One requirement of the federal False Claims Act is that private whistleblowers must file their lawsuits under seal—which means that neither the defendant nor the general public knows that the case has been filed. But what happens when the whistleblower breaches that seal—either deliberately or accidentally—and reveals the existence of the lawsuit?
To date, different federal courts have come up with very different answers to that question. Some courts have held that any breach of the seal requires dismissing the whistleblower’s case. Others have held that dismissing the case is only appropriate when the government’s interests have actually been harmed. And some courts have taken an in-between approach that looks to the underlying purpose of filing under seal and whether the particular breach has frustrated the seal’s purpose.
Soon, though, the U.S. Supreme Court may definitively resolve this question. Today, the Court heard oral argument in State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. United States ex rel. Rigsby, No. 15-513, a case dealing directly with the legal consequences for a whistleblower violating the seal in a False Claims Act case. Hopefully, the Supreme Court’s decision—expected sometime next year—will provide some clarity on an important procedural issue that has long been mired in uncertainty and split legal authority. Stay tuned.
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