Will Anyone Know About My False Claims Case?

Not immediately, certainly not right away – but most likely after enough time the case will probably become public.  False Claims Act cases are filed under seal of court. This means the case is filed and kept secret by the court. The law itself says the seal is to last 60 days, but the government can extend the seal period for “good cause,” and in practice that is what they do.  The government wants time to investigate the claims in any serious False Claims Act case.

The seal period can be beneficial to an individual who wants the filing to remain private for some period of time. A whistleblower may file the case and move on to another job before anyone discovers the case was filed.  Thereafter, when the government investigates and corroborates the allegations they can join the case and then they along with the plaintiff usually prevail whether in court or through a settlement.

However, maintaining the seal of the court can also be burdensome for individuals. It is very difficult for anyone to refrain from discussing their allegations, while the government takes the time needed to investigate.

What Happens Next?

Ultimately, two things will likely expose the existence of the suit.  First, at some point, the court will insist that the seal be lifted. The court will do this when the Department of Justice decides either to “intervene” (meaning take over the litigation) or decline or to intervene in the case. If the government does decide to intervene in the case, the chances of success increase. If they decline to intervene a plaintiff can proceed by serving the complaint on the defendant in the normal course of litigation or the plaintiff may drop the case.   Either way, the court will lift the seal and it becomes public. Second, defendants may learn about the matter inadvertently as a result of the unique nature of the information in any good False Claims Act case. After all, when investigators start to ask a company about facts only a few people know, even if the name of the plaintiff is kept secret, the defendant may figure out what is happening.

All these events do take some time. The government will need that time to investigate, especially when the facts involve a large or complicated fraud scheme. So, while its existence is likely to be revealed in the future, a case remains secret for quite a while after a plaintiff files it in court.