This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Cochise Consultancy v. United States. The case concerns the statute of limitations for a relator in a False Claims Act (FCA) qui tam lawsuit in which the United States has declined to intervene. Relators, also known as whistleblowers, may bring a lawsuit for alleged fraud against the government and potentially receive a share of any recovery as a reward. The FCA establishes two distinct statute-of-limitations periods: six years for relators’ claims and no more than 10 years for claims brought by a government official or with the knowledge of a government official.
After serving time in prison for being part of a fraudulent subcontracting scheme, the relator in this case alleged that Cochise violated the FCA. Cochise argued the statute of limitations barred the claim because it requires a violation to be brought within six years of the violation or three years “after the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances, but in no event more than 10 years after the date on which the violation is committed.” The Supreme Court is addressing the issue of whether the “government knowledge” period of up to 10 years applies only when the government intervenes in the case or whether that period also applies to relators even when the government has chosen not to pursue the claim.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court urging a limited time frame for private relators to bring FCA cases. The NAM’s brief argues that a relator in an FCA action is limited to the six-year statute of limitations. The shorter statute of limitations would reduce the number of very old claims that manufacturers would be forced to defend—at significant expense and with the disadvantage of faded memories and dated evidence.