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United States v. Rockwell Int'l Corp.

Citation: 28 ELR 20361
(08/26/1997)

The court holds that the U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to intervene in a qui tam suit filed against a corporation for violations of the False Claims Act did not breach a plea agreement in which the corporation pled guilty to 10 environmental criminal charges. The government promised not to sue or take other administrative action against the corporation based on violations of certain environmental statutes; however, the plea agreement expressly excludes the issues raised in the qui tam suit from the government's promise not to sue. The court first holds that the parole evidence rule forbids the corporation from offering extrinsic evidence to prove its reasonable understanding that the plea agreement contained an additional term. The written plea agreement appears on its face to be completely integrated. It contains no promise by the government limiting its ability to intervene in the qui tam suit to a showing of good cause. Not only is the term "good cause" absent from the written plea agreement, the only covenant by the government not to sue specifically excludes the qui tam suit.

The court next holds that the district court was correct to conclude that the government's efforts to intervene in the qui tam suit were not breaches of the plea agreement. In light of the agreement's complete integration into the writing, any understanding to the contrary is simply unreasonable. The court also holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the corporation an evidentiary hearing. The corporation's attorneys simply could not have understood the plea agreement to include a term not within the completely integrated written instrument, and the district court merely held the corporation to that same understanding. The evidence proffered by the corporation could not reasonably have led it to the understanding it now asserts.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Harold A. Haddon
Haddon, Morgan & Foreman
150 E. 10th Ave., Denver CO 80203
(303) 831-7364

Counsel for Defendant
Douglas N. Letter
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice. Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Briscoe and Logan, JJ.