George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On April 27, 2017, a federal judge in North Carolina refused to dismiss a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit against Duke University and some of its faculty. The suit alleges that Duke knowingly falsified medical research data in order to get federal grants. According to the judge, the whistleblower in the suit had adequately stated his case against the defendants.

The case was originally filed in West Virginia but was later transferred to a federal district court in North Carolina. The full case caption is United States of America, ex rel. Joseph M. Thomas, Plaintiff, vs. Duke University, Duke University Health System, Inc., William M. Foster, Ph.D., and Erin N. Potts-Kant, U.S. Dist. Ct. Middle Dist. N.C., Case No. 1:17-cv-276.

Click here for a copy of the Amended Complaint filed on November 13, 2015.

Denied Motion For Dismissal.

In a three-page order, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles denied dismissal motions by Duke and two defendants. Judge Eagles did not elaborate on her decision beyond saying that plaintiff and whistleblower Joseph M. Thomas had brought claims upon which relief could be granted.

To read the order for this case in full, click here.

The Whistleblower Suit.

The whistleblower, Joseph Thomas, was a laboratory research analyst in the Pulmonary, Asthma and Critical Care Division of Duke University Health Systems during the alleged violations. He originally filed his complaint in the Western District of Virginia in May of 2013. He accused the defendants of violating the FCA by faking data in an effort to get money from various federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health.

One of the defendants was a clinical research coordinator in that same division and is charged with directly manipulating the research in question. The second defendant, a research professor of medicine, was her direct supervisor.

Repercussions of Clinical Research Fraud and Misconduct.

An accusation, even if later proven to be unfounded, may unfairly tarnish the personal and professional reputation of the researcher and institution. Findings of research misconduct can result in exclusion from grants, termination of employment, and possible civil and criminal penalties. Obtaining an experienced attorney at the earliest stages of an investigation can help the researcher to avoid many pitfalls and mistakes that can harm or even give up defense opportunities the researcher may have. At the very least, legal guidance can assist in presenting the researcher’s side of the case in an effective and organized manner that does not compromise a legal defense.

Going out and retaining an aggressive trial attorney who is unfamiliar with such matters can often be counter-productive and actually lessen the chances of a researcher coming out of an investigation unscathed.

To learn more on this topic, watch our informational video blog here.

To learn how The Health Law Firm can assist if you find yourself facing accusations of research fraud or misconduct, read one of my prior blogs here.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Clinical Research Fraud and Misconduct.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys have experience in representing researchers, investigators, academicians and clinicians who are the subject of clinical research fraud and misconduct. The Health Law Firm and its attorneys also have experience in representing students, employees, researchers, investigators and “whistle blowers” who report such matters including those who become the victim or reprisals and retaliation by the person against whom the report is made. Don’t wait. Obtain the advice and counsel of experienced attorneys who are familiar with such matters and can assist you before it is too late.

If you are facing research misconduct or research fraud accusations, please visit our website for more information at or call The Health Law Firm at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.


Kennedy, John. “Duke Can’t Drop Whistleblower’s False Research Data Suit.” Law360. (April 27, 2017). Web.

Hofstra, Patricia. “Research Misconduct False Claims Act Lawsuit Upheld.” Duane Morris Law Firm. (April 27, 2017). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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