Alabama District Court Weighs Relator Confidentiality Against Rights of the Public

When it comes to False Claims Act lawsuits, there are a number of confidentiality protections in place that are not generally required in a typical civil lawsuit. For instance, relators are required to file their lawsuit under seal and keep the details of the claims confidential until the defendant has been served or the lawsuit is dismissed. Likewise, the government must maintain strict confidentiality when implementing its initial investigation into the matter, primarily to avoid tipping off the defendant before an investigation begins in earnest.

However, what are the confidentially requirements once the dust has settled? In other words, if a whistleblower lawsuit – for one reason or another – does not continue and is dismissed by the district court, how do confidentiality considerations come into play? In today’s case, we discuss a recent False Claims Act dismissal by an Alabama district court, as well as the court’s conclusion that the relators are not entitled to additional confidentiality once the case is no longer on the docket for consideration.

Court rules in favor of public access to information

The case at hand, known as Coyle v. Great Bend Regional Hospital, involves allegations of healthcare fraud that were not disclosed in the court’s opinion or the Court’s order dismissing the matter. In fact, the dismissal was supported by both the defendant and the relators together. However, what the parties could not agree on was whether the case should continue to remain under seal indefinitely, thereby concealing the identities of the relators who apparently continue to remain employed at Great Bend Regional Hospital and are concerned by the impact the public disclosure of their lawsuit might have on their ongoing employment position and reputation.

After considering the arguments from the relators, defendant, and the government, the Alabama District Court opted to reveal the identities of the relators and remove the seal from the case. In its opinion, the court pointed to a relevant – but not controlling – Tennessee case against Angiodynamics, Inc. with a similar fact pattern. In that case, the court held that “mere possibility, or even plausibility, of some form of economic harm [against a relator] is inadequate to depart from the rule favoring public access, particularly in the absence of any concerns involving national security, trade secrets, or personal safety.”

The federal government also added its assertion that the confidentiality and file-under-seal rules are designed to protect the government during its investigative stage, and were not designed to protect the employment reputation of the relators.

In sum, the court ordered the clerk to unseal the documents to allow for public review.

Contact Berger Montague today

If you are concerned that you may face similar backlash upon filing a whistleblower lawsuit, keep in mind that you may be protected from adverse treatment by your employer under the anti-retaliation provisions included in the False Claims Act. For more information about how to get started on your whistleblower lawsuit, contact Berger Montague today.

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By | 2018-07-31T13:44:42+00:00 March 3rd, 2015|False Claims Act Legal News|