Supreme Court Revives False Claims Act Suit by Applying “Government Knowledge” Statute of Limitations

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Thomas, agreed with the Eleventh Circuit that the False Claims Act’s “government knowledge” statute of limitations applies regardless of whether the government chooses to intervene in a qui tam suit.

Under the False Claims Act, a civil action must be filed by the later of 1) six years after the statutory violation, or  2) three years after the relevant facts are “known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances.”  The Act also bars all claims brought more than ten years after the violation.  31 U.S.C. § 3731(b).

In Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Hunt, No. 18-315 (May 13, 2019), the relator filed a qui tam complaint in 2013, alleging a defense contractor defrauded the United States Government in connection with the provision of security services in Iraq from “January 2006 until early 2007.”  The relator later revealed the fraudulent scheme in an interview with federal agents in 2010—within three years of filing the complaint.  The United States declined to intervene, and the complaint was dismissed as untimely.

The Supreme Court found that while the complaint was filed more than six years after the statutory violation, the “government knowledge” provision applied, and the relator’s complaint was resuscitated because of his 2010 interview with federal agents.  The defense contractor had argued that provision only applies if the Government intervenes, a position the Court rejected as at odds with a plain reading of the statute.  The Court saw no reason why the statute of limitations provisions, which apply to all civil actions brought under the False Claims Act, would turn on Government intervention in the suit.

As a practical matter, Cochise provides a longer window for relators to file qui tam actions, to the extent that a government official is informed of the relevant facts more than six years after the violation.


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