Can You File a Whistleblower Lawsuit without an Attorney?

Handling Whistleblower Cases Nationwide from Newport News, Virginia

whistleblower-attorneyThe short answer is no - a party may not file a Whistleblower (Qui Tam) action without an attorney.  Generally, a person is permitted by right to represent himself or herself in a court proceeding either as a plaintiff or a defendant.  However, this is not the case in the context of a whistleblower suit.  Indeed, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently reaffirmed this in a unanimous decision on December 20, 2016 in the case of Bond v. Hughes, Case No. 16-1778 where the court affirmed the dismissal of a qui tam count in that case.  The court stated that the whistleblower component to the case was subject to dismissal as a pro se litigant may not pursue a qui tam action on behalf of the government under the False Claims Act.  The Fourth Circuit then cited a litany of prior decisions ruling in the same manner.

 

       The question as to why this is prohibited is worth some consideration.   As already noted, a party may represent themselves in court; however, they may not represent others unless they are licensed to practice law.  The rationale for this distinction was discussed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the context of also considering whether a pro se party could file a whistleblower action.  The court noted that:

the conduct of litigation by a nonlawyer creates unusual burdens not only for the party he represents but as well for his adversaries and the court. The lay litigant frequently brings pleadings that are awkwardly drafted, motions that are inarticulately presented, proceedings that are needlessly multiplicative. In addition to lacking the professional skills of a lawyer, the lay litigant lacks many of the attorney's ethical responsibilities, e.g., to avoid litigating unfounded or vexatious claims. U.S. ex rel. Mergent Services v. Flaherty, 540 F.3d 89 92-93 (2008).

In a whistleblower action, a private person brings a qui tam action both on behalf of himself and the United States Government.  The action is brought against the defendant in the name of the Government. The government may elect to intervene, and if it recovers a judgment, the relator receives a percentage of the award. If the government declines to intervene, the relator may pursue the action and may receive as much as 30 percent of any judgment rendered.

As a result, the courts have consistently ruled that a relator's interest in a qui tam action can be characterized as an interest held by a “partial assignee” of the claims of the United States.  Consequently, while the False Claims Act permits the whistleblower to exercise some control over the False Claims Act litigation, the claim itself belongs to the United States.  For this reason, a party may not file a False Claims Act case on their own without an attorney.

To schedule a free consultation with our whistleblower lawyers, please contact the AntiFraud Law Group today. We accept cases from whistleblowers living in all parts of the country.