People who learn that individuals or entities are committing fraud against the federal government may be allowed to file qui tam lawsuits. A qui tam lawsuit is a lawsuit that a private citizen may file against the wrongdoer on behalf of the government. The government may intervene or it may not, and the extent of its involvement in cases will vary. The employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler may assist his or her client with their qui tam lawsuit throughout the process.
The investigatory stage
Qui tam lawsuits are started by filing formal complaints with a federal district court. The complaint is served on the United States Attorney’s office for the particular federal district as well as on the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Qui tam complaints are filed and served under seal so that their contents are not public.
After the complaint has been properly served, the DOJ has 60 days to complete a preliminary investigation and to determine whether or not it will participate in the action. Commonly, the service of the complaint may be the first time the government learns of the alleged wrongdoing. This means that the DOJ may ask for more time to investigate. The requests for more time are normally granted, so it is not uncommon for preliminary investigations to last longer than a year. The inspector general of the agency that oversees the contract or program that is the subject of the alleged wrongdoing conducts the preliminary investigation.
Intervention by the government
The government may take one of several different actions following its preliminary investigation, including the following:
- Joining the lawsuit
- Not joining the lawsuit
- Pursuing alternative remedies
- Trying to settle the case
- Dismissing the complaint
It is rare for the government to dismiss a complaint. In most cases, the government will simply decline to join in the lawsuit. The False Claims Act does grant the government the right to later change its mind and join the lawsuit. There are several reasons why the government may choose not to join a qui tam action, including its belief that the claim is meritless or because it does not want to allocate the necessary resources to pursue the claim.
If the government does decide to join the claim, it will then take on the primary responsibility for pursuing the case and investigating it. The government commonly limits the original plaintiff’s role going forward.
When the government declines to intervene
When the government does not join in a qui tam action, the person who filed it may continue forward. He or she will have the same investigatory and discovery rights that the government would have had if it had chosen to participate. Private individuals who are successful with their qui tam actions after the government has decided not to intervene are entitled to receive larger awards than they would have if the government had chosen to participate.
If you believe you have the legal grounds necessary to file a qui tam action, you will likely need help. Contact the employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler to schedule your consultation.