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Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Hunt

Supreme Court of the United States

March 19, 2019, Argued; May 13, 2019, Decided

No. 18-315.

Opinion

 [**796]  [*1510]  Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

The False Claims Act contains two limitations periods that apply to a “civil action under section 3730”—that is, an action asserting that a person [***5]  presented false claims to the United States Government. 31 U. S. C. §3731(b). The first period requires that the action be brought within 6 years after the statutory violation occurred. The second period requires that the action be brought within 3 years after the United States official charged with the responsibility to act knew or should have known the relevant facts, but not more than 10 years after the violation. Whichever period provides the later date serves as the limitations period.

This case requires us to decide how to calculate the limitations period for qui tam suits in which the United States does not intervene. The Court of Appeals held that these suits are “civil action[s] under section 3730” and that the limitations periods in §3731(b) apply in accordance with their terms, regardless of whether the United States intervenes. It further held that, for purposes of the second period, the private person who initiates the qui tam suit cannot be deemed the official of the United States. We agree, and therefore affirm.

As relevant, the False Claims Act imposes civil liability on “any person” who “knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval” to the Government or [***6]  to certain third parties acting on the Government’s behalf. 31 U. S. C. §§3729(a), (b)(2). Section 3730 authorizes two types of actions: First, the Attorney General, who “diligently shall investigate a violation under section 3729,” may bring a civil action against the alleged false claimant. §3730(a). Second, a private person, known as a relator, may bring a qui tam civil action “for the person and for the United States Government” against the alleged false claimant, “in the name of the Government.” §3730(b).

If a relator initiates the action, he must deliver a copy of the complaint and supporting evidence to the Government, which then has 60 days to intervene in the action. §§3730(b)(2), (4). During this time, the complaint remains sealed. §3730(b)(2). If the Government intervenes, it assumes primary responsibility for prosecuting the action, though the relator may continue to participate. §3730(c). Otherwise, the relator has the right to pursue the action. §§3730(b)(4), (c)(3). Even if it does not intervene, the Government is entitled to be served with all pleadings upon request and may intervene at any time with good cause. §3730(c)(3). The relator receives a share of any proceeds from the action—generally 15 to 25 percent if the Government intervenes, and 25 to 30 percent if it does not—plus attorney’s fees [***7]  and costs. §§3730(d)(1)-(2). See Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U. S. 765, 769-770, 120 S. Ct. 1858, 146 L. Ed. 2d 836 (2000).

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139 S. Ct. 1507 *; 203 L. Ed. 2d 791 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 3400 ***; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 803; 2019 WL 2078086

COCHISE CONSULTANCY, INC., et al., Petitioners v. UNITED STATES, ex rel. BILLY JOE HUNT

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

United States ex rel. Hunt v. Cochise Consultancy, Inc., 887 F.3d 1081, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 9065 (11th Cir. Ala., Apr. 11, 2018)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

limitations period, civil action, intervenes, relator-initiated, false claim, nonintervened, relevant fact, suits, qui tam, retaliation, purposes

Governments, Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Time Limitations, Labor & Employment Law, Employer Liability, False Claims Act, Scope & Definitions, Scope & Definitions, Qui Tam Actions, Interpretation