ATLANTA, GA (WALB) - The president and a former vice president of Valdosta State University won't have to defend a lawsuit, after they appealed a Georgia Court of Appeals decision, that says a lawsuit against them by a former graduate school dean at the university.
The high court reversed the Georgia Court of Appeals decision that concluded the dean was not required under the Georgia Taxpayer Protection Against False Claims Act to obtain the Attorney General's approval before filing his suit. "Because the plain language of the statute requires the Attorney General to approve a taxpayer retaliation claim prior to filing suit, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals," the opinion says.
Dr. Alfred Fuciarelli was an assistant vice president for research and a dean of the graduate school at Valdosta State, and sued William McKinney, and Karla Hull, after he was demoted.
Fuciarelli recommended that the university put in place an electronic research administration system to better manage its grants and research programs and their funding sources. VSU approved the system, but later removed Fuciarelli as the system's budget manager and then cut off its money.
Fuciarelli complained to the administration about VSU's "noncompliance with laws, rules and regulations."
Then VSU terminated Fuciarelli's contract as assistant vice president and dean, which ended his administrative duties. He kept his faculty job, but his salary and benefits were reduced.
Fuciarelli sued the Board of Regents, William McKinney, in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as president of VSU, and Karla Hull, in her individual capacity and in her official capacity as former Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs at VSU.
Fuciarelli asserted a claim against each defendant for "False Claims Whistleblower Retaliation." A court threw out his suit because he had failed to obtain the Attorney General's written approval before filing his claims.
The Court of Appeals ruled the trial court was wrong to dismiss Fuciarelli's retaliation claims against McKinney and Hull in their individual capacities.
McKinney, the Board of Regents and Hull now appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, which has agreed to review their appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that the Georgia Taxpayer Protection and False Claims Act's anti-retaliation provision does not require Attorney General approval for retaliation claims.
The Attorney General's office argues that the Georgia Taxpayer Protection and False Claims Act required Fuciarelli to get approval by the Georgia Attorney General prior to the filing of any civil claim under the Act.
Fuciarelli's attorneys argue that the plain language of the Act does not require it.
They say otherwise, "no state public employee would be willing to come forward to disclose fraud because doing so would mean that, if the employee was retaliated against, they would have to disclose their entire case to the defense attorneys who would be defending the State against their claims…."
Attorneys for McKinney were Samuel Olens, Attorney General, Britt Grant, Solicitor General, Dennis Dunn, Dep. A.G., Annette Cowert Sr. Asst. A.G., Shelley Seinberg, Sr. Asst. A.G.
Attorneys for Fuciarelli were Brandon Hornsby and Graham Scofield