Federal Attorneys for Whistleblowers Serving the Sacramento Area
If you have information about fraudulent Medicare billing practices, government contract fraud, or any other illegal conduct affecting consumers or involving a federal government program, you may be entitled to financial compensation as a whistleblower. But, in order to receive compensation, you must be the “first to file,” and you must present your case to the government correctly.
Under the False Claims Act and various other federal statutes, individuals who report fraud and other illegal conduct to the government can receive a portion of the government’s recovery if federal prosecutors pursue a successful case. Even if the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) declines to intervene, you can still pursue your case independently; and, if you are successful, you will be entitled to keep an even greater percentage of the total award.
However, there are conditions on the ability to recover financial compensation as a whistleblower (also referred to as a “relator” under the False Claims Act). Most significantly, you must have material information that supports federal legal action, and you must be the first to file a whistleblower case based on the information in your possession.
Understanding the “First to File” Rule Under the False Claims Act
Under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. Section 3730(b)(5), once the government or a private citizen initiates a whistleblower case, “no other person other than the Government may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending action.” This is commonly known as the “first-to-file” rule for whistleblower claims.
What it Means . . .
Under the first-to-file rule, multiple people can report wrongdoing to the government, but only the first person to do so will be entitled to whistleblower compensation under the relator provisions of the False Claims Act (or other applicable federal law). As a result, when someone has information that could support government legal action, they must report it promptly in order to claim the benefits of reporting.
Why it Exists . . .
The first-to-file rule exists for a few different reasons. The first is to incentive citizens to come forward quickly when they have information about government program fraud, government contract fraud, or any other illegal activity covered by the False Claims Act or the whistleblower provisions of any other federal statute (including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Affordable Care Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and various environmental protection laws). The first-to-file rule also ensures that the government will be able to recover at least a portion of its losses, and it keeps the DOJ and the federal judiciary from getting bogged down with numerous similar or identical claims.
When it Applies . . .
When determining whether a whistleblower claim satisfies the requirements of the first-to-file rule, the courts examine three factors. Two whistleblower claims do not have to be exactly identical in order for the second to be barred. Rather, whistleblower compensation will be precluded for a citizen who is “second to file” if the claims:
- Address comparable “types of fraud;”
- Contain similar “essential elements;” and,
- Identify the same “material elements” of the alleged fraud.
Ultimately, the key question is: Does the second-filed claim provide the government with alternate or additional grounds to seek financial recovery? If so, then both whistleblowers can receive compensation even if their allegations relate to the same general subject matter or series of events.
As a result, if you believe that you may have important information and you are prepared to blow the whistle, it is important that you speak with a lawyer even if you think that someone else may have the same information. The rules regarding whistleblower claims are complicated and your right to compensation can depend heavily on the particular facts and circumstances involved, so you should not make any assumptions or decisions until you consult with an attorney. At Oberheiden, P.C., we represent whistleblowers in Sacramento and nationwide, and we can help you quickly determine if you have a claim to file.
4 Elements of a Successful Whistleblower Claim
Along with the first-to-file requirement, there are a number of other key aspects of whistleblower claims that relators need to be aware of as well. Once again, hiring an attorney who is experienced in handling federal whistleblower claims is a crucial step toward ensuring that you are protected. For example, there are four key elements to a successful whistleblower claim; and, in order to qualify for whistleblower protection, you must ensure that you can satisfy each of these elements before you file your claim with the government:
1. You Have Personal or First-Hand Knowledge of the Alleged Fraud or Other Illegal Activity.
In order to file a whistleblower claim, you must have personal or first-hand knowledge of the facts you are reporting to the government. This knowledge can be gained through your employment, through a tip from someone you know, through independent research, or through other means.
2. You Have Documentation to Prove the Alleged Fraud or Other Illegal Activity.
While you do not necessarily need to have documentation at the outset of your case, you need to know that you will be able to obtain documentation to support your whistleblower claim. This is something you can, and should, discuss with your attorney.
3. The Amount of Money at Issue is Substantial.
The DOJ only has the resources to pursue claims that have the potential for a significant financial recovery. As a result, you must be able to demonstrate from the outset that the amount of money at issue is substantial.
4. You are Filing Within the Applicable Statute of Limitations.
In most cases, the statute of limitations for whistleblower claims under the False Claims Act is six years from the date of the alleged illegal activity. However, this can be extended to 10 years in some cases.
4 Tips for Potential Whistleblowers in Sacramento, CA
In addition to satisfying the legal requirements for submitting a successful whistleblower claim, there are some key practical considerations involved in protecting your interests as a whistleblower as well. Here are four tips from our federal whistleblower attorneys:
1. Do Not Discuss What You Know with Anyone.
You should not discuss what you know with anyone other than your attorney. This is imperative to ensure that you retain your status as the first to file (assuming you have this status currently), and it will also help ensure that you do not expose yourself to consequences before obtaining whistleblower protection.
2. Keep Any Documentation Safe and Secure.
If you currently have documentation in your possession, keep it in a safe place until you give it to your attorney. Do not show it to anyone, and do not leave it somewhere (like on your work computer) where it could be accessed by someone else.
3. Do Not Obtain Any Additional Documentation Without Proper Authorization.
Before gathering any additional documentation, it is important to discuss your next steps with your legal counsel. Particularly if you will be filing a claim against your employer, you will need to ensure that any additional information is gathered through legal means.
4. Act on Your Information Immediately.
While you may have six to ten years to file your claim under the statute of limitations, it is strongly in your personal interests to act on your information immediately. At Oberheiden, P.C., we can guide you through the process step by step, and our attorneys can deal with the DOJ’s lawyers on your behalf.
Sacramento, CA Whistleblower Claims: Answers to FAQs
Q: What is the difference between a whistleblower claim and a qui tam lawsuit?
There is no difference between a whistleblower claim and a qui tam lawsuit. Qui tam is Latin for, “he who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself,” and is simply another term filing a claim as a relator.
Q: What if a coworker and I want to jointly file a whistleblower claim?
If you and a coworker both have information about fraudulent or other illegal practices, our attorneys can advise you on the options you have available. We may be able to represent you jointly if it makes sense to do so, or we may advise that you should retain independent legal representation.
Q: Can I be fired for filing a whistleblower claim against my employer?
No, in addition to providing financial compensation to relators, the False Claims Act and other federal qui tam statutes also protect whistleblowers against termination from employment. Terminating a whistleblower because he or she blew the whistle is a serious matter that can subject employers to additional liability. However, your status as a whistleblower will not protect you from termination for other reasons.
Request a Free Initial Consultation in Sacramento, CA
If you live in the Sacramento area and would like to speak with an attorney about filing a whistleblower claim with the federal government, we encourage you to contact us promptly for a free initial consultation. To speak with one of our highly-experienced federal lawyers in confidence, call 888-519-4897 or request a consultation online now.