Introduction to the False Claims Act and Qui Tam Whistleblower Cases

I wrote this article for a seminar to explain the False Claims Act to those who may not know about it. I hope it may be useful to those who are interested in the Act. I have divided it into several sections–this is the first section, summarizing how the False Claims Act came to be in the time of Abraham Lincoln, and how it has evolved since then:

I. Introduction

Fraud is perhaps so pervasive and, therefore, costly to the Government due to a lack of deterrence. GAO concluded in its 1981 study that most fraud goes undetected due to the failure of Governmental agencies to effectively ensure accountability on the part of program recipients and Government contractors. The study states:

For those who are caught committing fraud, the chances of being prosecuted and eventually going to jail are slim . . . The sad truth is that crime against the Government often does pay.1

Fraud–and allegations of fraud–plague government spending at every level. Today, as the federal and state governments struggle to fund the billions of dollars spent annually on health care through Medicare and Medicaid; the Iraq war and reconstruction effort; other Department of Defense procurement; Hurricane Katrina and other disaster relief; and government grants and programs of every description, there is no shortage of opportunities for fraud against the public fisc.

The federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729 – 3733, has been the federal government’s “primary” weapon to recover losses from those who defraud it.2 The Act not only authorizes the government to pursue actions for treble damages and penalties, but also empowers and provides incentives to private citizens to file suit on the government’s behalf as “qui tam relators.”3 Over the past 20 years, recoveries for the federal government have grown dramatically since Congress amended the Act in 1986 to encourage greater use of the qui tam provisions, as part of a “coordinated effort of both the [g]overnment and the citizenry [to] decrease this wave of defrauding public funds.”4

The False Claims Act has unique procedural requirements that create many pitfalls for a lawyer prosecuting or defending cases under the Act. In addition, the law varies among the different federal circuits in ways that can determine the outcome of a False Claims Act case, depending on where it is filed.

——————————————————————————–

1 Legislative History to P.L. 99-562, False Claims Amendments Act of 1986, Senate Report No. 99-345 S. Rep. 99-345, 3, 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5266, 5268 (hereinafter “Legislative History”) (quoting 1981 GAO Report to Congress, “Fraud in Government Programs: How Extensive is it? How Can it be Controlled?”).

2 Legislative History, at 2, 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5266.

3 The term “qui tam” is derived from the Latin phrase, “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” which means “who pursues this action on our Lord the King’s behalf as well as his own.” Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765, 769 N.1 (2000).

4 Senate Report No. 99-345 S. Rep. 99-345, *2, 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5266, **5267. Appendix 2 shows the growth in revenues, which is discussed in section IV infra.

——————————————————————————–
The False Claims Act has unique procedural requirements that create many pitfalls for a lawyer prosecuting or defending cases under the Act. In addition, the law varies among the different federal circuits in ways that can determine the outcome of a False Claims Act case, depending on where it is filed.

To those representing clients in health care or other industries that do business with the government, predicting their clients’ potential liability is about to become even more challenging. More than a dozen states have enacted similar state False Claims Acts with qui tam provisions.5 Other states are likely to enact their own similar statutes because the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 creates substantial financial incentives that begin in 2007 for states that have state versions of the federal False Claims Act, with qui tam provisions that are at least as effective.6

This article summarizes the background of the False Claims Act, outlines how it operates, and then discusses interesting recent developments in how the Act–and its qui tam provisions–have been used most recently to address alleged fraud in health care and other industries.

——————————————————————————–
5 These states include California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and the District of Columbia. See Appendix 3. See also J. Barger, P. Bucy, M. Eubanks, and M. Raspanti, “States, Statutes, and Fraud: An Empirical Study of Emerging State False Claims Acts,” 80 Tul. L. Rev. 465, 478 and n. 86(2005).

6 See Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-171, § 6031.