Whistleblower Prevails Against Corporation
Many California whistleblower/qui tam cases are brought under the False Claims Act when the whistleblower (also known as a “relator”) has information of false claims being made for government payments or reimbursements. In order to dissuade whistleblowers from bringing such enforcement actions, corporations often file a lawsuit known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). A SLAPP is intended to silence whistleblowers by so burdening them with the cost of defending against a lawsuit that they are forced to abandon their whistleblower efforts. Many States, including California, allow the whistleblower to bring an anti-SLAPP motion or defense in order to protect their free speech rights and allow their enforcement qui tam to continue.
A recent California appeals decision shows just how effective a whistleblower’s anti-SLAPP motion and/or defense can be. The decision is discussed below. The California whistleblower attorneys at Evans Law Firm represent whistleblowers in False Claims Act cases and know how to pre-empt and/or defend against corporations who attempt to silence whistleblowers/relators with SLAPP lawsuits. If you have credible information of a false claim against the government, call the California whistleblower attorneys at Evans Law Firm, Inc. today at (415)441-8669.
This latest whistleblower victory came in the case of MMM Holdings, Inc. v. Reich, Case No. 053739 (Calif. Ct. App. March 12, 2018). In the case, a corporation brought a SLAPP lawsuit against a relator’s attorney alleging that the attorney wrongfully received and retained over 26,000 electronically stored documents from the relator, who took the documents when the corporation terminated his employment for his opposition to what he perceived were fraudulent activities by the employer.
The attorneys for the whistleblower moved to strike the company’s SLAPP complaint, and prevailed. The Court found that the relator’s use of the documents was a “protected activity” and upheld his right to them. California’s anti-SLAPP law defines a “protected activity” as including “any… conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition or the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.” Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16(e)(4). In particular, the Court found that the whistleblower litigation “unquestionably involves a public issue or a matter of public interest in that qui tam relators initiate enforcement against wrongdoers who cause injury to the public at large.”
The Court also determined that the company had not established a probability of prevailing in its defense against the false claims allegations, which a company must show in order to proceed with a SLAPP lawsuit. The Court rejected the argument that the relator’s conduct in obtaining the documents was unlawful: “California courts consistently hold that defendants may satisfy their burden to show that they were engaged in conduct in furtherance of their right of free speech under the anti-SLAPP statute, even when their conduct was allegedly unlawful,” citing the California Supreme Court in Taus v. Loftus, 40 Cal. 4th 683, 706-707 (2007.
What The Case Means For You
Whistleblowers/relators should continue to exercise caution in how they accumulate documentation, especially if the documents are arguably privileged. However, unprivileged documents may be used to back up the relator’s claims. The decision in MMM Holdings demonstrates how far courts will go in protecting relators under California’s anti-SLAPP law. In short, a wrongdoer’s SLAPP lawsuit can backfire. The anti-SLAPP statute also entitles the relator to attorneys’ fees for successfully opposing the SLAPP action. If you have credible information and documentation of false claims against the government do not hesitate to seek the advice of counsel, such as the California whistleblower attorneys at Evans Law Firm, in how to proceed with your case. Our attorneys know how to confront a corporation’s SLAPP lawsuits and advance your false claims whistleblower/qui tam action.
If you or someone you love has information regarding a whistleblower/qui tam case in San Francisco or elsewhere in California involving False Claims Act cases, the Securities and Exchange Commission Whistleblower Program, the Internal Revenue Service Whistleblower Office, or the FINRA Whistleblower Office or other illegal activity, contact the California whistleblower attorneys at Evans Law Firm, Inc. at (415) 441-8669, or by email at <a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org</a>. Our attorneys have experience with complex financial contracts and large insurance companies. We can help guide your case through a jury trial or toward an equitable settlement. We also handle cases involving financial elder abuse, whole life insurance and universal life insurance, and indexed, variable, and fixed annuities.
 Evans Law Firm, Inc. was not involved in the case, but our whistleblower attorneys followed it as the case is an important victory for whistleblowers against corporate tactics to silence them.