MOUNT VERNON — The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court has determined Illinois Eastern Community Colleges trustees can be sued under the Illinois False Claims Act.
Former mine safety instructor Phillip Edmondson sued the IECC board of trustees in 2016, alleging the college inflated the number of miners who took classes as well as the number of training hours for those who did participate. St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Stephen McGlynn rejected the board’s motion to dismiss on grounds of lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
McGlynn later certified a question for the Fifth District Appellate Court, asking if a “state” under the IFCA could also be considered a “person” liable to the state under the same act.
Justice Melissa Chapman wrote the opinion issued Aug. 14. Justices Judy Cates and John Barberis concurred. The panel said a 1991 revision of the IFCA broadly defines the term state to include community colleges, and “there is no doubt that a private relator can bring a False Claims Act suit to recover damages on behalf of a local entity.”
The law does not, however, define the term person, but general state law principles allow “person” to include “bodies politic and corporate,” according to Chapman. As such, Edmonson is allowed to accuse IECC of defrauding the state, the panel continued, as long as the state of Illinois and IECC are not considered the same “state” entity.
IECC argued lawmakers clearly expanded the definition to keep government bodies from suing each other under the IFCA.
That argument, Chapman wrote, “overlooks the very nature of the concept of justiciability and would lead to an absurd result.” The panel further explained that the college and state government clearly have adverse legal interests, a concept it said was already recognized in other contexts.
The panel further noted the state law is based on the federal False Claims Act, under which the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed local governments to be held liable for fraudulent federal claims. With the certified question answered, Edmonson’s complaint can continue.