False Claims Act. It does not constitute legal advice and does not represent the official policy of the United States Department of Justice.
The False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq., provides for liability for triple damages and a penalty from $5,500 to $11,000 per claim for anyone who knowingly submits or causes the submission of a false or fraudulent claim to the United States. The statute, first passed in 1863, includes an ancient legal device called a “qui tam” provision (from a Latin phrase meaning “he who brings a case on behalf of our lord the King, as well as for himself”). This provision allows a private person, known as a “relator,” to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the United States, where the private person has information that the named defendant has knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false or fraudulent claims to the United States. The relator need not have been personally harmed by the defendant’s conduct.
The False Claims Act has a very detailed process for the filing and pursuit of these claims. The qui tam complaint must, by law, be filed under seal, which means that all records relating to the case must be kept on a secret docket by the Clerk of the Court. Copies of the complaint are given only to the United States Department of Justice, including the local United States Attorney, and to the assigned judge of the District Court. The Court may, usually upon motion by the United States Attorney, make the complaint available to other persons.
The complaint, and all other filings in the case, remain under seal for a period of at least sixty days. At the conclusion of the sixty days, the Department of Justice must, if it wants the case to remain under seal, file a motion with the District judge showing “good cause” why the case should remain under seal. In the usual course, these motions request an extension of the seal for six months at a time.
In addition to the complaint filed with the District Court, the relator must serve upon the
Department of Justice a “disclosure statement” containing substantially all the evidence in the possession of the relator about the allegations set forth in the complaint. This disclosure statement is not filed in any court, and is not available to the named defendant.
Under the False Claims Act, the Attorney General (or a Department of Justice attorney) must “diligently” investigate the allegations of violations of the False Claims Act. The investigation usually involves one or more law enforcement agencies (such as the Office of Inspector General of the victim agency, the Postal Inspection Service, or the FBI.) In some investigations where state agencies are victims, state attorneys general with expertise and interest will participate in the investigation and work closely with the federal agencies.
The investigation will often involve specific investigative techniques, including subpoenas for documents or electronic records, witness interviews, compelled oral testimony from one or more individuals or organizations, and consultations with experts. If there is a parallel criminal investigation, search warrants and other criminal investigation tools may be used to obtain evidence as well.
March 17, 2009