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Is There a Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations?

Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations

Federal False Claims Act Statute of LimitationsDeciding you are ready to report fraud is an important step. But what if that step comes too late? Understanding the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations can help you make that very important choice in a timely manner.

Does the False Claims Act Include a Statute of Limitations?

The False Claims Act does have a Statute of Limitations. It states that a claim must come before the court within six years of any offense. It also says you must come forward within three years of finding out about the information. A statute of limitations is in place for most laws; so, this is not rare.

However, like many other laws, the Statute of Limitations in the False Claims Act does have an exception. While the law states a claim limit of within six years, it also states a person must report the fraud within three years of finding out about the information. These three years can extend the time of liability for the defendant.

For instance, if the fraud report comes to light five years after the violation occurs, the government still has the three years after reporting to consider when investigating.

The False Claims Act exists thanks to questionable behavior during the American Civil War. In 1863 the government made it law that you were not allowed to sell horses that were unfit to work. The Act also said you were not authorized to sell guns or ammunition that did not function or were faulty. In addition, the Act covered other much-needed government supplies.

The False Claims Act has changed over the years as society has developed. The law now includes contractors who claim payment for hours they haven’t worked. It also involves fraud against Medicare and Medicaid. Whistleblower Protection is part of the False Claims Act.

What Does the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations Mean for You?

In a nutshell, you have six years. But, as with most laws, there are exceptions. Here are some examples.

Let’s say you are working as a laborer in a government building. Your employer tells you to use half the amount of screws you would usually use to build this building. You know this is a safety issue. You also know your employer is claiming you are using the full amount of screws. The employer’s lie is an offense under the False Claims Act and falls under the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations.

But because your boss told you to do this, you worry you will lose your job, so you don’t say anything. After a couple of years, you have moved on to another job with a different building firm. The safety of people using that first building is still a worry, and you wonder if it will collapse. But remember, you can still report the offense for up to six years; your former employer can still face prosecution.

What Should You Do If the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations Expires?

In some cases, employers are at risk even if the six year limit has expired. Using the above example, let’s assume you report the offense to a government agency after five years. That agency now has three years to sue your former employer. This extension falls under another False Claims Act Statute of Limitations provision. It states that “under no circumstances can someone be sued after ten years of an alleged offense.” Because of these time limits, it is important to report crimes right away.

Why Is It Important to Be Aware of the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations?

False Claims Act crimes often involve safety. People can get injured, lose money, or lose their quality of life when contractors don’t perform their jobs as they should. But sometimes offenses are not uncovered until some time has passed. The public safety issue is still there, but the problem may not present immediately. This reality is why the government allows a complaint after a few years.

At the other end of the scale, there has to be a limit on how much time has passed. In the example of the screws, 20 years may pass, and the building doesn’t fall. The longer the amount of time that has passed, the harder it is to claim an offense has occurred. Memories fade over the years, and you may not remember an event as well as you once did. Or perhaps the building has undergone reinforcements in the last 20 years. All these possibilities make it impractical for the government to pursue a case after a period of several decades.

If you know of an offense against the False Claims Act, it is important to remember the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations. As the public’s safety is often at risk, you should report any offense as soon as you become aware of it. Contact the skilled Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations Attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for the False Claims Act?

Statute of Limitations for the False Claims Act

Statute of Limitations for the False Claims ActIn order to understand how the statute of limitations comes into play with the False Claims Act (FCA), it is helpful to review what the FCA is designed to accomplish, and who it is designed to protect. According to the FCA, it is a crime for anyone to submit a false claim, document or statement to the government, or to cause someone else to submit a false claim, document or statement to the government, either to get money from the government or to avoid having to pay money to the government.

Every law has some sort of statute of limitations, and the FCA is no different. A statute of limitations is essentially the time period during which claims can be brought. After the statute of limitations has tolled (ended), no more claims can be brought for activity that took place beyond the time period provided by the law.

The statute of limitations found in section 3731(b) of the FCA provides that: A civil action under section 3730 may not be brought:

(1)  more than 6 years after the date on which the violation of section 3729 is committed, or

(2)  more than 3 years after the date on which facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances, but in no event more than 10 years after the date on which the violation is committed, whichever occurs last.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail:

The FCA Six-Year Statute of Limitations

Section 3731(b)(1) of the FCA provides that actions or claims must be brought within six years after the date of occurrence; it does not matter when the person bringing the qui tam action found out about the violation(s).

While this seems like it would be a pretty straightforward way to determine the statute of limitations period, courts differ on what date should be the trigger date. Most courts have held that the trigger date is the date of submission of the claim. However, others have held that the six-year time period doesn’t even begin to toll until the underlying claim has been paid. Still other courts factor in whether damages or penalties are sought.

As an example, using the majority opinion on what constitutes the trigger date, an employee who wants to bring a qui tam action in 2016 against her employer for overcharging the government on an ongoing basis could only bring action for the activity that occurred for the previous 6 years. Any activity prior to that would be barred by the statute of limitations under section 3731(b)(1).

The FCA Three-Year/Ten-Year Statute of Limitations

Under FCA section 3731(b)(2), claims can go back as far as ten years, but they must be brought within three years of the date the federal government knew (or should have known) of the violation(s).

The statute’s reference to a government official knowing about the violation is typically interpreted as referring to the responsible official at the Department of Justice. However, other courts take the position that other government officials fit the bill and can be “officials” under the FCA.

It is also important to note that courts are split, but most courts have limited this ten-year tolling period provision to actions in which the government has intervened and has become a party. Only a minority of courts currently allow qui tam whistleblowers to take advantage of this extended tolling period. The rationale of the majority’s position is that the plain language of the statute limits this to the government by specifically referencing officials who had, or who should have had, knowledge of the violation(s).

Obtain Representation for FCA Claims as Early as Possible

To avoid exceeding the statute of limitations on an FCA claim, the best course of action is to contact experienced legal counsel as early in the process as possible. It can feel confusing and stressful as you become aware of wrongdoing, and you probably have questions you need answers to before you make a decision about taking action. Qui tam attorneys can help evaluate the merits of your case, and can help file a claim within the statute of limitations, if it makes sense to do so.

Have questions about the statute of limitations for the False Claims Act? Even if you think it might be too late to speak up, it may not be. The best way to find out for sure is to schedule a consultation with an experienced FCA attorney to discuss your case. Click to contact the Bothwell Law Group online to get the answers you need.