Federal Seal Process in Qui Tam Lawsuits

The False Claims Act requires that a case be filed under seal in federal courts. The seal provision in the law says that the case will be kept under seal for 60 days but may be extended by the government for good cause shown. This means as a practical matter as the case stays put for some time while the government investigates it. What that means to the defendant and to the plaintiff is that they cannot talk about the case, and they cannot confirm that they filed the case until the seal is lifted. This can be a challenging thing for plaintiffs to live with. They likely want to talk about the case but they have to restrict their discussions to their attorney as soon as they filed the case. Those who would violate the seal usually are not allowed to collect if there is a successful case, and the court may take action against people who violate the seal. Call a seasoned lawyer about the federal seal process in Qui Tam lawsuits.

Breach of the Seal

There are circumstances when the plaintiff or their lawyers breach the seal. There was a case recently where lawyers went to the press about the case they filed, which is one way to breach the seal. The only good thing about this situation is it was the lawyers who did it and not the whistleblowers. Therefore, it may have been the lawyers who got punished, not the whistleblowers. They cannot go to the press about a case that has been filed. A person does not confront the defendants about the qui tam case that they filed or confirm its existence.

The seal of the court is one level of confidentially, but attorney-client confidentiality also applies in the sense that the plaintiff’s attorneys have to hold their discussions with their clients in confidence. There is also an intention in the sense that material submitted to the government is to submit joint privilege with the government, and that may not be easy for the defendant to obtain in discovery as well.

How Long Does the Federal Seal Process Last?

How long the federal seal process may last depends on which jurisdiction a person files the case and which court and judge are involved in the lawsuit. A serious matter of fraud usually takes a couple of years to investigate. Some judges are less patient with government investigations in the length of a seal than others, and some judges will inform the government on giving the seal extension today, but they better come back with the decision, or the next time it will not be extended.

There has been some movement in courts to limit the length of seal extensions and the number of seal extensions in an attempt to force the government to make a decision about a case rather than continuing to let them investigate in perpetuity. There is some questioning of this because it can take quite a while to investigate a serious case. One thing to consider with a case involving fraud, perhaps in a foreign country where the government may have an interest because of the Defense Department or the State Department with grants, is it can be fairly complicated to get the evidence back to the United States. Also, analyzing and tracking down the witnesses can be a complicating factor. Depending on the type of case, the seal period can be extended for quite a while.

Extension of the Seal

Almost anything could be considered good cause as long as the government can demonstrate that they are actually investigating the case. Some of the delays in bringing a case forward may be outside of the government’s control. If the defendant is provided with an investigative demand and told to please provide all these documents here, there, and everywhere, and the defendant is having trouble locating the documents and producing them; that is out of the government’s control. There are all kinds of reasons why the government may be able to demonstrate good cause. Usually, if they have something that a common-sense person will consider to be a good cause, the court will grant them more time to continue investigating.

Call today for more information about the federal seal process in Qui Tam lawsuits.