Did Lance Armstrong Just Win a Major Legal Victory?
A judge dismissed several charges against the former pro cyclist and his associates, but Armstrong will still wind up in court
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Yet another chapter in the Lance Armstrong legal saga recently came to a close. However, if you were hoping for a simple storyline, well, as with all things surrounding Armstrong and the subject of doping in professional sports, there’s none to be found here.
On Tuesday, U.S. District judge Christopher R. Cooper tossed out several of the claims against Armstrong and his associates. Other claims against Armstrong still remain, however, and there's no official word yet on what the reduction in charges means in terms of potential eventual payout to the government and Landis.
Bottom line: the case against Armstrong is far from over, but here are a few of the salient new points you should know.
#1. In Case You Tuned Out After Oprah…
Here’s the recap. In June 2010, Floyd Landis, Armstrong’s former teammate, filed a lawsuit against Armstrong, his team director, the team’s holding company, and several former owners of the team.
The U.S. False Claims Act enables you, me, and Floyd, to sue on behalf of the U.S. government if we believe someone has defrauded the government. Landis alleged that, by doping to all seven of his Tour de France victories and consistently covering up the affair, Armstrong violated the terms of his sponsorship deal with U.S. Postal and, to wit, defrauded the federal government.
#2. Here’s What Floyd Landis Gets Out of the Deal
Revenge is certainly part of Landis’ motivation. According to Landis, Armstrong turned capricious once he learned that Floyd would be leaving Postal’s ranks to lead the Phonak Cycling Team. Or perhaps Landis was weary of the world’s love affair with all things Lance (recall he hadn't confessed yet), while Landis, himself, was roundly scorned as a doper, having tested positive for steroid use during his 2006 Tour de France victory. Then again, maybe Landis just wanted to collect the multi-million dollar bounty that would be his, should he topple Armstrong in court.
Really, nobody walks out of this thing looking like a winner, but this much is clear: since the federal government joined Landis’ whistleblower lawsuit back in 2013, things have looked downright dismal for Armstrong.
Armstrong clearly doped and lied on countless occasions to cover it up. His lawyers have attempted, at various times, to settle the nearly $100 million lawsuit and have it dismissed. They have also argued (among other things) that the Postal Service should have known that Armstrong was a doper and that the federal government actually reaped far more money from their sponsorship of Armstrong than they ever paid out to him.
#3. This Is a (Small) Turning of the Tide for Armstrong
Armstrong, of late, has seemed more confident about his chances in court. During a recent interview with Joe Rogan, Armstrong vowed to fight to the end. “After the dozen previous lawsuits,” said Armstrong, “I'm not in a position to really cut any more checks, so I'm in a position where I have to fight this one out.”
As of Tuesday’s ruling, Armstrong has more of a fighting chance. The case against Armstrong and associates previously included both direct false claims and reverse false claims.
#4. And There Are a Whole Lot of Murky Legal Terms
In a direct false claim, someone lies to the government in order to get paid by the government. In essence: “Hey, Postal Service, I’m winning these races fair and square; hand over that sponsorship check you owe me.” In a reverse false claim, someone is lying in order to improperly withhold the money they owe to the federal government.
Judge Cooper tossed out several of the reverse false claim charges, in essence ruling that—despite his doping—Armstrong and his associates were not legally obliged to repay sponsorship money and thus had not illegally withheld money from the government. That said, the direct false claim charges still stand.
In other words, Lance Armstrong will still wind up in court, but he has less to answer for now.