United States District Court, D. Connecticut
PELLUMB AMETI, ex rel. UNITED STATES, Plaintiff,
SIKORSKY AIRCRAFT CORP., UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORP., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED
FALSE CLAIMS ACT COMPLAINT [DKT. 53]
Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge.
the Court is Defendant Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation's
(“Sikorsky”) Motion to Dismiss the Amended False
Claims Act (“FCA”) Complaint. Discovery has been
stayed pending the outcome of this motion. Plaintiff Pellumb
Ameti (“Ameti” or “Plaintiff”) was
fired by his employer, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
(“Sikorsky”) in February 2014. Upon his
termination, he filed two cases that have since been
consolidated: (1) an FCA action and its related retaliation
claims; and (2) an employment discrimination and unfair
practices action. Defendant seeks to dismiss only the FCA
action, which alleges violations of the FCA, 31 U.S.C. §
3729(a)(1)(A)-(C); retaliation in violation of 31 U.S.C.
§ 3730(h); and retaliation for exercising free speech in
violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-51q. For the
following reasons, the Court DISMISSES these claims.
filed this FCA action and its related claims on August 22,
2014. See [Dkt. 1 (Compl.)]. On March 28, 2016, the
United States notified the Court of its decision not to
intervene in this action. See [Dkt. 14 (Notice of
Declination to Intervene)]. On June 20, 2016, the Court
consolidated this action with Ameti v. Sikorsky Aircraft
Corp., case no. 15-cv-235 (VLB) (D. Conn.), which raises
allegations of employment discrimination and unfair
later, Sikorsky filed a Motion to Dismiss as well as a Motion
to Stay Discovery pending resolution of the Motion to
Dismiss. See [Dkts. 39 (Mot. Dismiss), 40 (Mot.
Stay)]. On September 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Amended
Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), which eliminated
any reference to Defendant United Technologies Corporation
(“UTC”). See [Dkt. 51 (Am.
Compl.)].Defendant Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
(“Sikorsky”) then filed the instant Motion to
Dismiss on September 29, 2016. See [Dkt. 53-1 (Am.
Mot. Dismiss)]. The Court referred the pending Motion to Stay
to Magistrate Judge Robert A. Richardson, who granted the
motion on November 28, 2016. See Dkt. 61 (Order to
Stay)]. The Court now addresses the Motion to Dismiss the
Amended False Claims Act Complaint.
is a leading defense contractor that designs and manufactures
helicopters for use by all five branches of the United States
armed forces, military services, and commercial operators in
40 nations. [Dkt. 51 ¶¶ 8-9]. In 2008, Ameti was
hired as a Staff Engineer in the Blades Engineering
Department at Sikorsky's Stratford, CT plant.
Id. ¶ 10. He was transferred in November 2008
to the 53K group to work on the 53K main blade composite spar
project overseen by Frank Caputo, 53K Group Lead.
Id. ¶¶ 18-21. The project was completed in
2010. Id. ¶ 22. Thereafter Ameti was assigned
to other projects behind schedule within the 53K group.
Id. ¶ 23.
March 2012, Caputo became Design Group Lead and Richard Lay
took over Caputo's position as 53K Group Leader.
Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Ameti requested a transfer
to a different group within Sikorsky, because he believed
Caputo engaged in unfair and harassing behavior towards him
in the past, and Lay transferred him from the design
engineering group to the manufacturing engineering group led
by Corey Jones, Manufacturing Engineering Group Lead.
Id. ¶¶26-27. Kneil Northrop, Integrated
Product Team (“ITP”) Lead, became his immediate
supervisor. Id. ¶ 28.
Plaintiff's Allegations of Defective Root End Fairing
end fairings are fiberglass details bonded onto the leading
edge of helicopter blades to protect the blades'
electrical connections from water intrusion. Id.
¶¶ 31-32. As the Contractor, Sikorsky subcontracted
with GKN Aerospace, Inc. (“GKN”), whereby
Sikorsky supplied tooling and designs to GKN and GKN in turn
produced the root end fairings. Id. ¶ 34. While
working as a manufacturing engineer, Ameti came to believe
the root end fairings produced by GKN were defective
“(i) because they did not meet drawing requirements;
(ii) their laminate quality was poor; and (iii) there were
multiple defects and an incorrect trim line.”
Id. ¶ 35.
Amended Complaint, Ameti provides instances dating from May
2013 to January 2014 in which he notified others about his
belief that the root end fairings were defective. See
Id. ¶¶ 36-40. For example, throughout this
time period Ameti (1) emailed “multiple high-ranking
Sikorsky employees” about “discuss[ing] a way to
improve the defective GKN parts;” (2) he
“informed” various Sikorsky managers, including
his own, about particular defects pertaining to the fairings;
and (3) he “informed” GKN of the same.
Id. ¶¶ 36-37, 41-42. GKN agreed the
fairings it supplied to Sikorsky was substandard, but stated
the reason was because Sikorsky itself supplied old and
substandard tooling to GKN. Id. ¶ 41. GKN
recommended to Ameti that Sikorsky stop purchasing the
defective parts and purchase fairings from another supplier.
Id. ¶ 42. In response to Ameti's
investigation, GKN requested $4, 000 to improve its tooling
but never received the funds from Sikorsky. Id.
¶ 46. Purchasing Manager, Maria Spencer, explained to
Ameti that Sikorsky had a multi-year contract with GKN and
its parts cost significantly less than other suppliers.
Id. ¶ 45.
addition to Ameti's allegations that Sikorsky supplied
GKN “poor tooling, ” he avers the engineering
drawings were “not up to date.” Id.
¶ 47. Ameti filed several
“turn-backs”-“written description[s] of a
procedure failure”-in response to the outdated
drawings. Id. ¶¶ 51-52. On January 24,
2014, Tim Conti, a design engineer who had been assigned to
correct drawing errors and release them to the manufacturing
floor, spoke to Ameti and “implied that by filing a
turn-back against his group, Plaintiff put his job in
danger.” Id. ¶¶ 48, 55. Jones,
“while knowing of the defects about the fairings and
[Ameti's] complaints about the defects, emailed a request
that Ameti release defective parts from GKN that were set
aside as defective so the parts could be used in production.
Id. ¶ 58.
alleges that Sikorsky used GKN defective parts and certified
the blades met drawing requirements “while knowing that
these parts were not meeting drawing requirements and as such
were defective.” Id. ¶ 61.
“Sikorsky falsely certified that the blades met drawing
requirements and passed all quality inspections, both
in-process and final inspection.” Id. ¶
65. “Upon information and belief, Sikorsky is still
using the defective fairings on its blades.”
Id. ¶ 66. These defective blades were
manufactured on Sikorsky helicopters, which were then sold to
all five branches of the United States military. Id.
Plaintiff's Allegations of Core Crush Issues
“mid-2013” Ameti and “other members of his
group” also noticed the blades were being damaged by
what is known as a “core crush.” Id.
¶ 74. A core crush occurs when older tooling causes the
blade to be improperly designed with respect to impact damage
protection, and the blade is then crushed either during
manufacturing when secondary parts are added or during the
transportation between manufacturing units. Id.
¶ 76. Solumina is a Sikorsky system that can provide a
list of damaged blades where a core crush is the defect.
Id. ¶ 68. The query can provide the blade
serial number and discrepancy report number, upon which it
can then be determined which employee wrote the process plan
and performed the repairs and which inspector approved the
repairs. Id. From January 27, 2012, until February
6, 2014, approximately 39 discrepancy reports were filed in
Solumina. Id. ¶ 73.
noticed the core crush defects and submitted multiple
“turn-backs” describing the core crush issue.
See Id. ¶¶ 80, 82-83. Ameti alleges that,
rather than following process plans to properly repair
damaged blades, “lead men” were “cutting
corners to reduce time and lower the cost of repairs”
by using “scrap skin” to bond the patch over the
crushed core and thereby conceal it. Id. ¶ 84.
Quality Assurance Department falsely certified that the
blades met drawing requirements to satisfy the daily shipping
requirements for the blades and to pass inspections.
Id. ¶ 86. Sikorsky failed to follow proper
procedure and cosmetically bonded over the crushed core.
Id. ¶ 89. Sikorsky improperly repaired numerous
blades for Black Hawk and Navy Hawk helicopters, which it
sold to all five branches of the United States military.
Id. ¶ 90. Sikorsky then billed the Government
for the total job while using scrap skin as a patch and not
following the bond control drawings. Id. ¶ 92.
Ameti raised his concern with his supervisor and conducted a
self-initiated “internal investigation” in
January 2014, determining approximately 15 core crushes
occurred per month; he sent this information to his
supervisor, CC'ing others, on February 18, 2014.
Id. ¶ 97.
concluding his investigation, Ameti wrote a Report that
stated the defects “were directly linked (1) to a
specific tool on the Sikorsky manufacturing floor or (2)
transportation dollies used by Sikorsky.” Id.
¶ 102. Ameti circulated the Report to multiple managers
including his own. See Id. ¶ 101-02. He then
contacted outside tooling experts to obtain price quotes for
different methods and conducted a cost-benefit analysis,
concluding Sikorsky should invest in different tooling,
“which would increase Sikorsky's profits in the
future.” Id. ¶ 105. Upon circulating this
analysis to his supervisor, Ameti was told that “his
group didn't have the financial support for new
tools” but that he should enter the information in the
Sikorsky's Cost Management System, designed as a cost
cutting initiative. Id. ¶ 106.
February 27, 2014, Ameti was escorted to Human Resources and
unexpectedly terminated the next day. Id.
¶¶ 11, 116. Ameti alleges he was wrongfully
terminated for reporting defective products. Id.
¶118. He further contends, “Sikorsky is obligated
to provide safe, reliable, and quality tested products which
perform to their specifications to the Government.”
Id. ¶ 120. “By delivering and receiving
payment for Black Hawk and Navy Hawk helicopters with
defective parts, Sikorsky is impliedly certifying compliance
with the terms of its contract with the Government for the
products and implying that the product met Government
standards and were safe and reliable.” Id.
¶ 121. Ameti believes he “attempted to prevent
Sikorsky from continuing to submit false claims to the
government by reporting its fraudulent misconduct to his
superiors but Sikorsky took no steps to stop or remedy the
fraud.” Id. ¶ 122.