Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act
Whistleblowers with knowledge of fraud on Virginia funds may bring suit on the state’s behalf and share in the recovery, under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act which was first enacted in 2002. Under Va. Code § 8.01-216.3 of the Act, an individual may face civil liability for knowingly presenting or causing to be presented a false or fraudulent claim, conspiring to do so, or engaging in other fraudulent activity specified by law.
The Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act is modeled on the federal False Claims Act, and cases brought under one statute are often brought in conjunction with claims under the other. Violation of the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act exposes an individual for civil penalties up to three times the total damages to the state. Further, the Act imposes civil penalties ranging between $5,500 – $11,000 for each individual false claim in violation of the Act.
A private individual with direct knowledge of a Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act violation is authorized to file a suit under the Act’s qui tam provisions. The qui tam relator, often referred to as a “whistleblower,” may proceed with the action regardless of whether the government chooses to intervene.
Whistleblowers involved in successful judgments or settlements may receive up to 25 percent of the civil penalties recovered by the state government. If the state government has chosen not to intervene, the whistleblower may receive up to 30 percent of the available recovery. Further, the Act provides the whistleblower with protection against employer retaliation, offering reinstatement, double back pay with interest, and compensation for any special damages including attorneys’ fees if the employee lawfully acted in furtherance of an action under the statute, including efforts to stop the violation.
Persons with information about fraud on the state of Virginia are urged to preserve their rights by consulting an attorney and filing a case as soon as possible. A disclosure to the Virginia state government pursuant to Va. Code § 8.01-216.8 may preserve a person’s rights as an original source of the information about fraud.
As of August 2013, the text of the state FCA statute below is believed to be a complete, current version of the statute currently in force. Nonetheless, attorneys and qui tam relators should rely on the most up to date version of the state’s laws.
Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act
Va. Code § 8.01-216 et seq.
§ 8.01-216.2. Definitions.
As used in this article, unless the context requires otherwise:
“Attorney General” means the Attorney General of Virginia, the Chief Deputy, other deputies, counsels or assistant attorneys general employed by the Office of the Attorney General and designated by the Attorney General to act pursuant to this article.
“Claim” means any request or demand, whether under a contract or otherwise, for money or property, regardless of whether the Commonwealth has title to the money or property, that (i) is presented to an officer, employee, or agent of the Commonwealth or (ii) is made to a contractor, grantee, or other recipient (a) if the money or property is to be spent or used on the Commonwealth’s behalf or to advance a governmental program or interest and (b) if the Commonwealth provides or has provided any portion of the money or property requested or demanded or will reimburse such contractor, grantee, or other recipient for any portion of the money or property that is requested or demanded. For purposes of this article, “claim” does not include requests or demands for money or property that the Commonwealth has paid to an individual as compensation for employment with the Commonwealth or as income subsidy with no restriction on that individual’s use of the money or property.
“Commonwealth” means the Commonwealth of Virginia, any agency of state government, and any political subdivision of the Commonwealth.
“Documentary material” means the original or any copy of any book, record, report, memorandum, paper, communication, tabulation, chart, or other document, or data compilations stored in or accessible through computer or other information retrieval systems, together with instructions and all other materials necessary to use or interpret such data compilations, and any product of discovery.
“Employee” includes an employee or officer of the Commonwealth.
“Employer” includes the Commonwealth.
“Investigation” means any inquiry conducted by an investigator for the purpose of ascertaining whether any person is or has been engaged in any violation of this article.
“Material” means having a natural tendency to influence, or be capable of influencing, the payment or receipt of money or property.
“Obligation” means an established duty, whether or not fixed, arising from (i) an express or implied contractual, grantor-grantee, or licensor-licensee relationship; (ii) a fee-based or similar relationship; (iii) a statute or regulation; or (iv) the retention of any overpayment.
“Official use” means any use that is consistent with the law, regulations, and policies of the Commonwealth, including use in connection with (i) internal memoranda and reports of the Office of the Attorney General; (ii) communications between the Office of the Attorney General and a federal, state, or local government agency, or a contractor of a federal, state, or local government agency, undertaken in furtherance of an Office of the Attorney General investigation or prosecution of a case; (iii) interviews of any qui tam relator or other witness; (iv) oral examinations; (v) depositions; (vi) the preparation for and response to civil discovery requests; (vii) the introduction into the record of a case or proceeding; (viii) applications, motions, memoranda, and briefs submitted to a court or other tribunal; and (ix) communications with government investigators, auditors, consultants, experts, the counsel of other parties, arbitrators, and mediators, concerning an investigation, case, or proceeding.
“Person” includes any natural person, corporation, firm, association, organization, partnership, limited liability company, business or trust.
“Product of discovery” means (i) the original or duplicate of any deposition, interrogatory, document, thing, result of the inspection of land or other property, examination, or admission, which is obtained by any method of discovery in any judicial or administrative proceeding of an adversarial nature; (ii) any digest, analysis, selection, compilation, or derivation of any item listed in clause (i); and (iii) any index or other manner of access to any item listed in clause (i).
§ 8.01-216.3. False claims; civil penalty.
A. Any person who:
1. Knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;
2. Knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim;
3. Conspires to commit a violation of subdivision 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, or 7;
4. Has possession, custody, or control of property or money used, or to be used, by the Commonwealth and knowingly delivers, or causes to be delivered, less than all such money or property;
5. Is authorized to make or deliver a document certifying receipt of property used, or to be used, by the Commonwealth and, intending to defraud the Commonwealth, makes or delivers the receipt without completely knowing that the information on the receipt is true;
6. Knowingly buys or receives as a pledge of an obligation or debt, public property from an officer or employee of the Commonwealth who lawfully may not sell or pledge the property; or
7. Knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement material to an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the Commonwealth or knowingly conceals or knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the Commonwealth;
shall be liable to the Commonwealth for a civil penalty of not less than $5,500 and not more than $11,000, plus three times the amount of damages sustained by the Commonwealth.
A person violating this section shall be liable to the Commonwealth for reasonable attorney fees and costs of a civil action brought to recover any such penalties or damages. All such fees and costs shall be paid to the Attorney General’s Office by the defendant and shall not be included in any damages or civil penalties recovered in a civil action based on a violation of this section.
B. If the court finds that (i) the person committing the violation of this section furnished officials of the Commonwealth responsible for investigating false claims violations with all information known to the person about the violation within 30 days after the date on which the defendant first obtained the information; (ii) such person fully cooperated with any Commonwealth investigation of such violation; (iii) at the time such person furnished the Commonwealth with the information about the violation, no criminal prosecution, civil action, or administrative action had commenced with respect to such violation; and (iv) the person did not have actual knowledge of the existence of an investigation into such violation, the court may assess not less than two times the amount of damages that the Commonwealth sustains because of the act of that person. A person violating this section shall also be liable to the Commonwealth for the costs of a civil action brought to recover any such penalty or damages.
C. For purposes of this section, the terms “knowing” and “knowingly” mean that a person, with respect to information, (i) has actual knowledge of the information; (ii) acts in deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of the information; or (iii) acts in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information and require no proof of specific intent to defraud.
D. This section shall not apply to claims, records or statements relating to state or local taxes.
§ 8.01-216.4. Attorney General; investigation, civil action.
The Attorney General shall investigate any violation of § 8.01-216.3. If the Attorney General finds that a person has violated or is violating § 8.01-216.3, the Attorney General may bring a civil action under this section.
§ 8.01-216.5. Civil actions filed by private persons; Commonwealth may intervene.
A. A person may bring a civil action for a violation of § 8.01-216.3 for the person and for the Commonwealth. The action shall be brought in the name of the Commonwealth. The action may be dismissed only if the court and the Attorney General give written consent to the dismissal and their reasons for consenting.
B. A copy of the complaint and written disclosure of substantially all material evidence and information the person possesses shall be served on the Commonwealth. The complaint shall be filed in camera, shall remain under seal for at least 120 days, and shall not be served on the defendant until the court so orders. The Commonwealth may elect to intervene and proceed with the action within 120 days after it receives both the complaint and the material evidence and information.
C. The Commonwealth may, for good cause shown, move the court for extensions of the time during which the complaint remains under seal. Any such motions may be supported by affidavits or other submissions in camera. The defendant shall not be required to respond to any motion for judgment filed under this section until twenty-one days after the complaint is unsealed and served upon the defendant.
D. Before the expiration of the 120-day period or any extensions obtained under subsection C, the Commonwealth shall proceed with the action, in which case the action shall be conducted by the Commonwealth, or notify the court that it declines to take over the action, in which case the person bringing the action shall have the right to prosecute the action.
E. When a person brings an action under this section, no person other than the Commonwealth may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending action.
§ 8.01-216.6. Rights of private plaintiff and Commonwealth.
A. If the Commonwealth proceeds with the action, it shall have the primary responsibility for prosecuting the action, and shall not be bound by an act of the person bringing the action. Such person shall have the right to continue as a party to the action, subject to the limitations of this section.
B. The Commonwealth may dismiss the action notwithstanding the objections of the person initiating the action if the person has been notified by the Commonwealth of the filing of the complaint and the court has provided the person with an opportunity for a hearing on the complaint.
C. The Commonwealth may settle the action with the defendant notwithstanding the objections of the person initiating the action if the court determines, after a hearing, that the proposed settlement is fair, adequate, and reasonable under all the circumstances. Upon a showing of good cause, such hearing may be held in camera. The Commonwealth may, for good cause shown, move the court for a partial lifting of the seal to facilitate the investigative process or settlement.
D. Upon a showing by the Commonwealth that unrestricted participation during the course of the litigation by the person initiating the action would interfere with or unduly delay the Commonwealth’s prosecution of the case, or would be repetitious, irrelevant, or for purposes of harassment, the court may, in its discretion, impose limitations on the person’s participation, such as (i)limiting the number of witnesses the person may call; (ii) limiting the length of the testimony of such witnesses; (iii) limiting the person’s cross-examination of witnesses; and (iv) otherwise limiting the participation by the person in the litigation.
E. Upon a showing by the defendant that unrestricted participation during the course of the litigation by the person initiating the action would be for purposes of harassment or would cause the defendant undue burden or unnecessary expense, the court may limit the participation by the person in the litigation.
F. If the Commonwealth elects not to proceed with the action, the person who initiated the action shall have the right to conduct the action. If the Commonwealth so requests, it shall be served with copies of all pleadings filed in the action and shall be supplied with copies of all deposition transcripts at the Commonwealth’s expense. When a person proceeds with the action, the court, without limiting the status and rights of the person initiating the action, may nevertheless permit the Commonwealth to intervene at a later date upon a showing of good cause.
G. Whether or not the Commonwealth proceeds with the action, upon a showing by the Commonwealth that certain actions of discovery by the person initiating the action would interfere with the Commonwealth’s investigation or prosecution of a criminal or civil matter arising out of the same facts, the court may stay such discovery for a period of not more than sixty days. Such a showing shall be conducted in camera. The court may extend the sixty-day period upon a further showing in camera that the Commonwealth has pursued the criminal or civil investigation or proceedings with reasonable diligence and any proposed discovery in the civil action will interfere with the ongoing criminal or civil investigation or proceedings.
H. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection B of § 8.01-216.5, the Commonwealth may elect to pursue its claim through any alternate remedy available to the Commonwealth, including any administrative proceeding to determine a civil money penalty. If any such alternate remedy is pursued in another proceeding, the person initiating the action shall have the same rights in such proceeding as such person would have had if the action had continued under this section. Any finding of fact or conclusion of law made in such other proceeding that has become final shall be conclusive on all parties to an action under this article. For purposes of this subsection, a finding or conclusion is final if it has been finally determined on appeal to a court of competent jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, if the time for filing an appeal with respect to the finding or conclusion has expired, or if the finding or conclusion is not subject to judicial review.
§ 8.01-216.7. Award to private plaintiff.
A. Except as hereinafter provided, if the Commonwealth proceeds with an action brought by a person under § 8.01-216.5, such person shall receive at least fifteen percent but not more than twenty-five percent of the proceeds of the action or settlement of the claim, depending upon the extent to which the person substantially contributed to the prosecution of the action. Where the action is one that the court finds to be based primarily on disclosures of specific information, other than information provided by the person bringing the action, relating to allegations or transactions in a criminal, civil, or administrative hearing, in a legislative, administrative, or Auditor of Public Accounts’ report, hearing, audit, or investigation, or from the news media, the court may award such sums as it considers appropriate, but in no case more than ten percent of the proceeds, taking into account the significance of the information and the role of the person bringing the action in advancing the case to litigation. Any payment to a person under this section shall be made from the proceeds of the award. Any such person shall also receive an amount for reasonable expenses that the court finds to have been necessarily incurred, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. All such expenses, fees, and costs shall be awarded against the defendant.
B. If the Commonwealth does not proceed with an action, the person bringing the action or settling the claim shall receive an amount that the court decides is reasonable for collecting the civil penalty and damages. The amount shall be not less than twenty-five percent and not more than thirty percent of the proceeds of the award or settlement and shall be paid out of the proceeds. Such person shall also receive an amount for reasonable expenses that the court finds to have been necessarily incurred, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. All such expenses, fees, and costs shall be awarded against the defendant.
C. Whether or not the Commonwealth proceeds with the action, if the court finds that the action was brought by a person who planned and initiated the violation of § 8.01-216.3 upon which the action was brought, or if the person bringing the action is convicted of criminal conduct arising from his role in the violation of § 8.01-216.3, that person shall be dismissed from the civil action and shall not receive any share of the proceeds of the action. Such dismissal shall not prejudice the right of the Commonwealth to continue the action.
D. If the Commonwealth does not proceed with the action and the person bringing the action conducts the action, the court may award to the defendant its reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses if the defendant prevails in the action and the court finds that the claim of the person bringing the action was clearly frivolous, clearly vexatious, or brought primarily for purposes of harassment.
§ 8.01-216.8. Certain actions barred.
No court shall have jurisdiction over an action brought under § 8.01-216.5 based on information discovered by a present or former employee of the Commonwealth during the course of his employment unless that employee first, in good faith, exhausted existing internal procedures for reporting and seeking recovery of the falsely claimed sums through official channels and unless the Commonwealth failed to act on the information provided within a reasonable period of time.
No court shall have jurisdiction over any action brought under this article by an inmate incarcerated within a state or local correctional facility as defined in § 53.1-1.
No court shall have jurisdiction over an action brought under this article against any department, authority, board, bureau, commission, or agency of the Commonwealth, any political subdivision of the Commonwealth, a member of the General Assembly, a member of the judiciary, or an exempt official if the action is based on evidence or information known to the Commonwealth when the action was brought. For purposes of this section, “exempt official” means the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and the directors or members of any department, authority, board, bureau, commission or agency of the Commonwealth or any political subdivision of the Commonwealth.
In no event may a person bring an action under this article that is based upon allegations or transactions that are the subject of a civil suit or an administrative proceeding in which the Commonwealth is already a party.
The court shall dismiss an action or claim under § 8.01-216.5 unless opposed by the Commonwealth if substantially the same allegations or transactions as alleged in the action or claim were publicly disclosed in a criminal, civil or administrative hearing in which the Commonwealth or its agent is a party, in a Virginia legislative, administrative, or Auditor of Public Accounts’ report, hearing, audit, or investigation, or from the news media, unless the action is brought by the Attorney General or the person bringing the action is an original source of the information. For purposes of this section, “original source” means an individual (i) who either prior to a public disclosure has voluntarily disclosed to the Commonwealth the information on which the allegations or transactions in a claim are based or (ii) who has knowledge that is independent of and materially adds to the publicly disclosed allegations or transactions and who has voluntarily provided the information to the Commonwealth before filing an action under this article.
Except as otherwise provided in this section, the Commonwealth shall not be liable for expenses a person incurs in bringing an action under this article.
Any employee, contractor, or agent shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make that employee, contractor, or agent whole, if that employee, contractor, or agent is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment because of lawful acts done by the employee, contractor, agent, or associated others in furtherance of an action under this article or other efforts to stop one or more violations of this article. Relief shall include reinstatement with the same seniority status that employee, contractor, or agent would have had but for the discrimination, two times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable attorney fees. Any relief awarded to an employee under this section shall be reduced by any amount awarded to the employee through a state or local grievance process. An action under this section may be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction for the relief provided in this section, but may not be brought more than three years after the discrimination occurred. This paragraph shall constitute a waiver of sovereign immunity and creates a cause of action by an employee against the Commonwealth if the Commonwealth is the employer responsible for the adverse employment action that would entitle the employee to the relief set forth in this paragraph.