The Georgia Court of Appeals recently ruled on a case involving interpretation of the Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act (“TPFCA”), O.C.G.A. §23-3-120, et seq., which has not been the subject of many court opinions. The TPFCA authorizes the State of Georgia to recover monies that the State or a local government lost as a result of false or fraudulent claims for public funds, and is modeled after the federal False Claims Act.
Campbell v. Cirrus Education, Inc., 845 S.E.2d 393 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020), was filed by two charter school teachers who alleged the charter school for which they worked was, inter alia, mishandling government funds appropriated for the school and that special education students were not receiving their requisite services. After reporting the school to the Georgia Department of Education (DOE), the teachers allege that they were harassed and later terminated after the DOE disclosed the results of its investigation into the school and found that it had violated federal and state laws. The trial court granted the school’s motion to dismiss, finding that the appellants were prohibited from bringing their action under the TPAFCA because (1) the school was a public employer and that the appellants were public employees; (2) the appellants had an obligation to report allegations of wrongdoing within the scope of their employment; and (3) the appellants had access to the information or records which formed the basis of the allegations.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. In so doing, the court held that a state charter school is a public entity such that the appellants were “public employees” under OCGA § 23-3-122(i). The court made clear that the TPFCA does not permit an action to be brought by a person who is or was a public employee or public official if the allegations are substantially based upon “(1) [a]llegations of wrongdoing or misconduct which such person had a duty or obligation to report or investigate within the scope of his or her public employment or office; or (2) [i]nformation or records to which such person had access as a result of his or her public employment or office.”
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection with investigations and litigation under the federal False Claims Act and its state counterparts. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.