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United States ex rel. Cody v. Mantech International Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

May 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ex rel., KEVIN CODY and MUGE CODY, Plaintiffs,
v.
MANTECH INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Anthony J. Trenga United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, for a New Trial [Doc. No. 127] (the “Motion”), filed on behalf of Defendant ManTech International Corporation (“ManTech” or “Defendant”). At the conclusion of Plaintiffs' case, ManTech moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). The Court reserved ruling on this motion. Following Defendant's case, the Court submitted the action to the jury, which returned a verdict against ManTech and in favor of Plaintiffs Kevin Cody (“Mr. Cody”) and Muge Cody (“Mrs. Cody”) (collectively, the “Codys” or “Plaintiffs”) for unlawfully terminating each of them and for compensatory damages for emotional distress in the amounts of $500, 000 to Mr. Cody and $300, 000 to Mrs. Cody. ManTech timely filed the Motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).

         ManTech contends in its Motion that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the evidence presented at the jury trial is insufficient (1) to establish causation between Plaintiffs' filing of this qui tam suit and ManTech's terminations of them and (2) to support the award of damages for emotional distress. Alternatively, ManTech contends that (1) the verdicts are against the weight of the evidence and a new trial should be granted and (2) the damages awards are excessive and should be remitted. For the reasons below, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. It is granted insofar as the Court finds the evidence at trial insufficient to support the jury's compensatory damage awards for emotional distress and is otherwise denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As the evidence presented at trial, the Codys are former executives of ManTech, a multinational government contractor specializing in providing technological services to the United States Government, including its armed services. Mr. Cody began his employment with ManTech in 1990. He rose steadily within ManTech, eventually becoming President of the Business Unit that managed large contracts with the United States Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (“TACOM”) for the maintenance of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (“MRAP”) vehicles in Afghanistan and Kuwait. Mrs. Cody began her employment with ManTech in 2001. Mrs. Cody also did well at ManTech, becoming Vice President in May 2009 and in that role serving as the program manager for the 5-year cost-reimbursement contract for the MRAP program that ManTech secured in May 2012 (the “MRAP Contract”). In 2011-12, the Codys, in particular Mr. Cody, had disputes with other ManTech executives regarding the pricing in ManTech's bids for the MRAP Contract. In short, the Codys believed that reduced pay to the employees working in Afghanistan and Kuwait proposed in the bids would be unsustainable in practice and rendered ManTech's bids misleading.

         This dispute persisted, and on December 12, 2013, the Codys filed under seal this qui tam action, in which they alleged that ManTech defrauded the United States in violation of the False Claims Act (“FCA”). On November 18, 2014, the United States filed a notice declining to intervene in the suit, which became unsealed on November 21, 2014. On December 23, 2014, counsel for the Codys sent a letter to ManTech instructing it to preserve evidence related to the Codys' claims against ManTech for violations of the FCA and related statutes. On January 8, 2015, the Codys, through counsel, served ManTech with a copy of the original complaint. On January 12, 2015, ManTech informed the Codys that it was performing an internal investigation into whether ManTech had committed any FCA violations and that it was placing them on paid administrative leave during the pendency of that investigation.

         On March 8, 2015, Mr. Cody learned that he would be terminated effective March 20, 2015. Kevin Phillips, ManTech's President and Chief Operating Officer, testified that Mr. Cody was terminated, along with a number of other senior executives, due to a sharp decline in ManTech's revenue due to the United States' drawdown in Afghanistan and other arenas. On June 17, 2015, ManTech informed Muge Cody that she would be terminated effective July 1, 2015. Mike Brogan, Senior Vice President at ManTech, testified that ManTech terminated Mrs. Cody because the Army eliminated her MRAP Contract program manager position, along with the deputy program manager position.

         On February 25, 2016, ManTech moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' original complaint. In response, the Codys filed their First Amended Complaint on March 16, 2016, in which they abandoned the qui tam claim for violation of the FCA. Instead, the Codys asserted only claims for retaliation in violation of the FCA, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h), and the Defense Contractor Whistleblower Protection Act, 10 U.S.C. § 2409.

         On September 14, 2016, the Court granted ManTech's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims for retaliation based on conduct other than the filing of this qui tam action, finding that none of the Codys' other relied upon conduct constituted “protected activity” that could sustain a claim for retaliation.

         Because there is no dispute that their terminations constituted adverse employment actions, the only issue for the jury to decide with respect to liability was whether there was sufficient causation between the filing of this qui tam action and Plaintiffs' respective terminations. At trial, the parties stipulated to the amount of back pay damages each Plaintiff would be entitled to receive should they prevail on the issue of liability and also agreed that in the event of liability, the issue of front pay was for the Court to decide, leaving compensatory damages for emotional distress as the only damages issue for the jury to decide. The jury found that ManTech unlawfully terminated the Codys in retaliation for their filing of this qui tam suit and awarded damages for emotional distress in the amount of $500, 000 to Mr. Cody and $300, 000 to Mrs. Cody.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 50(b) “tests the legal sufficiency of a claim, that is, it assesses whether the claim should succeed or fail because the evidence developed at trial was insufficient as a matter of law to sustain the claim.” Belk, Inc. v. Meyer Corp., 679 F.3d 146, 155 (4th Cir. 2012). Relief under Rule 50(b) should be granted only if “the plaintiff's case is, as a matter of law, so weak that no rational jury could find in favor of the plaintiff.” Id. at 161. In deciding a motion under Rule 50(b), the Court must view abide by the following precepts:

In determining whether the evidence is sufficient the court is not free to weigh the evidence or to pass on the credibility of witnesses or to substitute its judgment of the facts for that of the jury. Instead it must view the evidence most favorably to the party against whom the motion is made and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the evidence.

Whalen v. Roanoke Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 769 F.2d 221, 224 (4th Cir. 1985) (internal quotation marks omitted). If there is evidence on which a reasonable jury may find in favor of the plaintiff, the judgment should be affirmed. Price v. City of Charlotte, N.C. , 93 F.3d 1241, 1249-50 (4th Cir. 1996); see also Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., 290 F.3d 639, 645 (4th Cir. 2002) (“if reasonable minds could differ, we must affirm”). Further, “[j]ury verdicts are entitled to the utmost ...


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