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The False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. § 37293733, also called the "Lincoln Law") is an American federal law that allows people who are not affiliated with the government to file actions against federal contractors claiming fraud against the government. The act of filing such actions is informally called "whistleblowing." Persons filing under the Act stand to receive a portion (usually about 15-25 percent) of any recovered damages. The Act provides a legal tool to counteract fraudulent billings turned in to the Federal Government. Claims under the law have been filed by persons with insider knowledge of false claims that have typically involved health care, military, or other government spending programs. The government has recovered nearly $22 billion dollars under the False Claims Act between 1987 (after the significant 1986 amendments) and 2008.[1]



The American Civil War (1861–1865) was marked by fraud on all levels in the Union north and the Confederate south. The False Claims Act came about because of bad mules. During the Civil War, unscrupulous early day defense contractors sold the Union Army decrepit horses and mules in ill health, faulty rifles and ammunition, and rancid rations and provisions among other unscrupulous actions.[2] The False Claims Act, passed by Congress on March 2, 1863, was an effort by the USA to respond to entrenched fraud where the official Justice Department was reluctant to prosecute fraud cases. Importantly, a reward was offered in what is called the "qui tam" provision, which permits citizens to sue on behalf of the government and be paid a percentage of the recovery. Qui tam is short for the Latin phrase "qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur", which means, "he who brings a case on behalf of our lord the King, as well as for himself." In a qui tam action, the citizen filing suit is called a "relator". As an exception to the general legal rule for standing of a party, courts have held that qui tam relators are "partially assigned" a portion of the government's legal injury, thereby allowing relators to proceed with their suits.[3]


The Act establishes liability when any person or entity improperly receives from or avoids payment to the Federal government—tax fraud excepted. In summary, the Act prohibits:

  1. Knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented a false claim for payment or approval;
  2. Knowingly making, using, or causing to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim;
  3. Conspiring to commit any violation of the False Claims Act;
  4. Falsely certifying the type or amount of property to be used by the Government;
  5. Certifying receipt of property on a document without completely knowing that the information is true;
  6. Knowingly buying Government property from an unauthorized officer of the Government, and;
  7. Knowingly making, using, or causing to be made or used a false record to avoid, or decrease an obligation to pay or transmit property to the Government.

The most commonly used of these provisions are the first and second, prohibiting the presentation of false claims to the government and making false records to get a false claim paid. By far the most frequent cases involve situations in which a defendant—usually a corporation but on occasion an individual—overcharges the federal government for goods or services. Other typical cases entail failure to test a product as required by the rigorous government specifications or selling defective products.

The False Claims Act was amended in 1943 to, most notably, reduce the relator's share of the recovered proceeds.* The law was again amended in 1986. By that time, there was great concern that the national deficit had risen dangerously and President Ronald Reagan had declared that a vast amount of government spending was being misused through waste and fraud.

After the 1986 amendments strengthening the Act were passed (see below), the Act was used primarily against defense contractors. By the late 1990s, however, the focus had shifted to health care fraud, which now accounts for the majority of cases filed by whistleblowers and by the government.

Under the False Claims Act, the Department of Justice is authorized to pay rewards to those who report fraud against the federal government in an amount of between 15 and 30 percent of what it recovers based upon the whistleblower's report.

Certain claims are not actionable, including:

  1. certain actions against armed forces members, members of Congress, members of the judiciary, or senior executive branch officials;[4]
  2. claims, records, or statements made under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 which would include tax fraud;[5]

There are unique procedural requirements in False Claims Act cases. For example:

  1. a complaint under the False Claims Act must be filed under seal;
  2. the complaint must be served on the government but must not be served on the defendant;
  3. the complaint must be buttressed by a comprehensive memorandum, not filed in court, but served on the government detailing the factual underpinnings of the complaint.

1986 changes

(False Claims Act Amendments (Pub.L. 99-562, 100 Stat. 3153, enacted October 27, 1986)

  1. The elimination of the "government possession of information" bar against qui tam lawsuits;
  2. The establishment of defendant liability for "deliberate ignorance" and "reckless disregard" of the truth;
  3. Restoration of the "preponderance of the evidence" standard for all elements of the claim including damages;
  4. Imposition of treble damages and civil fines of $5,000 to $10,000 per false claim;
  5. Increased rewards for qui tam plaintiffs of between 15-30 percent of the funds recovered from the defendant;
  6. Defendant payment of the successful plaintiff's expenses and attorney's fees, and;
  7. Employment protection for whistleblowers including reinstatement with seniority status, special damages, and double back pay.

2009 changes

On May 20, 2009, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 ("FERA") was signed into law. It includes the most significant amendments to the FCA since the 1986 amendments. FERA enacted the following changes:

  1. Expanded the scope of potential FCA liability by eliminating the "presentment" requirement (effectively overruling the Supreme Court's opinion in Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, 128 S. Ct. 2123 (2008));
  2. Redefined "claim" under the FCA to mean "any request or demand, whether under a contract or otherwise for money or property and whether or not the United States has title to the money or property" that is (1) presented directly to the United States, or (2) "to a contractor, grantee, or other recipient, if the money or property is to be spent or used on the Government's behalf or to advance a Government program or interest" and the government provides or reimburses any portion of the requested funds;
  3. Amended the FCA's intent requirement, and now requiring only that a false statement be "material to" a false claim;
  4. Expanded conspiracy liability for any violation of the provisions of the FCA;
  5. Amended the "reverse false claims" provisions to expand liability to "knowingly and improperly avoid[ing] or decreas[ing] an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the Government;"
  6. Increased protection for qui tam plaintiffs/relators beyond employees, to include contractors and agents;
  7. Procedurally, the government's complaint will now relate back to the qui tam plaintiff/relator's filing;
  8. Provided that whenever a state or local government is named as a co-plaintiff in an action, the government or the relator "shall not [be] preclude[d] . . . from serving the complaint, any other pleadings, or the written disclosure of substantially all material evidence;"
  9. Increased the Attorney General's power to delegate authority to conduct Civil Investigative Demands prior to intervening in an FCA action.

With this revision, the FCA now prohibits knowingly (changes are in bold):

  1. Submitting for payment or reimbursement a claim known to be false or fraudulent.
  2. Making or using a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim or to an ‘obligation’ to pay money to the government.
  3. Engaging in a conspiracy to defraud by the improper submission of a false claim.
  4. Concealing, improperly avoiding or decreasing an ‘obligation’ to pay money to the government.

Practical application of the law

The False Claims Act has a detailed process for making a claim under the Act. Mere complaints to the government agency is insufficient to bring claims under the Act. A complaint (lawsuit) must be filed in U.S. District Court (federal court) in camera (under seal). After an investigation by the Department of Justice within 60 days, or frequently several months after an extension is granted, the Department of Justice decides whether it will pursue the case.

If the case is pursued, the amount of the reward is less than if the Department of Justice decides not to pursue the case and the plaintiff/relator continues the lawsuit himself. However, the success rate is higher in cases that the Department of Justice decides to pursue.

Technically, the government has several options in handing cases. These include:

  • 1) intervene in one or more counts of the pending qui tam action. This intervention expresses the Government’s intention to participate as a plaintiff in prosecuting that count of the complaint. Fewer than 25% of filed qui tam actions result in an intervention on any count by the Department of Justice.
  • 2) decline to intervene in one or all counts of the pending qui tam action. If the United States declines to intervene, the relator may prosecute the action on behalf of the United States, but the United States is not a party to the proceedings apart from its right to any recovery. This option is frequently used by relators and their attorneys.
  • 3) move to dismiss the relator’s complaint, either because there is no case, or the case conflicts with significant statutory or policy interests of the United States.

In practice, there are two other options for the Department of Justice:

  • 4) settle the pending qui tam action with the defendant prior to the intervention decision. This usually, but not always, results in a simultaneous intervention and settlement with the Department of Justice (and is included in the 25% intervention rate).
  • 5) advise the relator that the Department of Justice intends to decline intervention.

This usually, but not always, results in dismissal of the qui tam action. [6] There is case law where claims may be prejudiced if disclosure of the alleged unlawful act has been reported in the press, if complaints were filed to an agency instead of filing a lawsuit, or if the person filing a claim under the act is not the first person to do so. Individual states in the U.S. have different laws regarding whistleblowing involving state governments.

Relevant Decisions by the United States Supreme Court

In Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765 (2000)[7], the United States Supreme Court held that a private individual may not bring suit in federal court on behalf of the United States against a State (or state agency) under the FCA.

In a 2007 case, Rockwell International Corp. v. United States, the United States Supreme Court considered several issues relating to the "original source" exception to the FCA's public-disclosure bar. The Court held that (1) the original source requirement of the FCA provision setting for the original-source exception to the public-disclosure bar on federal-court jurisdiction is jurisdictional; (2) the statutory phrase "information on which the allegations are based" refers to the relator's allegations and not the publicly disclosed allegations; the terms "allegations" is not limited to the allegations in the original complaint, but includes, at a minimum, the allegations in the original complaint as amended; (3) relator's knowledge with respect to the pondcrete fell short of the direct and independent knowledge of the information on which the allegations are based required for him to qualify as an original source; and (4) the government's intervention did not provide an independent basis of jurisdiction with respect to the relator.

In a 2008 case, Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, the United States Supreme Court considered whether a false claim had to be presented directly to the Federal government, or if it merely needed to be paid with government money, such as a false claim by a subcontractor to a prime contractor. The Court found that the claim need not be presented directly to the government, but that the false statement must be made with the intention that it will be relied upon by the government in paying, or approving payment of, a claim.[8] The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 reversed the Court's decision and made the types of fraud to which the False Claims Act applies more explicit.[9]

In a 2009 case, United States ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York,[10] the United States Supreme Court considered whether, when the government declines to intervene or otherwise actively participate in a "qui tam" action under the False Claims Act, the United States is a "party" to the suit for purposes of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(A) (which requires that a notice of appeal in a federal civil action generally be filed within 30 days after entry of a judgment or order from which the appeal is taken). The Court held that when the United States has declined to intervene in a privately initiated FCA action, it is not a "party" for FRAP 4 purposes, and therefore, petitioner's appeal filed after 30 days was untimely.

State False Claims Acts

Several states have also created False Claims Act statutes to protect their state against fraud by including qui tam provisions, enabling them to recover money at the state level. [11] Many of these laws mirror the federal False Claims Act and simply apply it to the state's jurisdiction. Michigan[12] and Tennessee[13] have specifically limited their False Claims Acts to merely protect their Medicaid systems

The California False Claims Act was enacted in 1987, but lay relatively dormant until the early 1990s, when public entities, frustrated by what they viewed as a barrage of unjustified and unmeritorious claims, began to employ the False Claims Act as a defensive measure. Recent developments in the California False Claims Act[14] reduce the defenses contractors have to false claim prosecutions, by stripping away immunities that were believed to apply to certain classes of statements and claims. As a result, contractors can expect to see their payment claims answered by false claims accusations with increasing frequency.

See also


  1. ^ Comprehensive information regarding FCA statistics may be found at, including information regarding recoveries in individual cases.
  2. ^ Larry D. Lahman, "Bad Mules: A Primer on the Federal False Claims Act", 76 Okla. B. J. 901, 901 (2005)
  3. ^ See Nathan D. Sturycz, The King and I?: An Examination of the Interest Qui Tam Relators Represent and the Implications for Future False Claims Act Litigation, 28 St. Louis Pub. L. Rev. 459 (2009), available at
  4. ^ "Federal False Claims Act - 31 U.S.C. [ § 3730(e)(1) and (2)"]. Qui Tam Guide. Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  5. ^ "Federal False Claims Act - 31 U.S.C. [ § 3729(e)"]. Qui Tam Guide. Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  6. ^ False Claims Act Cases: Government intervention in Quitam (whistleblower) suits - Memo
  7. ^ Text of Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens
  8. ^ Opinion of the Court, Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, 553 U. S. __ (2008), part II(C).
  9. ^ Senate Judiciary Committee (March 23, 2009). "Senate Report 111-10, part III". Retrieved 2009-05-26. "This section amends the FCA to clarify and correct erroneous interpretations of the law that were decided in Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, 128 S. Ct. 2123 (2008), and United States ex. rel. Totten v. Bombardier Corp, 380 F.3d 488 (D.C. Cir. 2004)." 
  10. ^
  11. ^ James F. Barger Jr., Pamela H. Bucy, Melinda M. Eubanks, Marc A. Raspanti, "States, Statutes, and Fraud: An Empirical Study of Emerging State False Claims Acts," Tulane Law Review (2005).
  12. ^ "Michigan Medicaid False Claim Act". Qui Tam Guide. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  13. ^ "Tennessee Medicaid False Claim Act". Qui Tam Guide. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  14. ^ "California False Claims Act - Government Code Section 12650 et. seq.". Qui Tam Guide. Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  15. ^ redding111505

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