The seal used by the federal government during a qui tam suit is an extremely important part of each of these whistleblower suits brought against fraudulent organizations. As a component of the suit, the portion of a lawsuit under seal marks the period of time in which the federal government’s attorneys and advisors at the Department of Justice may investigate the lawsuit. Following a certain period of time, the government may determine whether they will or will not intervene in the case.
When a suit is first filed, the suit is under seal, made private by the court. As a result, all proceedings, records, and related documents are not available to anyone outside the case. The Department of Justice is allowed to access these files, which may be copied and given to the local United States federal attorney as well as the District Judge assigned to the case. In addition to these individuals, the case may be made available for review by others given court permission and at the request of the Department of Justice.
The seal itself persists for a 60-day period. During this time, the government is supposed to recognize whether or not the case at hand has enough merit to taken up by federal attorneys. While 60 days are standard, the government may opt to take more time with the agreement of the court.
The seal may only be broken under two circumstances. The first, and legal approach, is if the government takes up the case, making documents related to the case a public matter. The second occurs when a plaintiff breaks the seal, causing the case to be dropped as a punitive response to the violation of the case’s privacy status.
To learn more about the way a court seal works in a qui tam case, contact a qui tam attorney.