Filing Defense Contractor Fraud-related False Claims Cases

Below, DC False Claims Act lawyer Tony Munter answers questions about filing defense contractor qui tam claims.

What strategies do you employ to facilitate whistleblowers bringing culpable parties to justice?

Tony Munter: I generally file cases under the Federal False Claims Act. In my experience, people want to bring people to justice, and “justice” has many different definitions. Under the Federal False Claims Act, you’re suing on behalf of the government, the government is attempting to recover monetary damages and civil fines as a result, and the whistleblower gets a share of that. Some people don’t define that as “bringing somebody to justice.” Maybe their internal mindset is that the government should be criminally prosecuting people, but that’s up to the federal government. As individuals, we facilitate providing the information that the government needs to pursue the action. The False Claims Act provides for damages and civil fines, and that’s about as much justice as an individual person can get. Hopefully, through that process the government will work on the case and as a result, the defense contractor or the party you’re suing will change their practices. Usually, the most upsetting part is not the amount of money that’s being wasted but the safety or quality issues.

How does payment work for these types of cases?

Tony Munter: Generally, I work on a contingent-fee basis. That means that I don’t collect anything if the client doesn’t collect anything. That’s the way it should be, otherwise it would be very difficult for most clients in this situation. Many clients come to us after they’ve been fired. People don’t generally have a lot of money at that point to hire lawyers, so they don’t have enough cash to file a major action. That’s how this developed into a contingent fee type of legal action.

How long do whistleblower cases typically take?

Tony Munter: There is no set time, but they do take a while. I’ve had cases be resolved within two to three years, and I have been involved in a case that’s been ongoing for nine or ten years. There are a lot of reasons why they can take so long. The courts are now getting less tolerant and less willing to grant extensions of time for investigations. On the other hand, there are complicated cases for the government to investigate and the government does not have endless resources to do so. The investigations that they conduct can take quite a while, and that can slow things down. Even when they’re done with their investigation and they have decided whether or not they’re going to join the case, you’re starting the litigation and that whole process takes a long time. If you file a whistleblower case, you have to understand that you’re in it for a least a few years.

Why are the courts granting less time for investigations?

Tony Munter: The statutory language is pretty simple. The statutory language says the government has 60 days, and then they can extend the case “under seal,” meaning “in secret,” so that they can conduct their investigation in secret “for good cause.” Generally, the courts will grant those extensions for a year or two. After that, some courts have become reluctant to grant such extensions. If the United States Department of Justice goes to court, they provide grounds for continuing the investigation and why they need more time. It is rare for them not to get more time, but judges don’t like having cases on their docket that are not being pursued. They want resolution. There’s nothing malicious or bad about that. The government only has so many investigators, and some of these cases are really complicated, so it’s a natural problem.