The federal government's $100 million lawsuit against Lance Armstrong will proceed to trial after a federal judge on Monday denied Armstrong's request to throw the case out of court.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper marks a significant defeat for Armstrong, who had asked Cooper to dismiss the case with a summary judgment ruing. Instead, Cooper sided with the federal government, which is suing Armstrong on behalf of the U.S. Postal Service and is seeking nearly $100 million in damages.
The Postal Service paid $32.3 million to sponsor Armstrong's cycling team from 2000 to 2004 and said it wouldn't have paid that if it had known the team was violating its sponsorship contract by using banned drugs and blood transfusions to cheat in races. The government now wants that money back and could have that amount tripled under the under the False Claims Act, with Armstrong possibly on the hook for all of it.
"Because the government has offered evidence that Armstrong withheld information about the team's doping and use of (performance-enhancing drugs) and that the anti-doping provisions of the sponsorship agreements were material to USPS's decision to continue the sponsorship and make payments under the agreements, the Court must deny Armstrong's motion for summary judgment on this issue," Cooper wrote.
In Armstrong's defense, his attorneys had argued that the USPS suffered no damages and received far more in value from the sponsorship than the $32.3 million it paid.
But Cooper said that argument should be decided by a jury at trial.
"The Court concludes that the monetary amount of the benefits USPS received is not sufficiently quantifiable to keep any reasonable juror from finding that the agency suffered a net loss on the sponsorship, especially if one considers the adverse effect on the Postal Service's revenues and brand value that may have resulted from the negative publicity surrounding the subsequent investigations of Armstrong's doping and his widely publicized confession," Cooper wrote. "Determination of damages must therefore be left to a jury. Accordingly, the Court declines to grant Armstrong summary judgment on damages and will set the case for trial."
Armstrong finally admitted to doping in 2013 after more than a decade of false denials. The government filed suit soon after his confession, joining a case that originally was filed in 2010 by Armstrong's former teammate, Floyd Landis, who stands to get a cut of the damages as a government whistleblower if the government's case succeeds.
Armstrong is banned from cycling for life and was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France victories in 2012.
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer on Twitter @Schrotenboer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org