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United States ex rel. Uhlig v. Fluor Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 11, 2016

United States ex rel. Eric Uhlig, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Fluor Corp., et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued September 8, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 4:11-cv-04009 - Michael M. Mihm, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Rovner, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          FLAUM, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Eric Uhlig brought False Claims Act and retaliation claims against his former employer, Fluor Corporation, and related entities (collectively, "Fluor"). Fluor contracted with the United States Army to provide, among other services, electrical engineering work in Afghanistan.

         Uhlig says Fluor violated the False Claims Act when it knowingly breached the terms of its Army contract by using unlicensed electricians as journeymen and billing the government for the services. Uhlig also contends Fluor wrongfully terminated Uhlig as a whistleblower in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h).

         The district court granted summary judgment for Fluor. We affirm.

         I. Background

         The United States Army uses umbrella agreements known as "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity" ("IDIQ") contracts with private companies to provide support for military personnel. IDIQ contracts provide the general terms under which a contractor is to work but do not delineate specific conditions. The Army then uses "Task Orders" to assign jobs to a contractor.

         In 2007, the Army and Fluor entered into an IDIQ contract known as Logistics Civil Augmentation Program IV ("LOGCAPIV"). LOGCAPIV provided a framework for construction, maintenance, and other services in support of military personnel around the world.

         LOGCAP IV originally contained no specific provisions governing personnel qualifications. In August 2008, the Army issued LOGCAP IV Contract Modification 4, which provided:

The Contractor shall ensure that Contractor personnel ... possess a license, certification, training, and/or education commensurate with the level of duties to which they are assigned. ... Contractor will comply with the terms of this provision if Contractor develops and reasonably implements a Trades Certification and Validation Plan, as approved by the Government, utilizing the master, journeyman, or apprentice model.

         Fluor submitted a Trades Certification and Validation Plan as required by Modification 4. The Plan divided craft workers into four categories using "a combination of licenses held, education, training, and experience."

         The Plan defined a "helper" as an apprentice who works under constant supervision and a "journeyman" as a skilled craftsperson who may work with minimal supervision and possesses "verifiable minimum experience and/or holds a universally accepted certification, license and/or degree." The Plan also stated that electricians "[m]ay be required to hold a license."

         In January 2009, the government approved the Plan, making it the contractual standard by which Fluor employees' qualifications were to be established.

         In July 2009, Fluor was awarded Task Order 5, which authorized Fluor to perform a variety of services, including electrical work, at military bases in northern Afghanistan. Before Fluor, a different contractor, KBR, Inc., had been performing this work. To avoid major disruptions in service, the government requested that Fluor attempt to hire KBR employees who were already in Afghanistan. Fluor hired American and British former KBR employees, as well as employees from Bosnia, Macedonia, India, and Pakistan. The employees who were not citizens of the United States or Great Britain were referred to as "other-country nationals."

         Uhlig was one of the KBR employees that Fluor hired. Fluor gave Uhlig a one-year foreperson[1] ...


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