Each qui tam action is different, but all involve alleged fraudulent actions committed against the U.S. government. Private citizens or organizations usually file a qui tam, and the government may then get involved. There are a few steps and outcomes when filing a qui tam.
The whistleblower or entity will file a complaint with a federal District Court outlining the details of the wrongdoing against the government. A copy of the complaint will also go to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. The document is filed and served under seal to prevent the information from initially leaking to the public. The Department of Justice then has 60 days to do an initial investigation of the claim. The Inspector General of the appropriate government agency who was subject to the alleged fraud conducts the investigation. These can often take a year, and requests for additional time to investigate are typically granted. The Inspector General’s goal is to determine if the government will get involved in the lawsuit.
The government intervenes
There are several possible options if the Inspector General determines whether the government should intervene. The most common conclusions include:
- Joining the lawsuit
- Pursuing an alternate remedy like an administrative action
- Attempting to settle the case
- Dismissing the case
If the government joins the case, it will take it over, limiting the role of the individual or entity who initially brought the action.
The government does not intervene
If the Inspector General determines that the complaint has no merit or they do not have the resources to get involved, they will not intervene rather than dismiss the case. This enables the whistleblower to continue the action if they choose to. If the private citizen or entity moves forward, they have the same rights for investigating as the government does. If the individual or entity wins their qui tam action without government help, they get a larger part of the award.
Successful actions will often require legal guidance. Whistleblowers who are unsure how to proceed or worried about taking on a large company alone often can get help to understand the process and see it through regardless of whether the government intervenes.