Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Civil Division represent the United States, its agencies, and its officers in civil cases and matters. In special circumstances, Assistant U.S. Attorneys are authorized to represent federal officers and employees in their personal capacities. Otherwise, Assistant U.S. Attorneys are not authorized to provide legal advice or representation to private individuals.
Major Areas of Civil Division Responsibility
In Affirmative Civil Enforcement (ACE) matters, the Civil Division attempts to recover government money lost due to fraudulent claims or false statements, and to impose penalties for violations of federal health, safety, or environmental laws. ACE matters arise in many contexts, involving many federal agencies. Many of these matters involve health care fraud. ACE matters may be pursued in parallel proceedings, that is, both criminally and civilly.
The False Claims Act (FCA) provides remedies where false claims have been submitted to obtain federal funds, such as fraudulent claims by contractors and vendors. The FCA permits the government to recover treble damages and penalties in cases with merit. The FCA claim may be referred by a federal agency or it may be brought in a qui tam “whistleblower” suit. When a “whistleblower” suit is filed, the agency involved and the ACE staff will investigate the allegations in the complaint and determine whether the United States should intervene in the lawsuit.
The Civil Division’s activity in the enforcement of environmental laws has involved primarily the Clean Water Act, and commonly involves collaboration with the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.
Applicants for disability benefits under the Social Security Act can seek review in federal district court if their application is denied. The district court reviews the administrative record to determine whether the evidence supports the denial of benefits. The U.S. Attorney’s Office argues on behalf of the Commissioner of Social Security in these cases.
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) waives the sovereign immunity of the United States to permit claims for damages based on acts or omissions of federal employees within the scope of their employment. Generally, but with important exceptions, the FTCA makes the United States liable for tortious acts to the same extent that a private individual would be liable under state law. For example, Civil Division attorneys defend FTCA cases involving allegations of medical negligence at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. Negligence claims can arise from motor vehicle accidents involving federal employees and from injuries sustained on federal property such as a fall in a post office lobby. Before an FTCA suit can be filed in federal court, an administrative claim must be filed with the federal agency involved.
The Civil Division defends lawsuits filed against federal agencies alleging claims for discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, or disability. Federal employees who believe they have a claim for discrimination against their agency must exhaust administrative remedies through the EEO process before filing a suit in federal court. The United States Attorney’s Office is not involved in discrimination suits against private employers; those cases are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission or the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
The Civil Division is also involved in the enforcement of civil rights laws. In recent years, the primary focus of its work in this area has been Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, involving state and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial establishments. It investigates selected complaints of ADA violations in these areas received by this office directly from private citizens or entities, or that are referred to this office by the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In addition, the Civil Division sometimes undertakes investigations of possible ADA violations without a private complaint, where there is reason to believe that there may be a significant pattern of noncompliance with the ADA. Where ADA violations are found to exist, the Civil Division takes action, often in conjunction with the Civil Rights Division, to bring about compliance. Ordinarily, this occurs without litigation.
The Civil Division is also the host and organizer of the Kansas-Missouri Disability Rights Working Group, which on a periodic and ongoing basis brings together disability rights organizations from across Missouri and Kansas, together with representatives of the Department of Justice and other government agencies involved in disability rights issues, to discuss current problems and priorities in the field, and potential solutions
The United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoner (USMCFP), located in Springfield, Mo., is the source of a wide variety of litigation for the Civil Division. When inmates seek to challenge the confinement conditions at the prison, including their medical care, as well as the imposition of their sentences, they file habeas petitions. The Civil Division responds to the habeas petitions and handles any resulting litigation. Additionally, USMCFP inmates frequently file Bivens actions against prison staff when they feel their constitutional rights have been violated, as well as actions against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The Civil Division defends prison staff members against inmate Bivens claims and the government against prisoner FTCA claims. The Civil Division, in conjunction with legal staff at the USMCFP, is also responsible for initiating and litigating prisoner mental health commitments under 18 U.S.C. §§ 4245 and 4246.
• The United States Attorney's Office does not represent private citizens, and Assistant United States Attorneys are not authorized to provide legal opinions or legal advice to private citizens. Persons seeking legal advice can frequently obtain help from a local bar association such as the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association's lawyer referral service.
• Consumer complaints about products, services and businesses, should be addressed to agencies such as the Missouri Attorney General's consumer protection hotline, 800-392-8222.
• Lawsuits against the United States and federal agencies are commenced by filing a complaint in the appropriate United States District Court, and then serving process as prescribed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 4(i).
• Tort claims for personal injuries or property damage must be presented to the appropriate agency for determination before a lawsuit can be filed against the United States. For example, a personal injury claim arising from a fall in a post office must first be presented to the United States Postal Service. Forms for submitting such claims are available from the agencies.
• Parties to litigation not involving the United States must follow the procedures set forth in 28 C.F.R. § 16.21, et seq., to obtain testimony from employees of the Department of Justice. Other federal agencies have similar regulations. Persons seeking information from federal agencies should make requests to the appropriate agency under the Freedom of Information Act.