The False Claims Act (FCA) imposes liability on persons or entities that “knowingly present … a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval” to the United States. 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A). The FCA is the federal government’s primary tool for the recovery of fraudulently induced payments made by the government to third parties. The False Claims Act was signed into law over 150 years ago, in 1863, by President Lincoln to combat fraud stemming from Civil War defense contracts.

Today the False Claims Act is used to recover wide varieties of fraudulent payments covering areas such as Medicare, Medicaid, mortgage lending, defense spending, pharmaceuticals, insurance and education. Fraud permeates all sectors of the economy and the False Claims Act provides the government with a robust tool to recover from those who commit fraud.

The False Claims Act contains two enforcement mechanisms: direct actions brought by the government and qui tam actions brought by individuals on the government’s behalf. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b).The qui tam provisions within the False Claims Act provide the Act with its strength. To bring an action, the whistleblower or “relator” files a complaint which is sealed from public disclosure. The FCA’s seal requirement provides the government with adequate time to decide whether to intervene in the action on the relator’s behalf. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b).

Once the complaint is filed, the government may intervene and proceed with the case or it may decline intervention. There are several reasons why the government might decide not to intervene. The government may decide that the facts of the case do not warrant moving forward. Alternatively, the government may not intervene due to a lack of resources, or because the case does not meet a certain financial threshold.

If the government chooses not to intervene, the FCA still permits the relator to continue with the action despite the government’s decision not to move forward. 31 U.S.C. 3730(c)(3). If the relator ultimately prevails and establishes a violation of the False Claim Act, the relator may recover between 25 and 30% of the judgment or settlement, in addition to reasonable expenses, attorneys’ fees, and costs. 31 U.S.C. 3730(d)(2). The False Claim Act further provides that violators of the Act are subject to statutory penalties and treble (triple) damages. 31 U.S.C. 3729(a).

The False Claims Act reflects the government’s decades-long commitment to recovering fraudulent payments from wrongdoers. To help it in the claim recovery process, the Act empowers and generously rewards ordinary citizens who come forward and expose fraud and assist the government in the recovery of funds that were wrongfully paid.

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Jason Cornell is an attorney who represents whistleblowers with the law firm Clark Fountain LaVista Prather Keen & Littky-Rubin. Clark Fountain represents plaintiffs in various matters throughout the United States. If you have questions regarding the issues addressed in this or other posts, you can reach Jason at jcornell@clarkfountain.com.