As The Recorder reported,
Four states and dozens of California cities and water districts have joined a qui tam lawsuit, unveiled this week, seeking millions of dollars in damages against a company for allegedly supplying customers with substandard PVC pipe.
The suit, brought against J-M Manufacturing Co. and its former parent company, Formosa Plastics Corp., alleges that J-M sold PVC pipe that had tensile strength below industry standards, and that the company deceived customers by choosing stronger samples for independent certification of its product. The suit also contends that under the company president, Walter Wang, it "implemented a series of ‘cost-cutting’ measures that undermined the quality of J-M’s PVC pipe products," including filling supervisory positions with less experienced managers.
In one corner, we have the Defendants:
"At JM Eagle, we stand 100 percent behind the quality of our products," said spokesman Marcus Galindo. "Any claim that Mr. Wang or anyone at JM Eagle sacrificed the quality of our product for profit is ludicrous. We’re a company that cares about more than just the bottom line."
According to the complaint, Hendrix was fired a week after he wrote a memo informing management that the tensile strength of the PVC pipe was below the standard required by independent certification agency Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
Galindo discounted that claim, saying outside agencies make unannounced visits to the company’s plants to perform regular audits of its products.
Further, Galindo noted, over the three years that the federal government investigated the claim, it "never stopped purchasing pipe from us. They have decided not to move forward and intervene in this case."
In the other corner, we have Phillips & Cohen LLP’s press release:
Nevada, Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and 39 other California municipalities and water districts have joined a whistleblower lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages from JM Eagle and its former parent company, Formosa Plastics Corp. (USA), for supplying their water and sewer systems with pipes that JM knew were substandard. …
"The decisions by so many states, cities and water districts to join this case show just how serious these allegations are," said Mary A. Inman, a San Francisco attorney with Phillips & Cohen LLP, which represents the whistleblower, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the State of Tennessee and 25 California cities and water districts. "With government entities struggling to meet their budgets, it’s particularly important for them to recover their losses from any fraud."
As a result of the investigation into the quality of PVC pipe that JM Eagle has provided, the Nevada Department of Public Works, the cities of San Diego and Sparks, Nevada, as well as at least three water districts in Nevada and California (Truckee Meadows Water Authority, North Marin Water District and Alameda County Water District) have removed JM products from their approved-products lists for purchases.
In a case of this size, a government’s decision to intervene or not is more political than legal. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense: when a government brings a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against one of its major suppliers, there’s a lot more at stake than a settlement or judgment.
It’s thus hard to read the tea leaves on the differing federal and state decisions. I’m sure the plaintiff’s lawyers are quick to remind that the federal government usually does not intervene, and that the non-intervention is likely a product of limited resources and the federal government’s belief that the state intervention (and the experience of the plaintiff’s counsel) will ensure the claims are prosecuted in a diligent and thorough manner.
On the flip side, I’m similarly sure the defendants’ lawyers consider the state interventions nothing more than cash-strapped states looking for "jackpot justice" from a profitable business.
An interesting one to watch, not least because the plaintiff’s claims are predicated entirely upon violation of third-party standards and codes (e.g., Underwriters Laboratories, American Water Works Association, American Society for Testing and Materials, and FM Approvals) that are incorporated into the government contracts.