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The Civil Division

The Civil Division of the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana consists of 19 dedicated attorneys and support personnel who diligently represent the interests of the federal government in all civil litigation involving the United States, its departments and agencies and federal employees in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Civil cases represent a significant portion of the caseload of the office of the United States Attorney and cover a broad and diverse subject matter.

All lawsuits filed against the government must be defended. The Civil Division defends the interests of the federal government in the lawsuits filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana. These cases include litigation related to:

ADA/Fair Housing Enforcement

Social Security

Tort

Employment

Immigration

Land

Bankruptcy

Financial Litigation Unit

Affirmative Civil Enforcement

Freedom of Information Act

The U.S. Attorney's Office is not authorized to provide legal assistance to private citizens or to represent them.

 

Americans With Disabilities Act/Fair Housing Act

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to even the playing field for this fastest-growing segment of our society. The Department of Justice is tasked with enforcing those portions of the ADA related to accessibility of facilities and programs. The Civil Division has successfully pursued a number of such issues locally with recent efforts resulting in amicable agree-ments to make Dillard University and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival accessible to persons with physical and other covered disabilities.

The Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., prohibits discrimination by landlords, real estate companies, banks or other lending institutions and homeowners insurance companies based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. If you believe that you have been a victim of an illegal housing practice, you may file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or file a lawsuit in federal or state court. The Department of Justice brings suits on behalf of individuals based on referrals from HUD.

 

Social Security

Applicants for Social Security benefits are entitled to seek review in federal district court following a denial of benefits by the Social Security Administration. These cases involve a review of the administrative record compiled by the Social Security Administration and are resolved through cross-motions for summary judgment without trial. Recent efforts by the Social Security Administration to clear out a huge backlog of petitions for review have caused a substantial increase in the number of district court actions filed by disappointed applicants.

 

Defending Tort Litigation

Defending tort claims filed against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) encompasses a major portion of the Civil Division's caseload. The FTCA is a waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States for tort claims based on the acts or omissions of federal employees within the scope of their employment.

The FTCA provides for liability in the same manner as private individuals under like circumstances in accordance with the law of the placewhere the act or omission occurred. The tort cases typically defended by Civil Division attorneys include personal injury claims (e.g., a slip and fall in a federal building), medical malpractice claims arising out of treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals or other federally-supported health facilities, and motor vehicle accidents involving a federal employee.

Standard Form 95 is used to present claims under the FTCA. These claims must be presented to the federal agency whose employee's conduct gave rise to the injury. While the Form 95 need not be used to present a claim, it is a convenient format for supplying the necessary information.

 

Employment

he Civil Division defends lawsuits alleging discrimination in employment filed by federal employees or applicants for employment on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age. With the enactment of the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the District has experienced a dramatic increase in employment discrimination filings. We do not expect the upward trend in employment discrimination filings to change. Employment discrimination cases continue to represent a significant portion of the Civil Division's caseload.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is not authorized to provide legal assistance to private citizens or to represent them. However, if you believe that you have been a victim of employment discrimination, you should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to find out whether you may file a charge. The EEOC as the federal agency responsible for investigating individual charges of discrimination under Title VII and is the federal agency responsible for litigating charges filed against private employers. Employees or applicants who believe that they have been discriminated against by a federal agency must file a complaint with the equal opportunity office of that federal agency.

 

Immigration

The Civil Division typically gets involved in immigration cases when aliens file habeas corpus petitions in federal district court. Aliens file habeas petitions in which they seek to review orders of exclusion, challenge the legality of detention by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), challenge the denial of parole by the INS in exclusion proceedings, or seek judicial review of an INS action, such as the denial of a request for stay of deportation.

 

Land

When a government agency requires land or an interest in land (such as an easement) to carry out a project, the property may have to be acquired by an action known as a "condemnation proceeeding." Such proceedings are filed by this Office only after attempts to amicably purchase the interest from the owner have been unsuccessful.

In recent years, expropriation (another name for condemnation) cases have involved various of the wetlands in Southeastern Louisiana. Examples of such projects include the Canaervon and Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Projects constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers to restore wetlands damaged by saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico; and numerous condemnations on behalf of the National Park Service for its Jean Lafitte National Historical Park depicted below.

Other types of litigation involving property include land use, inverse condemnation and quiet title cases. Land use cases typically involve an enforcement action brought on behalf of an agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to enjoin an owner from using their property in a manner which inconsistent with federal regulations. Inverse condemnation lawsuits, as the name implies, concern allegations of unauthorized takings by the United States and puts the government in the position of being a defendant. Such suits are based on the U.S. Constitution which forbids the goverment from taking without paying just compensation. Suits brought to quiet title arise when a citizen wishes to obtain clear title to property in which the United States claims an interest.

 

Bankruptcy

The United States becomes involved in bankruptcy cases when an individual, corporation, or partnership who owes money to the United States files for protection under the bankruptcy laws of the United States.

As the attorney for a creditor in a bankruptcy proceeding, the Civil Division seeks to protect the United States' interest in the debtor's estate by defending against objections to the proof of claim filed by the United States and by objecting to confirmation of the debtor's plan of reorganization. The Civil Division also defends against actions to discharge taxes, determine tax liability, avoid liens, sell property free and clear of federal liens or mortgages, turnover of property, and enjoin certain actions by the United States. At times, the United States seeks to have the automatic stay lifted, or to have certain cases dismissed or converted to Chapter 7. Our work, however, is different from that of the U.S. Trustee.

Most of the office's bankruptcy cases involve the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Education, although the Civil Division has also pursued cases on behalf of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Labor.

 

Financial Lititgation Unit

The Financial Litigation Unit (FLU) is charged with the responsibility of acting as the federal government's debt collector. The FLU is responsible for collecting civil and criminal debts owed the United States. The overwhelming majority of the FLU's civil collection work involves filing suit to obtain judgments on defaulted government loans such as student loans, farm loans or mortgages guaranteed by a federal agency, and then collecting those judgments. The FLU also collects judgments and settlements owed to the United States as a result of successful Affirmative Civil Enforcement cases. Criminal debts arise when defendants are sentenced by the court. These debts may be in the form of restitution to victims of crime, fines imposed by the court to penalize criminals, special assessments on each criminal conviction count, costs of prosecution and other costs, and forfeitures of appearance bonds.

Many defaulted student loans are not referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for judgment and enforced collection. Loans may be held by a guaranty agency or the U.S. Department of Education for many years before they are forwarded to U.S. Attorney' s Offices. The FLU pursues collection of defaulted student loans only after they are referred to the office by the U.S. Department of Education. If you have a defaulted student loan and have questions concerning that loan, you should contact the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-621-3115 or check out their web page.

The FLU uses the remedies provided by the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act to secure payment of these debts. These remedies include the garnishment of wages, seizure of property, and fraudulent transaction actions. In addition, the FLU conducts judgment debtor examinations and may offset funds owed to a debtor by the federal government, such as the debtor's federal income tax refund. Criminal debtors who are incarcerated may pay their debts by participating in the Bureau of Prisons' Inmate Financial Responsibility Program.

 

Affirmative Civil Enforcement

Affirmative Civil Enforcement (ACE) represents the efforts of law enforcement to pursue the civil aspects of any case in which there has been a false or fraudulent claim presented, or a false statement made to the United States, or where the public health, welfare, or safety has been threatened. These cases may be brought instead of, or in addition to, criminal prosecution. ACE encompasses a broad range of remedies, including civil actions to obtain a money judgment in favor of the United States for recovery of monies wrongfully taken from the Government, imposition of treble damages and penalties, injunctive relief, and seizures.

ACE attorneys work with criminal AUSAs and federal, state and local agencies to share information and coordinate major health care fraud cases. To facilitate the coordination of law enforcement efforts, the Civil Health Care Fraud Coordinator works together with the Criminal Health Care Fraud Coordinator and other law enforcement agencies to maximize the ACE Unit's efforts and effectively target wrongdoers. ACE attorneys also are active in state and local health care fraud task forces to improve coordination among the various agencies involved in the fight against health care fraud. At both the state and local levels, meetings are held quarterly and serve as forums to discuss various health care fraud issues.

The ACE unit has been very successful over the last several years with settlements totaling in excess of $10 million. One of the largest settlements, for $3.2 million, concerned fraudulent ship repair claims submitted to the Navy. Another $3.24 million was recovered from a medical laboratory for improper claims it submitted to HCFA.

The ACE unit is also at the forefront of fraudulent claims against nursing homes. The ACE coordinator of the Office is a member of numerous national committees exploring ways for the federal government to respond to the unique issues these cases present. He is also co-chair of the Louisiana State Nursing Home Working Group which has been cited and commended by Senator John Breaux's Committee on Aging for its efforts in this area of fraud and abuse.

 

Freedom of Information Act / Privact Act Litigation

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to request access to federal agency records or information. All agencies of the United States government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request, except for those records (or portions of them) that are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions or one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.

The Privacy Act of 1974 is a companion to the FOIA. The Privacy Act allows most individuals to seek access to federal agency records about themselves, subject to its 10 exemptions to disclosure. It also gives citizens the right to request an amendment if a nonexempt record is inaccurate, irrelevant, untimely, or incomplete, and to sue the government for permitting others to see their files unless specifically permitted by the law.

There is no one office of the federal government that handles all FOIA and Privacy Act requests. Each request must be made to the particular agency that has the records that you want. FOIA and Privacy Act requests served on the U.S. Attorney's Office are forwarded to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, processes and responds to the requests.

Both the FOIA and Privacy Act provide for administrative and judicial appeals if a requester disagrees with the decision made by an agency. A requester has the right to administratively appeal any adverse determination an agency makes on his or her FOIA or Privacy Act request. If an administrative appeal is denied, a requester has the right to appeal the denial in federal court. The Civil Division defends lawsuits filed by requesters in the Eastern District of Louisiana.