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United States of America ex rel Donald Little and Kurosh Motaghed v. Triumph Gear Systems, Inc.
United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Case Number: 16-4152
Judge: Nancy L. Moritz
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on appeal from the District of Utah (Salt Lake County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: Edward A. McConwell, McConwell Law Offices, Mission, Kansas (Donald E. Little,
Austin, Texas, with him on the brief), for Plaintiffs-Appellees.
Defendant's Attorney: Douglas W. Baruch, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, Washington, D.C.
(John T. Boese, Michael J. Anstett and Aaron T. Tucker, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver &
Jacobson LLP, Washington, D.C., and Jason D. Boren, Ballard Spahr, LLP, Salt Lake
City, Utah, with him on the brief), for Defendant-Appellant.
Description: This appeal arises from the efforts of several whistleblowers to navigate the
procedural minefield of the False Claims Act (FCA). See 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733. In
2012, Joe Blyn commenced this FCA action by filing a sealed complaint in the district
court. The complaint named Donald Little as Blyn’s counsel of record. Months later,
Little filed an amended complaint that named himself and a third person, Kurosh
Motaghed, as the sole relators.1 Blyn was excised from the caption—and the rest of the
amended complaint—without explanation.
Defendant Triumph Gear Systems, Inc. (Triumph) moved to dismiss Little and
Motaghed’s claims. Triumph argued that their claims are barred by the FCA’s first-to-file
rule, which prohibits new relators from intervening in a pending FCA action. See
§ 3730(b)(5). The district court denied Triumph’s motion, and Triumph appeals. Because
we conclude that Little and Motaghed’s entry into the action violated § 3730(b)(5), we
Triumph is a government contractor that manufactures aerospace gear systems.
Blyn worked as an independent contractor for Triumph, and he alleges that he witnessed
instances of fraud on the United States by Triumph. In October 2012, Blyn filed a sealed
complaint in the district court claiming that Triumph violated the FCA. The complaint
named Blyn and three John Does as relators. And the complaint identified Little as
Blyn’s counsel of record, but not as a relator.
1 Although the United States is the real plaintiff in interest in FCA actions, a
private party may serve as a qui tam plaintiff—called a relator—on the government’s
behalf. See § 3730(b)(1); United States ex rel. Milam v. Univ. of Tex. M.D. Anderson
Cancer Ctr., 961 F.2d 46, 50 (4th Cir. 1992).
In July 2013, Blyn vanished from the action. Little filed an amended complaint
that made no mention of Blyn or the John Does, either in the caption or elsewhere.
Inexplicably, in several instances, Little seems to have simply substituted his name for
Blyn’s without regard for the resulting incongruities. For example, Paragraph 24 of the
complaint alleges that “[o]n September 6, 2006, Relator Joseph Blyn went down to heat
treat and verified in person that the inspection requirements for gear inspection” were
“not being carried out.” App. 22. Paragraph 24 of the amended complaint makes an
identical allegation, but substitutes attorney Little for Blyn.2 And while the docket sheet
indicates that the original complaint was “filed by Joe Blyn,” the amended complaint was
“filed by Donald Little [and] Kurosh Motaghed.” App. 4. Oddly, none of the amended
complaint’s substantive allegations pertain to Motaghed, despite his status as a putative
After the United States declined to intervene, the district court unsealed the
amended complaint. Little and Motaghed amended the complaint twice more, and
Triumph moved to dismiss the third amended complaint on multiple grounds. As relevant
to this appeal, Triumph argued that the district court lacked jurisdiction over Little and
Motaghed’s claims under the FCA’s first-to-file rule. Under that rule, when a relator
brings a qui tam action under the FCA, “no person other than the [g]overnment may
 intervene or  bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending
2 When we asked Little and Motaghed’s counsel at oral argument to explain
these rote substitutions, he responded only that he didn’t draft the amended
action.” § 3730(b)(5). Triumph maintained that when Little filed the amended complaint,
he and Motaghed effectively intervened as new relators and replaced Blyn.
The district court disagreed. Relying on our decision in United States ex. rel.
Precision Company v. Koch Industries, Inc., 31 F.3d 1015 (10th Cir. 1994), the district
court reasoned that § 3730(b)(5)’s bar on “interven[ing]” applies only to interventions
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24—and not to additions or substitutions
accomplished through Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. The district court concluded
that Little and Motaghed entered the action through a Rule 15 amendment and,
accordingly, aren’t barred by § 3730(b)(5). The district court rejected Triumph’s
additional grounds for dismissal and denied Triumph’s motion.
The district court certified for interlocutory appeal its order denying Triumph’s
motion to dismiss. We granted Triumph’s petition for permission to file this interlocutory
After the appeal was docketed, Little and Motaghed filed a motion in this court to
amend the third amended complaint. Their proposed fourth amended complaint would
add Blyn as a plaintiff.
Triumph argues on appeal that the district court lacked jurisdiction over Little and
Motaghed’s claims. Because Triumph’s argument presents questions of subject matter
jurisdiction and statutory interpretation, our review is de novo. Niemi v. Lasshofer, 770
F.3d 1331, 1344 (10th Cir. 2014); Precision, 31 F.3d at 1017.
5 The FCA permits a qui tam plaintiff to “bring a civil action . . . for the [plaintiff]
and for the United States [g]overnment.” § 3730(b)(1). If the suit ultimately yields
damages for the government, the relator generally shares in the award. See § 3730(d)(1)-
(3). Congress intended this private cause of action to “encourage those with knowledge of
fraud to come forward.” United States ex rel. Fine v. MK-Ferguson Co., 99 F.3d 1538,
1546 (10th Cir. 1996). But to prevent parasitic and duplicative lawsuits, the FCA imposes
an important constraint on qui tam actions: the first-to-file rule. See Grynberg ex rel.
United States v. Exxon Co., USA (In re Nat. Gas Royalties Qui Tam Litig.), 566 F.3d 956,
961 (10th Cir. 2009) (“The first-to-file bar thus functions both to eliminate parasitic
plaintiffs who piggyback off the claims of a prior relator, and to encourage legitimate
relators to file quickly by protecting the spoils of the first to bring a claim.”).
The rule provides that when a qui tam plaintiff brings an action under the FCA,
“no person other than the [g]overnment may  intervene or  bring a related action
based on the facts underlying the pending action.” § 3730(b)(5). Triumph argues that
Little and Motaghed are “person[s]” who “intervene[d]” in Blyn’s action. Id. And
because § 3730(b)(5) is “a jurisdictional limit on the courts’ power,” Grynberg, United
States ex rel. v. Koch Gateway Pipeline Co., 390 F.3d 1276, 1278 (10th Cir. 2004),
accepting Triumph’s argument would spell the end of Little and Motaghed’s claims.3
3 The parties dispute whether § 3730(b)(5) is a jurisdictional rule or a claimprocessing
one. Compare Grynberg, 390 F.3d at 1278, with Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565
U.S. 134, 141-42 (2012) (clarifying distinction between those classifications). But as
we discuss below, none of the issues before us turn on this distinction. Thus, we
decline to resolve this issue.
The success of this argument turns on the meaning of the word “intervene” in
§ 3730(b)(5). In the FCA context, the Supreme Court has defined “intervention” as “the
requisite method for a nonparty to become a party to a lawsuit.” United States ex rel.
Eisenstein v. City of New York, 556 U.S. 928, 933 (2009); see id. (defining intervention
as “[t]he legal procedure by which . . . a third party is allowed to become a party to the
litigation” (alterations in original) (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 840 (8th ed. 2004))).
Under that broad formulation, intervention takes place when a non-party becomes a
party—regardless of the mechanism by which that occurs.
Rigidly applying that definition here would make for an easy resolution. Before
the amended complaint was filed, Little and Motaghed weren’t parties. After its filing,
they were. Thus, under Eisenstein’s definition, they intervened—and the first-to-file rule
would bar their claims. See Grynberg, 390 F.3d at 1278. But we aren’t writing on a blank
slate; our analysis must account for this court’s decision in Precision, 31 F.3d 1015.
There, we held that two new relators didn’t “intervene” in violation of § 3730(b)(5) when
the original plaintiff added the relators through a Rule 15 amendment. Id. at 1017-18.
Here, the district court applied Precision and determined that Little and Motaghed didn’t
We conclude that Precision isn’t controlling here. There, a corporate entity named
Precision brought a qui tam action against defendant Koch Industries. After the district
court ruled that Precision wasn’t the “original source” of the allegations set forth in the
complaint,4 Precision amended its complaint to add two individual relators. Id. at 1016.
The new relators were Precision’s sole stockholders. Id. The district court dismissed the
amended complaint, reasoning in part that the new relators intervened in violation of
§ 3730. Id. at 1017.
We reversed, explaining that
the focal point for proper analysis is the word “intervene” contained in
§ 3730(b)(5). Is that word to be interpreted in its narrow, [Rule 24] plain
legal meaning, or should it be granted greater breadth, as defendants
suggest, to include any form of joinder? Our judgment tells us the statute
implies intervention of the types set forth in Rule 24(b)(2), and the addition
of parties does not constitute intervention.
Id.; see id. at 1019 (reversing dismissal).5 And because the new relators in Precision
entered the action through a Rule 15 addition—and not a Rule 24 intervention—we
concluded that they didn’t “intervene” as § 3730(b)(5) uses that term. Id. at 1016-17.6
4 If the allegations of fraud in an FCA complaint were publicly available when
the complaint was filed, the relator must show that he was “an original source” of the
information. Otherwise, the court must dismiss the relator’s claims (unless the
government opposes dismissal). See § 3730(e)(4)(A).
5 When we decided Precision, Rule 24(b)(2) was substantially similar to the
current Rule 24(b)(1)(B). The current Rule provides that “[o]n timely motion, the
court may permit anyone to intervene who . . . has a claim or defense that shares with
the main action a common question of law or fact.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(b)(1)(B).
6 We question whether our holding in Precision remains good law in light of
the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in Eisenstein. The Supreme Court’s broad
definition of “intervention” as the “method for a nonparty to become a party to a
lawsuit,” 556 U.S. at 933, seems to include Rule 15 addition. But because we
ultimately conclude that Little and Motaghed’s entry into this action doesn’t satisfy
even Precision’s narrower definition of “intervene,” we need not decide whether
Eisenstein “invalidates our previous analysis.” United States v. Brooks, 751 F.3d
1204, 1209 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. Shipp, 589 F.3d 1084, 1090 n.3
(10th Cir. 2009)).
Precision thus established a dichotomy between addition and traditional intervention: in
this circuit, § 3730(b)(5) permits the former, but not the latter.7
But Little and Motaghed can’t rely on Precision’s narrow exception to the first-to-file
rule, because they didn’t enter this action through a Rule 15 addition.8 Rule 15
provides that “[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within . . . 21
days after serving it.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(A). Although the Rule doesn’t define the
term “amend,” we’ve held that “Rule 15(a) governs the addition of a party.” Precision,
31 F.3d at 1018. On that basis, the district court concluded that Rule 15 governed the
amended complaint because Triumph hadn’t yet been served with the original complaint.
We don’t disagree that Little and Motaghed met the Rule’s timing requirement. But under
7 Triumph argues that under Precision, newly added parties must be “related”
to the original party to satisfy the first-to-file rule. Aplt. Br. 13; see Precision, 31
F.3d at 1017-18 (“[W]hen § 3730(b)(5) speaks of intervention, it means to prohibit
parties unrelated to the original plaintiff from joining the suit to assert a claim based
on the same facts relied upon by the original plaintiff.”). And according to Triumph,
Little and Motaghed are “unrelated” to Blyn. Aplt. Br. 33. We need not decide
whether Precision imposed a relatedness requirement on new parties. At a minimum,
Precision established that the entry of new parties violates § 3730(b)(5) unless it’s
accomplished by addition. And we conclude below that Little and Motaghed didn’t
enter this action through a Rule 15 addition.
8 Although we use the word “addition” in this discussion, Blyn’s exit from the
action and Little and Motaghed’s entry into it may be better described as a
“substitution.” But because Rule 15 covers both procedures, that distinction doesn’t
change our analysis. See United States ex rel. Ritchie v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 558
F.3d 1161, 1166 (10th Cir. 2009) (“Motions to add or substitute parties are
considered motions to amend and therefore must comply with Rule 15(a).”).
We also note that their “substitution” doesn’t fit within any of the
circumstances provided for in Rule 25. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 25 (allowing for
substitution in the case of death, incompetency, or transfer of interest, and for public
officers who leave office). Accordingly, we need not decide how the first-to-file rule
interacts with Rule 25 substitutions.
the Rule, the right to amend lies solely with “[a] party.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)
(emphasis added); see Intown Props. Mgmt., Inc. v. Wheaton Van Lines, Inc., 271 F.3d
164, 169 (4th Cir. 2001) (“Rule 15 allows liberal amendment by parties, not
nonparties . . . .”). Blyn was the sole named plaintiff in the original complaint. Little and
Motaghed, as non-parties, had no right to amend the complaint under Rule 15.9
Yet amend it they did. The docket sheet indicates that the amended complaint was
“filed by Donald Little [and] Kurosh Motaghed.” App. 4. The original complaint, by
contrast, was “filed by Joe Blyn.” Id. Nothing in the amended complaint indicates that
Blyn filed it—or that he was even aware of it. His name appears nowhere in it. In fact,
the complaint’s Blyn-specific allegations morph into allegations about Little in the
amended complaint. And Blyn didn’t file a notice to the court or a motion of any kind.
He simply disappeared from the action.
On appeal, Blyn submits a declaration accompanying Little and Motaghed’s
motion to amend the third amended complaint. In that declaration, Blyn asserts that he
amended the complaint to allow Little and Motaghed to proceed as named plaintiffs after
he left the case. We decline to consider that statement on appeal because Blyn failed to
first present it to the district court. See Allen v. Minnstar, Inc., 8 F.3d 1470, 1474 (10th
Cir. 1993) (“[T]he only proper function of a court of appeals is to review the decision
9 The district court’s contrary conclusion appears to conflict with its own prior
recognition that Blyn was the original complaint’s only relator. Compare App. 115
(“[T]he original [c]omplaint was filed under seal with Mr. Blyn as the sole relator.”),
with id. (“Because Relators had not yet served the [c]omplaint on [Triumph],
Relators’ right to amend their [c]omplaint once as a matter of course had not yet
terminated.” (emphasis added)).
below on the basis of the record that was made before the district court.” (quoting Jones
v. Jackson Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 819 F. Supp. 1385, 1387 (W.D. Mich. 1993))).
It’s unclear what procedural mechanism Little and Motaghed employed to enter
the action. But it wasn’t a Rule 15 addition—or an addition of any kind. Nor could it
have been, because Little and Motaghed weren’t parties and thus had no power to amend
the complaint. That distinguishes this case from Precision, where the existing plaintiff
added the new relators. See Precision, 31 F.3d at 1018 (“Precision filed an amended
complaint which simply added William Koch and William Presley as plaintiffs.”). And
because Little and Motaghed didn’t tread Precision’s narrow pathway for would-be
relators, they intervened in violation of the first-to-file rule.
Our conclusion that the first-to-file rule bars their claims would seemingly require
us to reverse the district court’s order denying Triumph’s motion to dismiss.
§ 3730(b)(5); Grynberg, 390 F.3d at 1278. But Little and Motaghed advance four
arguments against dismissal. First, they argue that they were parties to the original
complaint—and therefore didn’t intervene—because they were two of the three John
Does. Second, they maintain that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17 precludes dismissal
of their claims. Third, they contend that their claims can’t be dismissed without consent
of the United States Attorney General. Finally, they assert that the first-to-file rule isn’t
jurisdictional. None of these arguments save Little and Motaghed’s claims from
First, Little and Motaghed seek to rely on the caption and text of the original
complaint, which referred generally to John Doe plaintiffs. Little and Motaghed argue, as
they did below, that they “started as John Doe plaintiffs and, with Blyn, amended the
Complaint to reveal their identities while the case was under seal.” Aplee. Br. 5. Because
they were already parties, Little and Motaghed contend, they didn’t intervene by filing
the amended complaint. They merely “reveal[ed] their identities.” Id.
But even assuming that Little and Motaghed were, in fact, two of the John Does—
an assumption Triumph disputes—that fact wouldn’t protect their claims from the firstto-
file rule. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “make no provision for suits by persons
using fictitious names or for anonymous plaintiffs.” Nat’l Commodity & Barter Ass’n,
Nat’l Commodity Exch. v. Gibbs, 886 F.2d 1240, 1245 (10th Cir. 1989) (per curiam); see
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a) (“The title of the complaint must name all the parties.”). True, we
have “[i]n certain limited circumstances . . . permitted a plaintiff to proceed using a
fictitious name.” 886 F.2d at 1245. But in those circumstances—which don’t exist
here10—the parties must make a “request to the district court for permission to proceed
anonymously.” Id. Otherwise, “the federal courts lack jurisdiction over the unnamed
parties, as a case has not been commenced with respect to them.” Id.; see W.N.J. v.
Yocom, 257 F.3d 1171, 1172-73 (10th Cir. 2001) (dismissing case for lack of jurisdiction
because “plaintiffs failed to request permission from the district court before proceeding
10 We permit anonymity only when there are “significant privacy interests or
threats of physical harm implicated by the disclosure of the plaintiff’s name.” Nat’l
Commodity & Barter Ass’n, Nat’l Commodity Exch., 886 F.2d at 1245. Little and
Motaghed’s alleged fear of retaliation by their employer doesn’t meet that standard.
See id. (explaining that anonymity “has not been permitted when only the plaintiff’s
economic or professional concerns are involved”).
Little and Motaghed neither sought nor received the district court’s permission to
appear anonymously. Thus, even assuming they were two of the three John Does, the
original complaint failed to “commence” the action “with respect to them.” Nat’l
Commodity & Barter Ass’n, Nat’l Commodity Exch., 886 F.2d at 1245. And any
subsequent commencement with respect to them that might have been achieved when
they filed the amended complaint was an intervention barred by the first-to-file rule. See
Next, Little and Motaghed argue that Rule 17 authorized them to belatedly
substitute themselves into the action. Specifically, they cite Rule 17(a)(1)(3), which
court[s] may not dismiss an action for failure to prosecute in the name of
the real party in interest until, after an objection, a reasonable time has been
allowed for the real party in interest to ratify, join, or be substituted into the
action. After ratification, joinder, or substitution, the action proceeds as if it
had been originally commenced by the real party in interest.
We decline to affirm on this basis. First, Little and Motaghed waived this
argument by failing to raise it in their opening brief. See United States v. Ibarra-Diaz,
805 F.3d 908, 933 (10th Cir. 2015). Second, even if we were inclined to address this lateblooming
argument, we would reject it on the merits. Rule 17 prevents a district court
from “dismissing an action for failure to name the real party in interest” without first
giving that party leave to substitute into the action. Esposito v. United States, 368 F.3d
1271, 1274 (10th Cir. 2004). For example, if a wrongful death suit is filed in the
decedent’s name, but the action should have been filed by the decedent’s spouse, Rule 17
permits the spouse to substitute for the decedent. See id. at 1274-75, 78. But here, no one
contends that Blyn—the original plaintiff—wasn’t a real party in interest. And Triumph
didn’t move to dismiss on that basis. Accordingly, we can’t retroactively construe Little
and Motaghed’s substitution as an attempt to avoid dismissal for “failure to name the real
party in interest”—the only situation to which Rule 17 applies. Fed. R. Civ. P. 17
Next, Little and Motaghed contend that their claims can’t be dismissed without
consent of the United States Attorney General. They base this argument on § 3730(b)(1),
which states that an FCA qui tam action “may be dismissed only if the court and the
Attorney General give written consent to the dismissal and their reasons for consenting.”
This provision “allows the government to resist [unfavorable settlements] and protect its
ability to prosecute matters in the future.” Searcy v. Philips Elecs. N. Am. Corp., 117 F.3d
154, 160 (5th Cir. 1997). In light of that purpose, § 3730(b)(1) only prohibits an FCA
relator from voluntarily dismissing his complaint without consent. See Brown v. Sherrod,
284 F. App’x 542, 543 (10th Cir. 2008) (unpublished) (“The consent of the Attorney
General is required only where the plaintiff seeks a voluntary dismissal of the action, not
where the district court grants a defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim.”); Minotti v. Lensink, 895 F.2d 100, 103-04 (2d Cir. 1990) (same).
Here, Blyn didn’t seek to voluntarily dismiss his complaint. Nevertheless, Little
and Motaghed suggest that the amended complaint functioned as a de facto voluntary
dismissal by divesting the district court of jurisdiction. In essence, Little and Motaghed
propose a new rule: any pleading that ultimately leads to a court-ordered dismissal counts
as a motion to voluntarily dismiss in the context of § 3730(b)(1). But they cite no
authority in support of their theory; indeed, the cases they cite appear to foreclose such an
expansive reading of § 3730(b)(1). See, e.g., United States ex rel. Shaver v. Lucas W.
Corp., 237 F.3d 932, 934 (8th Cir. 2001) (“[W]e interpret this provision to mean the
Attorney General’s consent is required only where the relator seeks a voluntary
dismissal . . . .”). And instead of acknowledging this inconsistency and attempting to
justify their proposed rule, Little and Motaghed seem to assume that we’ll adopt that
proposed rule without question. We decline to do so. Cf. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry.
Co. v. Grant, 505 F.3d 1013, 1031 (10th Cir. 2007) (refusing to address argument
because party “failed to provide arguments or authorities in support of” its position).
Finally, Little and Motaghed argue that the first-to-file rule isn’t jurisdictional but,
instead, is a non-jurisdictional rule that “bears only on whether a qui tam plaintiff has
properly stated a claim.” Aplee. Br. 15 (emphasis omitted) (quoting United States ex rel.
Heath v. AT & T, Inc., 791 F.3d 112, 121 (2015)). And based on that assertion, Little and
Motaghed contend that the order the district court certified for appeal “does not involve a
controlling issue of law . . . as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).” Aplee. Br. 12; see
§ 1292(b) (permitting party to take interlocutory appeal from an order when district court
certifies that order “involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial
ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may
materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation”).11
11 Accepting Little and Motaghed’s assertion would arguably present a basis
for dismissing this appeal—not for affirming. Cf. Kennedy v. St. Joseph’s Ministries,
Inc., 657 F.3d 189, 197 (4th Cir. 2011) (King, J., dissenting) (explaining that
appellate court can “dismiss [a] § 1292(b) appeal if it becomes apparent that review
Little and Motaghed acknowledge our previous holding that the first-to-file rule is
jurisdictional. Grynberg, 390 F.3d at 1278 (holding that first-to-file rule “is a
jurisdictional limit on the courts’ power to hear certain duplicative qui tam suits”). But
they contend that Grynberg was superseded by the Supreme Court’s intervening decision
in Gonzalez v. Thaler, which clarified the distinction between jurisdictional rules and
claim-processing rules. 565 U.S. 134, 141-42 (2012).
But even assuming that Gonzalez invalidated our previous ruling in Grynberg—a
question we don’t reach—we reject Little and Motaghed’s assertion that the district
court’s certified order doesn’t involve a controlling question of law. If the first-to-file rule
were non-jurisdictional, Little and Motaghed’s violation of the rule would nevertheless
afford a basis for dismissal. See Heath, 791 F.3d at 119 (“Even if the district court
wrongly characterized its dismissal as jurisdictional, we could sustain that judgment for
failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).”). Our conclusion that Little and Motaghed
violated the first-to-file rule thus “materially advance[s] the ultimate termination of the
litigation.” § 1292(b).
We therefore reject Little and Motaghed’s four arguments against dismissing their
After this appeal was docketed, Little and Motaghed filed a motion in this court to
amend the third amended complaint. Their proposed amendment would rename Blyn as a
was improvidently granted”). But they make this argument in their brief—not in a
motion to dismiss—and thus impliedly present it as a basis to affirm the district
court’s order. In any event, because we reject their argument, this distinction is moot.
plaintiff. Little and Motaghed note that their motion isn’t a concession that the district
court lacked jurisdiction over their claims. But they assert that if we conclude the first-tofile
rule bars their claims—as we do—then adding Blyn back into the action would
correct this purported jurisdictional defect.
As authority for their proposed amendment, Little and Motaghed cite 28 U.S.C.
§ 1653, which provides that “[d]efective allegations of jurisdiction may be amended,
upon terms, in the trial or appellate courts.”12 But § 1653 doesn’t allow for the type of
amendment Little and Motaghed propose. The statute “addresses only incorrect
statements about jurisdiction that actually exists, and not defects in the jurisdictional facts
themselves.” Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826, 831 (1989). In other
words, § 1653 doesn’t “empower federal courts to amend a complaint so as to produce
jurisdiction where none actually existed.” Id. For that reason, § 1653 doesn’t permit the
addition of a party to create jurisdiction. See Mills v. Maine, 118 F.3d 37, 53 (1st Cir.
1997) (“The unequivocal rule of Newman-Green is that section 1653 does not authorize
the addition or elimination of parties in order to create jurisdiction where jurisdiction
does not exist.”).
Little and Motaghed acknowledge this limitation of § 1653. But they argue that
they don’t seek to create jurisdiction where none existed. Because the district court had
jurisdiction over Blyn’s claim in the original complaint, they contend, the proposed
12 In ruling on Little and Motaghed’s motion, we need not decide whether the
first-to-file rule is jurisdictional. See supra Part II; Grynberg, 390 F.3d at 1278. If it
is not, § 1653 doesn’t apply and we would deny the motion on that basis. If it is, we
would deny the motion for the reasons discussed in the text.
amendment would merely correct their error of omitting Blyn from the amended
But as Triumph notes, the amended complaint—not the original complaint—is the
starting point for the jurisdictional determination. See Rockwell Int’l Corp. v. United
States, 549 U.S. 457, 473-74 (2007) (“[W]hen a plaintiff files a complaint in federal court
and then voluntarily amends the complaint, courts look to the amended complaint to
determine jurisdiction.”). It’s thus irrelevant whether the district court had jurisdiction
over Blyn’s claim in the original complaint. Even assuming the district court lacked
jurisdiction over Little and Motaghed’s claims in the amended complaint, § 1653 doesn’t
authorize an amendment to create jurisdiction. See Newman-Green, 490 U.S. at 831.
We thus deny Little and Motaghed’s motion to amend the third amended
complaint. And because our denial doesn’t rely on Blyn’s declaration in support of the
motion, we deny as moot Triumph’s motion to strike the declaration.
* * *
Little and Motaghed intervened in this action when they filed the amended
complaint. That intervention was barred by the FCA’s first-to-file rule.
Outcome: Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s order denying Triumph’s motion to dismiss.