The False Claims Act bars duplicate claims filed based on the same information as previous whistleblower claim. This so-called “first to file” requirement incentivizes whistleblowers to act quickly and triggers a “race to the courthouse” because would-be whistleblowers do not want to miss out on a substantial financial award. The public policy purpose behind limiting qui tam claims is to “prevent ‘parasitic’ qui tam actions in which relators, rather than bringing to light independently discovered information of fraud, simply feed off of previous disclosures of government fraud.” United States ex rel. McKenzie v. Bellsouth Telecommunications, 123 F.3d 935, 943 (6th Cir. 1997).
Given this first-to-file requirement, a question that often arises is whether multiple whistleblowers having similar, but distinct, information can work together and file a qui tam suit jointly. The answer is yes, False Claims Act claims may be brought by more than one whistleblower (known as a “relator” under the Act).
A sizeable number of False Claims Act cases have been filed by multiple whistleblowers, including:
- Six relators in United States ex rel. Fallon v. Accudyne Corp., 921 F. Supp. 611 (W.D. Wis. 1995)
- Three relators in consolidated of United States ex rel. LaCorte v. SmithKline Beecham, 149 F.3d 227 (3d Cir. 1998).
- Three relators in United States ex rel. Burch v. Piqua Eng’g, 803 F. Supp. 115 (S.D. Ohio 1992).
Moreover, no False Claims Act case has explicitly held that whistleblower lawsuits must be limited to one whistleblower. Sometimes, when a fraudulent scheme is widespread and complex, it requires multiple whistleblowers to come forward and provide enough information for a viable claim. In permitting claims by two whistleblowers to go forward, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana noted, “Fraud on the government can be diffuse and institutional. It will not always be discovered by one person. Often, several employees together may each contribute a piece of the mosaic.” United States ex rel. Garibaldi v. Orleans Par. Sch. Bd., 21 F. Supp. 2d 607, 617 (E.D. La. 1998).
There are many issues that arise in multiple-relator whistleblower suits (such as how the relators will agree among themselves to divide any subsequent monetary recovery), but they are able to be overcome with prudent planning and experience. At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., we are proud to offer aggressive, informed legal representation to whistleblowers (and yes, multiple whistleblowers) who have original, nonpublic information about financial fraud committed against a government program. If you or someone you know has information regarding activity that defrauds Medicare, Medicaid, or a government contracting program, please contact our team of experienced legal professionals for a free and confidential consultation.