The simplest answer is that, in False Claims Act (“FCA”) cases, the relator is the whistleblower who brings the FCA claims against the company or individual who is committing fraud. Usually a qui tam relator is an insider—typically a current or former employee—who has access to confidential information showing that his or her employer has been committing fraud against the government.
FCA cases are sometimes referred to as qui tam cases. “Qui tam” is an abbreviation of the legal Latin phrase “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” which means, “he who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself.” It is conceivable that any law could have a qui tam provision that would allow a relator to bring a legal case on behalf of a sovereign entity (either the federal or state government). The FCA, and the various state equivalents, are the best known qui tam laws in the United States.
False Claims Act Qui Tam Provisions
The statutory qui tam provision of the FCA is found at 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b). It states:
“A person may bring a civil action for a violation of section 3729 [who prohibits making a false claim, or committing fraud, against the federal government or any program that receives federal funds, such as a state Medicaid plan,] for the person and for the United States Government. The action shall be brought in the name of the Government.”
Accordingly, an FCA case is brought in the name of the government, and the whistleblower is the qui tam relator bringing the case in the name of the government.
The injury that a relator is seeking to address is an injury to the government, usually in the form of money that the government erroneously paid out because of a false claim, or money that was wrongly withheld from the government. The qui tam relator can bring other claims against the fraudster as well, including, most importantly, a claim for retaliation by the defendant.
Federal False Claims Act Whistleblower Protection
There is a whistleblower protection provision written into the text of the FCA that prohibits any employer—whether it is the defendant in the FCA case or not—from retaliating against an employee, contractor, or agent for bringing an FCA case:
“Any employee, contractor, or agent shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make that employee, contractor, or agent whole, if that employee, contractor, or agent is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment because of lawful acts done by the employee, contractor, agent or associated others in furtherance of an [FCA action].”
See 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h).
False Claims Act Penalties
Even though the money and penalties that can be recouped through an FCA action are intended to redress a fraud committed against the government, the FCA requires that a portion of those funds go to the relator as an award for bringing forth the information and claims against the fraudster. The qui tam relator’s share of the damages and penalties recovered by the government in the suit—whether by winning a verdict or settling the case—will be between 15% and 30% of the total amount collected by the government. The FCA also requires that if the defendants loose or settle the case, they must pay the relator’s attorneys’ fees and costs. See 31 U.S.C. § 3730(d).
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