The U.S. Supreme Court in a unanimous decision ruled in Cochise Consultancy, Inc. et. al. v. United States ex rel. Hunt that qui tam relators in which the federal government has declined to intervene in civil False Claims Act (FCA) cases may rely on the statute of limitations set forth in 31 U.S.C. § 3731(b)(2) to bring a suit up to 10 years after the alleged violation.
The limitations period in 31 U.S.C. §3731(b)(2) provides that a “civil [FCA] action under section 3730” must be brought within one of two periods, whichever occurs last: (1) within six years after the date on which the alleged violation is committed; or (2) within three years after the “the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances” knew or should have known the relevant facts, but not more than 10 years after the violation.
The Court held that Section 3731(b) establishes two limitations periods that apply to “civil action[s] under section 3730” and both government-initiated suits and relator-initiated suits are “civil action[s] under section 3730.” The plain text of the statute imposes both limitations periods on both types of actions and to interpret the statute otherwise would violate the principle that “a single use of statutory phrase must have a fixed meaning.”
The Court further ruled that a qui tam relator in a non-intervened suit is not an “official of the United States” whose knowledge triggers §3731(b)(2)’s limitations period.