False Claims / Whistleblower Law

Whistleblowers have played a vital role in law enforcement since at least the 13th century, when the English crown encouraged commoners to report crimes through a vehicle known as “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro seipso” — a description of one who acts “as much for the king as for himself.” In a qui tam action, a private citizen sues another private party who has allegedly defrauded the state, doing so for his own benefit as well as for that of the public.

Fast forward 700 years, and reverence for the whistleblower in common-law nations is stronger than ever. Nowhere is this more true than in the United States, which is at the vanguard of a global movement to further encourage whistleblowing. Today, America’s whistleblowers benefit from strong state and federal laws incentivizing them to report malfeasance and protecting them from retaliation for doing so. These laws encourage the public to help rein in corporate misconduct, to prevent companies from bribing foreign officials, to stop government contractors from scamming taxpayers, and to keep dangerous and misleading products from reaching consumers.

The geneses of hallmark whistleblower statutes speak to the vital role of whistleblowers in helping state and federal officials enforce the law: Congress passed the False Claims Act to deter and punish opportunists who sold sick mules and spoiled food to troops during the Civil War. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act arrived amid a global diplomatic crisis in response to revelations that much of the Fortune 500 made a practice of bribing foreign officials. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was a direct response to the Enron scandal. And the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 represented a sprawling condemnation of Wall Street’s responsibility for producing the Great Recession. Many states have adopted analogous whistleblower laws for the same reasons.

Depending on which statute is implicated, whistleblowers generally report misconduct in one of two fashions:

  • Qui Tam:  In a qui tam action, the whistleblower, or “relator,” brings the suit directly against the alleged lawbreaker on behalf of himself and the state or federal government and its constituents. In qui tam cases, the relator shares any monetary judgment with the government, which has the option of intervening on behalf of the relator. Qui tam actions are most commonly associated with violations of the False Claims Act and its state analogues.
  • Direct Reporting:  Under the direct reporting method, a whistleblower relays the critical information to the government and receives a percentage of any penalties the government later receives from the violator. Unlike in qui tam cases, the whistleblower may not have additional recourse if the government declines to take the case, as the relevant statutes do not all clearly set forth a private right of action. (For example, no private right of action has yet been established for alleged Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations.)

State and federal officials have placed great emphasis on encouraging and protecting whistleblowers in recent years in order to augment the efforts of severely underfunded law enforcement entities. Those with the courage to report wrongdoing often do so at great risk to their safety, careers, and financial health. Congress and the state legislatures have recognized this and responded accordingly through the implementation of robust legal protections and incentives for “America’s private prosecutors.”

Please take time to familiarize yourself with major state and federal whistleblower laws via the links at left, and feel free to contact Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy for additional information.

CPM has successfully represented numerous whistleblowers (sometimes referred to as Qui Tam plaintiffs) against companies that have defrauded the government, resulting in large recoveries of taxpayer money by the government, and substantial awards for whistleblowers. In most cases, CPM works with government attorneys to litigate Qui Tam lawsuits.



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