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  • Summary date: Apr 4 2023 - View Summary

    Enacts Article 51A to GS Chapter 1, which it names the Improper Action Claims Act. In GS 1-620, states that the article’s purpose is to allow citizens of the State who become aware of actions by a public entity that do not comply with legislation enacted by the State to have a cause of action against the public entity to cure noncompliance and to provide remedies in the form of damages. Defines public entity as any board, commission, department, executive department, officer, institution, and any political subdivision of the State. Also defines Attorney General, judiciary, knowing or knowingly, material, obligation, and senior executive branch official.

    Specifies that a public entity that knowingly fails to comply with an obligation shall be liable for a civil penalty of not less than $5,500 and not more than $11,000 and for the costs of a civil action to recover any of those penalties or damages. Specifies that a public entity may be sued notwithstanding any statutory or governmental immunity that the public entity could otherwise invoke in any civil action not arising under Article 51A. Requires Attorney General to investigate alleged violations of the act and authorizes the Attorney General to bring a civil action against a public entity if it finds a violation of the act. Authorizes the Attorney General to retain a portion of damages as reimbursement for costs in investigating and bringing suit, with the remainder of the proceeds to be used by the Attorney General to carry out the provisions of the act. Authorizes a civil action (the “qui tam action”) against a public entity by a private person in the name of the state, so that the private person is a qui tam plaintiff (i.e., a person who brings a lawsuit on behalf of a government entity). Sets forth procedures related to the filing of the qui tam action, intervention, and the State’s right to take over the qui tam action. Sets forth eight rights of the parties to a qui tam action.  Provides for awards of a percentage of damages to the qui tam plaintiff as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

    Enacts GS 1-621, pertaining to general provisions. Lists the following prohibited actions:

    • No court shall have jurisdiction over an action brought under Article 51B against a member of the General Assembly, a member of the judiciary, or a senior executive branch official acting in their official capacity if the action is based on evidence or information known to the State when the action was brought.
    • In no event may a person bring an action under GS 1-620 that is based upon allegations or transactions that are the subject of a civil suit or an administrative civil money penalty proceeding in which the State is already a party.
    • Unless opposed by the State, the court must dismiss an action or claim under GS 1-620 if substantially the same allegations or transactions as alleged in the action or claim were publicly disclosed by any of the following: (i) a State criminal, civil, or administrative hearing in which the State or  its agent is a party, (ii) a State legislative, Office of the State Auditor, or other State report, hearing, audit, or investigation, (iii) the news media. This subsection does not apply to any action brought by the Attorney General or when the person bringing the action is an original source of the information. Defines original source.

    Specifies that the State is not liable for expenses that a qui tam plaintiff incurs in bringing a qui tam action. Prohibits retaliation.

    Enacts GS 1-622 (pertaining to civil investigative demands), which authorizes the Attorney General to issue administrative subpoenas in relation to alleged violations of Article 51A. Sets out requirements for the production of documents. Provides for custodian of the documents and for confidentiality. Provides for judicial enforcement of administrative subpoena and specifies authorized use of the documents obtained.

    Enacts GS 1-623, pertaining to procedural matters related to the cause of action set forth in GS 1-620, including statute of limitations, intervention by the Attorney General, the burden of proof, estoppel, venue, and service of process on federal, state, or local authorities.

    Enacts GS 1-624, pertaining to remedies. Clarifies that the provisions of Article 51A are not exclusive.  Contains severability clause. Sets forth reporting requirements for settlements or judgments paid by public entities.  On or before February 1 of each year, requires the Attorney General to submit a report to the specified joint NCGA Committees on the number of qui tam cases under this Article pending in the State, the number of qui tam cases under this Article that were settled, the number of qui tam cases in which judgment was entered, and the amount of proceeds paid to qui tam plaintiffs during the previous calendar year. Authorizes the Attorney General to adopt rules to carry out Article 51A. 

    Applies to obligations existing on or after the act becomes law.