In a unanimous decision issued on May 13, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court sought to resolve lingering confusion over the statute of limitations under the False Claims Act (FCA) for qui tam suits in which the federal government declines to intervene. In Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. United States Ex Rel. Hunt, the Court held that a relator’s claim may be brought within 3 years after the government was made aware of underlying material claims, even where the government did not intervene in the case, because 10 years had not passed since the actions giving rise to such claims occurred, applying the periods in 31 U.S.C. § 3731(b)(2) to the case. Cochise addresses confusion over applicability of 31 U.S.C. § 3731(b), which contains two separate limitations periods (along with a repose period) that can apply to an FCA suit. Under that law, an FCA action may be brought (1) 6 years from the date of the violation, or (2) 3 years from the date the U.S. official responsible for acting knew or should have known of the violation, but no later than 10 years from the date the violation occurred.
The FCA makes it unlawful for individuals or entities to knowingly submit or cause to be submitted false claims for government payment. FCA suits may be brought by the government, or by private citizens in qui tam actions in the name of the United States. In qui tam actions the relator must serve the complaint on the government, and the government then has an opportunity to intervene in the suit.