Is There a Deadline for Filing a Whistleblower Qui Tam Lawsuit?
April 24th, 2017 by Mike Bothwell
The deadline for filing a whistleblower qui tam lawsuit is generally six years following the alleged fraud against the US government. This time constraint is also called a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations exists in most civil causes of action.
Deadline for Filing a Whistleblower Qui Tam Lawsuit
Anyone who chooses to file a qui tam lawsuit must file the qui tam complaint either:
● Six years after the alleged fraud took place, or
● Three years after an official of the US government knew (or should have known) of the alleged fraud, but no more than ten years after the alleged fraud took place.
Most of the time, the deadline for filing a Whistleblower Qui Tam lawsuit will be six years. So if the defendant submitted a false invoice to the US government on June 3, 2011, the person bringing the qui tam lawsuit (also known as the relator) must file the qui tam complaint no later than June 3, 2017.
But in some instances, a relator may be able to file its qui tam lawsuit for a possible fraud that goes back ten years, but only if the qui tam lawsuit filing is within three years of when the relator knew (or should have known) about the alleged fraud. Confused? Don’t worry; it gets worse.
Not all courts interpret the “ten year” qui tam statute of limitations as applying to relators. Most courts will only apply this extended deadline to the US government when it joins in the lawsuit. So, to summarize:
● A relator will always have at least six years from the date of the alleged fraud to bring a qui tam lawsuit.
● In a minority number of federal courts, the relator will have ten years from the date of the alleged fraud to start the qui tam lawsuit, as long as the relator is filing the qui tam lawsuit within three years of when he or she learned of the alleged fraud.
● In a majority number of federal courts, the ten-year deadline never applies to relators, just the six-year deadline. So only the US government can take advantage of the extended deadline if it joins in a qui tam lawsuit within three years of learning of the alleged fraud.
The Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act
Until recently, the law was unclear as to whether the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act could extend the False Claims Act’s qui tam statute of limitations. The Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act temporarily pauses the statute of limitations for “any offense” involving fraud and the US government during times of war.
So for the period where the US government was at war, the normal six-year qui tam statute of limitations “clock” wouldn’t be running. This could drastically extend the amount of time someone has to bring a qui tam lawsuit. For instance, if an alleged fraud took place on August 8, 2005, and the United States was at war from August 8, 2006 to August 8, 2012, a relator might have until August 8, 2017 to bring a qui tam lawsuit. This means that the qui tam lawsuit would end up starting 12 years after the alleged fraud.
A few years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act did not apply to the six-year qui tam statute of limitations of the False Claims Act. Instead, the United States Supreme Court only applied the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act to criminal prosecutions, not civil prosecutions. Therefore, the above hypothetical where a relator could begin the qui tam lawsuit up to 12 years after the alleged fraud would not be permissible by law.
The “First to File” Deadline
While the statute of limitations is the “official” deadline for filing a whistleblower qui tam lawsuit, there’s another deadline to consider.
To bring a qui tam lawsuit, there can be no other pending qui tam lawsuit based on the same set of facts. The purpose of the qui tam lawsuit is to make the government aware of a specific fraud, put a stop to it and recover any damages it might deserve. But if a qui tam lawsuit is already pending concerning a specific fraud, the government receives no benefit if a second qui tam lawsuit begins.
Therefore, an individual thinking about filing a qui tam lawsuit could very well have a deadline less than six years from the date of the alleged fraud if someone else is about to file their own qui tam lawsuit.
Let’s say an alleged fraud occurred on February 10, 2017. Several people are aware of the fraud and have plans to file a qui tam lawsuit. The practical deadline for filing a whistleblower qui tam lawsuit could be just a few months, depending on how quickly other individuals file their qui tam complaint with the court.
Worried About a Possible Deadline for Filing a Whistleblower Qui Tam Lawsuit?
If you are considering bringing a qui tam lawsuit, you need to act as quickly as possible. Even if the six-year statute of limitations deadline is years away, there could be someone else who files a qui tam lawsuit before you that deals with the same alleged fraud.
If you have a possible upcoming deadline for filing a whistleblower qui tam lawsuit, you should contact the Bothwell Law Group as soon as possible by calling 770-643-1606.