If you are considering blowing-the-whistle on government fraud, you are probably wondering what happens once you file a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq., contains a very detailed process for bringing a whistleblower case.
Steps involved in a qui tam case
Before the qui tam complaint is filed, the whistleblower (also called the “relator”) must make a “pre-filing disclosure” to the government through his or her attorney. The pre-filing disclosure contains substantially all of the evidence that is known to the relator about the fraud. The pre-filing disclosure is not filed with any court and is not available to the defendant.
The next step is the filing of the qui tam complaint. The False Claims Act mandates that the complaint, and other filings in the case, be kept under seal for at least 60 days. This means that the case will be kept on a “secret” docket by the clerk of the court and not made publicly available on the court’s PACER website.
Once the initial 60 day period is up, if the government wants the case to remain under seal, it must make a motion to the judge showing “good cause” why the seal should be extended. A typical reason is the government is still actively investigating the case. The judge has the discretion to grant or deny the government’s request, or to extend the seal for a shorter period of time than the government requests.
What does the government do after a qui tam complaint is filed?
The government’s investigation into the allegations in the complaint will include such things as interviewing witnesses, subpoenaing documents and electronic records, taking depositions, and consulting with experts. Sometimes, there is a parallel criminal investigation.
In some instances, the government will settle the pending qui tam case with the defendant before the seal expires.
If the case hasn’t settled by the time the seal expires, the government must either: 1. intervene, 2. decline to intervene, or 3. move to dismiss.
If the government intervenes in one or more counts of a whistleblower’s qui tam complaint, the government essentially takes over as the plaintiff in prosecuting those portions of the complaint. Typically, the government will file a complaint-in-intervention within 60 days after filing its notice of intervention and motion to unseal the complaint. In certain circumstances, the government will assert additional statutory claims that the relator did not have the legal right to assert in the qui tam complaint. According to statistics released by the Department of Justice, the government intervenes in less than 25% of filed qui tam cases.
If the government declines to intervene, the relator may still pursue the complaint on his or her own. The government is not a party to the proceedings, but retains its rights to any recovery.
If the government believes the case lacks merit or conflicts with statutory interests or policies of the United States, it may move to dismiss the relator’s complaint.
If you have firsthand knowledge of government fraud, you may be eligible to bring a qui tam whistleblower case under the False Claims Act. Contact our law offices or call 877-915-4040 for a free and confidential consultation.