False Claims Act and Qui Tam

The False Claims Act: What’s at stake?

Our federal government and state governments frequently call upon contractors to assist them in meeting many types of needs– from providing healthcare and building roads to providing consulting and other professional services. In addition to services, our governments regularly purchase a multitude of products from businesses; everything from paper and medicines to fighter jets.

The False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. Sections 3729 through 3733), also called the Lincoln Law, is designed to punish entities that defraud the government. At the same time, the law recognizes that those on the inside are often the best equipped to provide information about wrongdoing. That’s why the law also sets up incentives and rewards people who disclose and help prosecute the fraud, as well as protections against retaliation.

False Claims Act / Qui Tam FAQ

  1. What is the False Claims Act and what is a qui tam case?

If you have knowledge of frauds or false claims that were or are being committed against the federal government, you may be able to blow the whistle through a lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. Sections 3729 through 3733). This law is designed to punish entities that defraud the government while encouraging and rewarding people who disclose and help prosecute the fraud.

False Claims Act cases are sometimes called “qui tam” lawsuits. Qui tam is an abbreviated Latin phrase that means “he who sues on behalf of the King as well as for himself.” When a whistleblower brings a qui tam case under the False Claims Act, he or she is referred to as a “relator.”

  1. What are the benefits of speaking out against fraud under the False Claims Act?

Fraud against the government is fraud against the taxpayer, and it siphons funds from government goods and services and puts money into the pockets of corporations. Moreover, fraud can be deadly: when a company sells a mislabeled drug, ineffective weapons system or flawed satellite to the government, more than just dollars are at stake.

That’s why the government encourages and protects whistleblowers – because their information may cut waste, protect soldiers and save lives.

Under the statute, successful whistleblowers may recover a percentage of the money the government recovers, as well as attorneys’ fees.

A successful qui tam plaintiff (but not someone who merely informs the government of wrongdoing) can receive between 15 and 30% of the total recovery from the defendant, whether through a favorable judgment or settlement, which can include the amount owed to the government, times three, plus penalties.

  1. Does the False Claims Act protect me as a whistleblower?

The False Claims Act protects whistleblowers from retaliation for their whistleblowing activity by their employer, including job loss, demotion, harassment and other forms of retaliation. If you have been discriminated against because of whistleblower activity, you may be able to receive reinstatement, double back pay and compensation for any special damages, including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

There are time limits for filing a retaliation case, so please speak with an attorney as soon as possible if you believe you are a victim of retaliation under the statute.

  1. What types of fraud are covered under the False Claims Act?
  • The Act defines knowingly presenting (or causing to be presented) to the federal government a false or fraudulent claim for payment – such as submitting an inflated healthcare cost, prescription drug or military equipment invoice to the government – as fraud.
  • Failure to provide products or services. The Act also prohibits the knowing failure to provide a good or service. Similarly, knowingly providing goods or services that are substandard may be considered a fraud or false claim.
  • False statements or false certifications. The Act prohibits knowingly using or causing to be used a false record or statement to get a claim paid by the federal government. False certifications also trigger liability under the law particularly where the government contractor is falsely certifying compliance with safety, environmental, non-discrimination, or procurement standards or laws.
  • The Act prohibits conspiring with others to get a false or fraudulent claim paid by the federal government.
  1. Who can file a False Claims Act claim?

Generally any person or entity with evidence of fraud against federal programs or contracts may file a qui tam lawsuit.

  1. Are there time limits for filing a qui tam lawsuit?

Yes.

Under the False Claims Act, a lawsuit must be brought generally within six years of a violation or within three years after the government knew or should have known about the violation – but even then, never more than 10 years form the date of the violation. The rules governing time limits are complicated and could prevent your case from moving forward, so speak with an attorney as soon as possible.

  1. How do I file a claim?

If you believe you have evidence of fraud against the government, you should consult with an experienced attorney. These cases differ from many other types of lawsuits and must be filed by a private attorney. In addition, the complaint must be confidentially filed under seal in federal district court so that the government can conduct an investigation without the defendant’s knowledge. Generally, when the government’s investigation is over, the seal on the case is lifted.

Unlike in normal cases, a copy of the complaint is not immediately served on the defendant. Instead, it must be served, or presented, along with a written disclosure of substantially all material evidence and information in the plaintiff’s possession, on the U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney for the district in which the complaint is brought.

If the relator violates the provisions of the court’s seal, his or her complaint could be dismissed. The government has the right to intervene and join the action, which means the government may become a party to the case alongside the whistleblower relator. If the government declines, the relator may proceed on his or her own. Some states have passed similar laws concerning fraud in state government contracts.

  1. Are there protections for whistleblowers who reveal instances of fraud against state governments?

Due to the success of the Federal False Claims Act, a growing number of states have enacted versions of the False Claims Act. These laws similarly permit whistleblowers to recover a “finder’s fee” for reporting fraud in state, local, and municipal contracting.

  1. Who should I call if I believe I have evidence of fraud against the government?

Mehri & Skalet, PLLC is experienced in handling every facet of False Claims Act litigation – including qui tam suits alleging fraud on behalf of the government, as well as suits alleging retaliation against whistleblowers.

False Claims Act: Next Steps

I Think I’ve Seen Something!

Those on the inside may have the best information about fraud against the government, which is why the law encourages whistleblowers to step forward. If you believe you may have a claim, read this page and speak with an attorney immediately.

Though all cases are different, a typical qui tam case would proceed as follows.

If you believe you have evidence of fraud against the government, take the following steps:

Step 1.
Speak with an attorney experienced in False Claims Act or qui tam actions as soon as possible. There are time limits for filing any claim.

False Claims Act cases proceed differently than other civil cases, so an attorney with experience is essential. You can speak to experienced attorneys at Mehri & Skalet for free to help evaluate your case.

Step 2.
Your attorney will walk you through the best way to record and collect any evidence that you have. Be sure to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of your case.

Step 3.
You and your attorney may file a False Claims Act lawsuit, under seal, in the appropriate court after filing a disclosure statement explaining the case and providing all of your evidence. The suit, along with a collection of all your evidence will then be provided to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney in the correct district. The federal government will conduct an investigation while the case is under seal. The government controls the speed and scope of the investigation.

Step 4.
Remember that cases brought under the False Claims Act must be kept strictly confidential while under seal. You will need to refrain from discussing the case with anyone other than your attorney.

Step 5.
Generally, after the government concludes its investigation, the seal is lifted from the case. The government can then choose to “intervene” in your case, meaning that it would join you and your private attorney and take the lead in prosecuting the case. In such cases, successful whistleblowers are entitled to rewards ranging from between 15% and 25% of the government’s recovery. However, if the government does not intervene in the case, then you and your attorney may still choose to continue the case without the government’s participation. In such cases, successful whistleblowers are entitled to greater rewards – ranging from between 25% and 30% of the government’s recovery.

Step 6.
Qui tam actions, like all court cases, may take a long time to resolve. You may be asked to provide statements under oath at depositions, as will others who have knowledge of the case. If the case goes to court, you and others may be asked to testify.

Step 7.
Either the parties will settle the case, or if the case goes through litigation, the court will issue a ruling or a jury will reach a verdict after trial.

Step 8.
The False Claims Act protects you from retaliation for your whistleblower activities. This means your employer cannot discharge, demote, harass or otherwise discriminate against you for bringing the claim. If you believe that you are being retaliated against for your whistleblowing, speak to an attorney right away.