By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
Cyclist Lance Armstrong has lost a bid to quash a $100 million U.S. government lawsuit over damages the U.S. Postal Service claims it suffered because of his secret doping while racing for the agency.
In a Feb. 13 decision, U.S. District Judge Christopher R. “Casey” Cooper declared that the issue of damages “must … be left to a jury.”
The Washington Post called the ruling “a major victory for the government.”
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It came almost seven years after the government joined a lawsuit filed by Floyd Landis, a former teammate of the seven-time Tour de France winner.
In his ruling, the judge accepted part of Armstrong’s argument that the Postal Service had secured “substantial” benefits from its sponsorship of Armstrong and his international racing team from 1995 to 2004.
But the judge said that benefit “is not sufficiently quantifiable to keep any reasonable juror from finding that the agency suffered a net loss” from the public backlash over Armstrong’s later doping confession.
Elliot R. Peters, an attorney for Armstrong, told the Post,“[A]s the Court’s opinion reveals, there is no actual evidence of any quantifiable financial harm to the USPS. So the government may now proceed to a trial that, as a practical matter, it cannot win.”
A footnote in the 37-page opinion made clear that the Postal Service’s sponsorship of Armstrong from 1995 to 2004 actually cost more than $42 million.
The lawsuit, filed initially by Landis under the False Claims Act, covers only payments totaling $32.3 million.
Armstrong’s lawyers had argued in a November 2016 hearing that the Postal Service received at least that much value in publicity from Armstrong exploits.
“Bottom line: USPS got more than it paid for and is not a victim of fraud,” Peters then told the judge, citing a 2012 email sent by a Postal Service advertising executive to William J. Henderson, postmaster general from 1998 to 2001.
The lawyer also said a Postal Service presentation in November 2003 stated the USPS had received $109 million worth of media attention and millions in other benefits from Armstrong.
After years of denials, Armstrong admitted in 2013 he had used performance-enhancing drugs while racing. He lost his seven Tour de France wins and was banned from professional bicycling as a result.
The government’s action is seeking $100 million in damages, about triple the cost of the Postal Service sponsorship.
Landis, the former Armstrong teammate who filed the initial claim, could receive up to 25 percent of any damages awarded in the case.
Judge Cooper’s order did not set a trial date.