 3730(h), liability extends to defendants
“by whom plaintiffs are employed, with whom they
contract, or for whom they are agents.” R. Doc. 129-1
at 10. The Fifth Circuit concluded, “exactly what the
relationship was between Bias and the School board is
unclear. It is plausible, though that he was, as claimed, an
agent [of TPSB].” U.S. ex rel. Bias v. Tangipahoa
Par. Sch. Bd., 816 F.3d 315, 325 (5th Cir. 2016).
Additionally, the Fifth Circuit concluded that Foster and
Stant's attempts to undermine Bias's ability to
perform his job plausibly constituted retaliatory acts.
Id. at 327.
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings. Also before the Court are the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment.
TPSB first asserts that Plaintiff Bias should be judicially
estopped from bringing the present claim because Plaintiff
failed to disclose the claim to the Bankruptcy Court during
his bankruptcy proceeding. R. Doc. 195-1 at 3-6. Plaintiff
Bias responds arguing that there is confusion within the
Bankruptcy Code and Plaintiff was not required to disclose
the present claim because he was not directed by the Court or
his attorney to do so. R. Doc. 213 at 3-4. Second, Defendant
alleges that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the
Feres doctrine because adjudication of the claims
will required the Court to improperly interfere with military
decisions. R. Doc. 197-1 at 13. Finally, Defendant argues
that it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff has
failed to satisfy the elements of the FCA retaliation claim.
R. Doc. 197-1 at 11.
motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff Bias argues that he
has satisfied all required elements of the FCA retaliation
claim. R. Doc. 206-1 at 1.
present motions raise three issues: 1) judicial estoppel, 2)
the Feres doctrine, and 3) summary judgment on
Plaintiff's FCA retaliation claim.