(CN) - Halliburton and KBR can redact portions of their motion to dismiss claims that they knowingly billed the United States for fictitious services, a federal judge ruled.
The whistle-blower, Benjamin Carter, worked as a reverse osmosis water purification unit (ROWPU) operator for Halliburton's former subsidiary KBR in Iraq from January 2005 to April 2005.
In a 2011 lawsuit against Halliburton; KBR; its predecessor, Kellogg Brown & Root; and Service Employees International, Carter accused the defense contractors of fraudulently billing the United States for water-purification services on U.S. military bases in Iraq that were never actually performed.
KBR "required [Carter] to fill in timecards stating that he worked 12 hours a day, each day with uniformity, on ROWPU function," but he "actually worked 0 hours per day on ROWPU functions," the complaint states.
Federal statute requires that such claims are kept under seal for at least 60 days, during which time the government may elect to intervene. Carter has filed two near-identical cases before, both of which were beset by legal missteps and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
In Carter's third attempt to pursue his claims, the defendants moved to file a sealed brief in support of their motion to dismiss. Carter also moved to seal portions of his opposition brief and other responses.
In a prior version of this case, the parties agreed to a protective order regarding the disclosure of confidential information, but no protective order has been filed in this case.
Last week, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris granted Halliburton's motion to seal in part. Carter will not have the same privilege, however.
"Because defendants' discussion of the under seal action is confined to certain portions of their brief, there is a less drastic remedy than sealing the brief in toto," Cacheris wrote. "The confidentiality of the under seal action may be preserved by redacting any and all references made thereto."
"The remainder of the brief concerns matters of public record, which are of interest to the general public," he continued.
But Carter's motion to file a sur-reply does not pertain to the sealed action, the judge found. Rather it refers only material designated confidential in the earlier protective order, which is not binding in this matter.
"Carter makes no argument as to why the public's right of access to these matters is outweighed by competing interests," Cacheris concluded.
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