How Long Do Cases Stay Under Seal?

Under the federal False Claims Act, the government always has at least sixty days to conduct its investigation. In practice, the government frequently requests, and courts usually grant, multiple extensions of the “seal period.” It is not uncommon for qui tam cases to remain under seal for two years or longer while the government investigates. During that period, the existence of the case remains a secret. Ordinarily, the seal remains in place until the government notifies the court that it has concluded its investigation and either wants to intervene in the case or is declining to intervene.

Sometimes, during its investigation, the government decides that it wants to open discussions with the defendant to explore the possibility of an early settlement. When that happens, the government may petition the court for a “partial lifting” of the seal, in order to be able to disclose the existence of the case and, often, the identity of the whistleblower, to the defendant as part of settlement discussions. Whistleblowers should always expect that their identity will become public. At some point, in almost every case, the seal is lifted and the relator’s identity is disclosed.