The False Claims Act ("FCA") allows whistleblowers, called relators, to file civil fraud actions on behalf of the federal government and retain a portion of any recovered damages. The FCA’s statute of limitations is six to ten years, depending on when the material facts are discovered. In United States ex rel. Carter v. Halliburton Co., No. 12-2011 (4th Cir. Mar. 18, 2013), however, the Fourth Circuit held that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3287, indefinitely tolls the FCA’s statute of limitations for so long as the United States is “at war.” The district court had dismissed the action because, among other grounds, the matter was a civil action brought by a relator after the limitations period had expired. The district court noted that the Department of Justice had declined to intervene, and held that the WSLA did not apply to civil actions where the United States was not a party. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, holding that the suspension of limitations “depends on whether the country is at war and not who brings the case.” Because the United States remained “at war” with Iraq for purposes of the WSLA, the WSLA tolled the statute of limitations.
Carter is the first appellate holding to apply the WSLA to civil relator actions since the FCA was amended in 1986 to no longer require a showing of specific intent to defraud. Because the WSLA tolls the statute of limitations for five years after the United States is “at war,” the Fourth Circuit’s holding opens the door to otherwise time-barred FCA actions.