In Gunn v. Credit Suisse Group AG., No. 13-4738, 2015 WL 1787011, — F. App’x — (3d Cir. Apr. 21, 2015) (unpublished), the Third Circuit joined the District of Columbia, Second, Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits, in holding that a pro se relator cannot maintain a qui tam action after the government has declined to intervene. Here, the relator, who was also proceeding in forma pauperis, alleged that Nikole Shelton and Credit Suisse AG Group engaged in unlawful mortgage practices by fraudulently altering documents that were submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, and furthermore, had “tricked” courts throughout the country into accepting these counterfeit documents.
After the Government declined intervention, the district court screened the complaint and notified the relator that his claims were “subject to summary dismissal given the simple fact that [the relator], who is not an attorney, was not qualified to represent the United States.” The lower court warned the relator that he needed to obtain counsel and file an amended complaint. However, the relator instead filed a motion for reconsideration arguing that he should be allowed to proceed pro se because he was “best suited to pursue this qui tam action given his special ‘securitization’ knowledge.” The court denied the motion and ordered the clerk to close the case.
In affirming the lower court’s dismissal, the Third Circuit explained that United States remains an interested party regardless of whether it intervenes and while pro se relators are entitled to maintain and conduct their own cases, they cannot pursue claims on behalf of others—including the United States. The Third Circuit also rejected the relator’s contention that the lower court was obligated to sua sponte appoint counsel to represent him, explaining that the relator had repeatedly been warned that he needed to obtain counsel and simply failed to follow the court’s advice.
In affirming the lower court’s dismissal, the Gunn court reiterated the common sense—yet sometimes overlooked—principle of qui tam litigation that even where the United States has declined to intervene, it remains the real party of interest. Furthermore, while pro se relators are certainly held to a lesser standard than parties represented by counsel, this deference is not unlimited as the Gunn court refused to allow the relator an additional chance to amend its complaint after he failed to the heed the court’s instruction.