7. Whistleblower/False Claims Act Cases Are Filed Under “Seal”

FCA cases are filed in secret and often kept secret for years.

If you file an ordinary lawsuit, the case is given a cause number and filed publicly on a court docket for all the world to see. For your case to go forward, it will be necessary for your opponent, the person you are suing, to be served, that is, given notice that a lawsuit has been filed against him or her. If, on the other hand, you file a False Claims Act case on behalf of the United States, this case will be unusual in that law requires you, the relator, to file your complaint under seal and serve it only upon the government, but not upon the defendant. Additionally, your case must not be filed in the ordinary manner that allows the public to know that a lawsuit is on file. This is commonly referred to as being filed “under seal.” The FCA requires this covert filing to give the United States Department of Justice time to evaluate the case to determine whether or not it (the government) wishes to “intervene,” that is, assume charge of and control over your lawsuit. The FCA gives the government sixty days in which to make this evaluation, and during that time the case will remain under seal. But, the sixty days is, in fact, a highly misleading time period, because, in almost every case, the government requests extensions of time that can and usually do add up to years.

During the time the case is under seal, you, the person filing the case, will be under court order to keep it secret. Should you breach this court ordered secrecy, you will probably be severely punished by a heavy fine that might be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or you may lose your right to collect your “relator’s reward.”