A Federal U.S. court in North Carolina has denied a motion to dismiss a major lawsuit filed against Duke University and two former employees, allowing the case to go forward.
Last year, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Virginia unsealed a whistleblower lawsuit filed by another former employee at Duke against the university, a biologist and her former supervisor, alleging they included fraudulent data in applications and reports involving more than 60 grants. The total amount: $200 million. If successful, Duke may have to refund three times the amount of allegedly ill-gotten gains, and the whistleblower could himself receive millions.
In general, sidestepping motions to dismiss increases the likelihood a case will succeed, especially this type of whistleblower lawsuit, filed under the False Claims Act. The next step: Discovery, in which both sides will start sharing documents and deposing witnesses.
John Thomas, a partner at Gentry Locke who is representing the whistleblower in the case, declined to comment. We received the same response from a spokesperson at Duke.
Last month, the district court judge of the Western District of Virginia, where the case was originally filed, ruled in favor of Duke’s request to move the case to Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is located.
When we wrote about this case last August for Science, an attorney who specializes in these types of cases told us it could set a precedent:
The Duke case “should scare all [academic] institutions around the country,” says attorney Joel Androphy of Berg & Androphy in Houston, Texas, who specializes in false claims litigation. It appears to be one of the largest [false claims act] suits ever to focus on research misconduct in academia, he says, and, if successful, could “open the floodgates” to other whistleblowing cases.
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