What is a Qui Tam Seal?
Cases filed under the False Claims Act, also known as qui tam cases, are filed under seal. When a case is filed under seal, this means the Court enters an order that requires the Clerk of Court to keep the case secret. Unlike most court records, which are open to the public, a sealed case is not open to the public. Also, when a case is subject to a seal order, this means the whistleblower cannot disclose the existence of the case to anyone else. Nobody is allowed to know about case except the whistleblower, the Court, and the government attorneys working on the case.
Under the False Claims Act, the case remains sealed for at least 60 days. At the expiration of the 60-day period, the government commonly applies for a seal extension in order to allow more time to complete the ongoing investigation. Most investigations take a year or more. It is up to the Court whether to grant a seal extension. Although most seal extensions are granted, many are not.
The purpose of the seal is to protect the integrity of the government’s ongoing investigation. Simply put, the government investigation proceeds more smoothly when the target of the investigation does not know about it. If the target knew about the investigation, the target might destroy evidence, alter records, or take other steps to thwart the investigation.
The government and the Courts take the seal extremely seriously. If a whistleblower violates the seal, for example, by going to the press or by telling the target about the existence of the case, this can have severe consequences.
To begin, the government will likely be disappointed that the seal has been breached and that the investigation has potentially been compromised. This may cause the government to be less willing to investigate or intervene in the case. Who wants to work on a case that has been compromised?
Next, the Court itself will be upset to learn that a whistleblower has breached the seal order. When a whistleblower breaches the Court’s seal order, the whistleblower can be held in contempt of Court. The Court can impose a variety of sanctions upon the whistleblower for violating a court order. These can include monetary sanctions and, in extreme cases, a complete dismissal of the whistleblower’s case.
In short, whistleblowers must obey the seal order. Failure to do so could jeopardize the entire case.
If you have questions about a qui tam seal under the False Claims Act, please contact our office. We can explain how the process works and your rights and obligations under the False Claims Act.