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What is a Public Disclosure Under the False Claims Act?

California Public Disclosure Under the False Claims Act 

The former statute stated that courts could only hear a case regarding public disclosure if the Attorney General or a person who had direct and independent knowledge of the information brought the case to the court.  (31 USC § 3730(e)(4)).  Currently, under the amended statute, the court will dismiss a case if public disclosure of the information previously occurred in any of the following: Federal criminal, civil or administrative hearing; congressional hearing, Government accountability Office or Other Federal report or hearing, audit or investigation, or the news media.  (31 USC § 3730(e)(4)(1)(A)) as amended by the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119).  The first exception to this is if the case is brought by the Attorney General.  Another exception is if the case is brought by a person who notified the government of the information prior to public disclosure of the said information.  Another exception is if the individual adds additional material facts to the already publicly disclosed information.  (31 USC § 3730(e)(4)(A)-(B)). 

Public Disclosure has three parts: public disclosure of an allegation or transaction, the action by a “whistleblower” which exposes the company or individual’s wrongdoing in a government contract, and the person bringing the action has independent knowledge of the information.  (U.S. ex rel. Barrett v Johnson Controls, Inc. 2003 WL 21500400) 

Public disclosure does not concern whether government had prior knowledge of the information; but rather only whether the public had knowledge of the information.  (United States ex. Rel. Ramseyer v. Century Healthcare Corp.; Graham County Soil & Water Conservation District v. United States).  In order for the information to be disclosed to the public the information must be revealed to those that were not parties to action regarding the fraud. (United States ex rel. Barrett v Johnson Controls, Inc., 2003 WL 1400500 at 5 (N.D. Tex. 2003)).   Further, it the information need not be widely known by the public but should have been disclosed in one of the named ways listed in 31 U.S.C. § 3730(e)(4)(A) above.  (Briges v. Omega Word Travel, Inc.,).  One test for “public dissemination” looks at whether the individuals who knew the information were obligated to keep the information confidential.    (United States ex rel. Barrett v Johnson Controls, Inc., 2003 WL 1400500 at 5 (N.D. Tex. 2003)).   

Plaintiff cannot combine claims if doing so would violate public disclosure provisions discussed above.  On the other hand, plaintiff’s improper combining of claims will not cause the dismissal of otherwise valid claims.  (Rockwell International Corp. v. United States, 549 U.S. 457, 476 (U.S. 2007). 

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