Justia Summary

The False Claims Act permits a private person (relator) to bring a qui tam civil action in the name of the Federal] Government, 31 U.S.C. 3730(b), against any person who “knowingly presents . . . a false or fraudulent claim for payment” to the Government or to certain third parties acting on the Government’s behalf. The Government may choose to intervene. An action must be brought within either six years after the statutory violation occurred or three years after the “the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances” knew or should have known the relevant facts, but not more than 10 years after the violation, section 3731(b)(2). The later date starts the limitations period. In November 2013, Hunt filed suit alleging that defense contractors (Cochise) defrauded the Government by submitting false payment claims for providing security services in Iraq until early 2007. Hunt claims that he revealed Cochise’s allegedly fraudulent scheme during a November 30, 2010, interview with federal officials about his role in an unrelated contracting fraud. The United States declined to intervene. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case.

A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. Section 3731(b)(2) applies in a relator-initiated suit in which the Government has declined to intervene. Both Government-initiated suits and relator-initiated suits are “civil action[s] under section 3730,” so the plain text of the statute makes the two limitations periods applicable in both types of suits. The relator in a non-intervened suit is not “the official of the United States” whose knowledge triggers section 3731(b)(2)’s three-year limitations period. A private relator is neither appointed as an officer of nor employed by the United States; private relators are not “charged with responsibility to act.”

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