(CN) - The government may have breached its settlement with a former federal agent who claims the Hells Angels burned down his house in retaliation for his successful infiltration of their motorcycle gang, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled.
As an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Jay Anthony Dobyns was the lead undercover agent in "Operation Black Biscuit," the first operation to successfully penetrate the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.
The 21-month undercover operation from 2001 to 2003 led to the indictment of more than 16 Hells Angels members.
But Dobyns' relationship with the ATF deteriorated after his identity became publically known. Hells Angels members threatened him with violence and death, he said, but ATF did little to protect him or his family.
When he complained to his superiors, he said the ATF launched a smear campaign against him, attacking his personal and professional reputation and claiming he wasn't fit for his job.
In September 2007, the ATF offered Dobyns $373,000 "to fully resolve and settle any and all issues and disputes rising out of [plaintiff's] employment with [ATF]."
The ATF also agreed to fully investigate any increased threats and consider relocating Dobyns if needed.
In August 2008, Dobyns' Tucson home was destroyed by arson - the work of Hells Angels, according to the former federal agent. The ATF allegedly responded by sending one investigator to the scene, 30 hours after the fire. Dobyns said the ATF botched the investigation, even naming him as a suspect in the arson and attempted murder of his own family.
The Office of Inspector General looked into Dobyns' complaints and concluded that the ATF had, in fact, bungled the investigation and had "needlessly and inappropriately delayed its responses" to two other threats.
Two months after the fire, Dobyns and his family sued the government for breach of contract and other alleged ATF actions, including harassment, discrimination, slander and defamation.
The government argued that the case must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, because the contract claims were simply tort claims in disguise.
The claims court disagreed.
"There is an express written contract here and, defendant's pettifoggery notwithstanding, plaintiff's core claims are based upon the alleged breach of that agreement," Judge Francis Allegra wrote. "That should be -- and is -- enough."
The government also tried to get the case dismissed for failure to state a claim, arguing that Dobyns' 43-page, 147-count lawsuit never pinned down how the ATF allegedly breached particular parts of the settlement agreement.
Judge Allegra acknowledged that the complaint certain several "less-developed, stray allegations" that must be dismissed, but found Dobyns' contract claims "plausible."
"In this court's view, plaintiff's contract claims have 'enough heft' to traverse the new 'plausibility' standard ... and enough factual detail to put defendant on notice as to the basic nature of the claims raised, so as to allow this case to proceed to discovery," Allegra concluded.
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