Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Unsealing "Qui Tam" Cases

The publicizing of a "Qui Tam" suit happens at the time the Government decides whether to intervene. The underlying investigation took months, and sometimes years, to complete.U

Under the False Claims Act (FCA), private parties may bring suit in the name of the United States. The private parties, known as qui tam relators, must initially file the complaint under seal. Sealing protects the United States' investigation while the Government determines whether to intervene in the action. Once the United States decides whether to intervene, the qui tam complaint is unsealed. This is keeping with the general presumption that the public enjoys free and unfettered access to Court records.

To justify continued sealing of qui tam court records, the risk of disclosure must outweigh the public benefits in access to court records. What might those risks be? Such risks for continued sealing would be a showing that the particular pleading either includes confidential investigative techniques, jeopardizes an ongoing investigation or risks injury to non-parties. By contrast, if the pleading merely discloses routine investigative procedures which anyone with rudimentary knowledge of the investigative process (i.e. someone who watches crime shows on television) would assume would be utilized in the regular course of business and contains no information about specific investigatory techniques, then the pleading would be unsealed.

Sometimes the Government will try to maintain pleadings under seal. Perhaps the real reasons for trying to do do are not disclosed but the Government still tries and usually fails. In one recent case, the Government cited motions for extensions of time, routine investigative matters such as the numbers of subpoenas issued, witnesses interviewed, and pages of documents reviewed. as justification for continued sealing. The Court ruled that none of the pleadings implicate specific people or provide any substantive details about the investigative or decision-making efforts beyond memorializing routine investigative steps involved in any such process.

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