Qui Tam Relator May Not Proceed Pre Se on Behalf of Government

The False Claims Act allows an individual (called a “relator”) to bring a civil action (a qui tam action) “for the person and for the United States Government” against persons who have defrauded the government.  31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(1).  In Stoner v. Santa Clara Office of Education, case no.  04-15984 (9th Cir. Sept. 7, 2007), the Ninth holds that a relator may not proceed pro se on behalf of the United States, anf thus the district court correctly dismissed the claim.

The general pro se statute (28 U.S.C. § 1654 [emphasis added]) provides that “parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally,” which the court notes grants only a right personal to Stoner.  Standing to sue on behalf of the government does not convert the claim into a personal one, says the court, and absent statutory authority to proceed pro se on the government’s behalf, a relator may not do so.  The absence of such a provision from the False Claims Act suggests that Congress intended qui tam cases to be subject to normal procedural restrictions that prohibit a non-lawyer from representing anyone but himself.

Ironically, Stoner, the relator in this case, is an attorney.  He just isn’t admitted in California or before the federal district court in California, where he brought suit.  On remand, the Ninth directs that he be granted time to obtain counsel or obtain pro hac vice admission to the district court.  He could have saved himself a lot of trouble by applying for pro hac vice admission in the first place.