If you are wondering what is different about the False Claims Act in Florida, it can be summarized in three main points of difference. The differences below detail how Florida's law provides for both plaintiffs and defendants. If you are a whistleblower with knowledge of fraud, your Florida False Claims Act attorney will be able to explain how the details of your case may be impacted by Federal or FCA Florida.
Innocent Mistakes Provision
The Florida statute has an “innocent mistake” provision.
- This is an allowable defense against a plaintiff’s lawsuit in the State of Florida. Defendants can argue that they made mistake which caused damage to the State. If proven they will not face the penalties imposed by Florida’s FCA. (68.083 & 68.084)
- They must be found to have “unknowingly” made the the mistake. “Deliberate ignorance” of a mistake is not an innocent mistake.
Reduction of Damages Provision
Damages for guilty parties can be reduced from treble to double. The court can reduce the damages if they find the defendant did one of the following voluntarily:
- The person turns over everything they know about the violation within 30 days.
- The person fully cooperates with the official investigation into the violation.
- The person responsible turns over all information about the violation before any prosecution or action is brought and has no knowledge of the existence of an investigation into their wrongdoing.
Fraudulent Corporate Tax Returns Provision
Florida’s FCA does not bar claims to be filed based on fraudulent tax returns. Relators (whistleblowers) can use this to report on corporate tax fraud perpetrated against the State of Florida.
- The Federal FCA is considering but currently does not allow actions based on tax returns.
- Four other States do not “bar action” under fraudulent tax returns. Delaware, Nevada, New Hampshire & New Jersey.
- In 2015 New York was the first state to specifically authorize action under it’s FCA Statute against fraudulent tax returns.
The three key differences of Florida’s FCA are that it provides additional defense for the accused, lowers penalties on offenders who cooperate with the State and empowers whistleblowers to inform on corporate tax fraud.
When Florida enacted its own FCA in 1994 it modeled the rewards for whistleblowers exactly the same as the Federal False Claims Act. Successful whistleblowers are awarded 15%-30% of the State’s recovered funds. Whistleblower protections are also provided under Florida’s Whistleblower Protection Act.
Two Types of Rewards
- All Florida FCA qui tam actions are filed on behalf of the State. The State of Florida will review the case. If they decide to intervene plaintiff will receive 15%-25% of any State funds recovered.
- If the State decide not to intervene on the plaintiff behalf then the award for winning the case is 25%-30% of any State funds recovered.
- In either situation the plaintiff will also be entitled to reimbursement for reasonable expenses and attorney’s fees. These fees will be paid by the defendant.
- Employees are in the best position to report wrongdoing. They are also in danger of employer retaliation. The Florida False Claims Act protects employee whistleblowers.
- Any employee who is “discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against” under lawful circumstances is protected under Florida FCA via Florida Statute 112.3187 known as the Florida Whistle-blower Protection Act.
- An employee that is subjected to the retaliation above will be entitled:
- Reinstatement to the same position before the action
- Reinstatement of full benefits and seniority
- Compensation of lost wages, benefits because of the adverse action
Florida’s False Claims Act rewards those who file successful actions on behalf of the State with bounties in the same way as the Federal law. The State of Florida may also assist in the prosecution of cases.
Whistleblowers are protected in Florida statute supplementing Federal laws as well.
If you have knowledge of fraud, knowing who can and cannot bring qui tam action under the Florida FCA is important.
Who can file under Florida FCA (Who Can’t)
- Almost everyone. The Federal FCA allows any person or entity to file a qui-tam action. The State of Florida FCA is the same except for one group. State employees.
- Current State employees are not allowed to bring lawsuits under the Florida FCA. They can not use information they learned while working for the State to bring a case. However, State of Florida employees are not barred from bringing a Federal Case.
Where do you file cases under the Florida FCA?
- Florida False Claims are filed in the Second Judicial Court in Leon County.
What is the process of Florida FCA?
- Once a qui-tam action is filed in circuit court an official copy of the complaint will be sent to the Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer. This must be registered mail with return receipt requested.
- The Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer will decide whether or not to intervene on behalf of the State. This should occur 60 days after they receive the material evidence and information. They can request additional time if needed.
- This is process is the basically the same as the Federal FCA process with one key exception. The Florida FCA does not require the court to approve voluntary dismissals by the State. Even if the plaintiff responsible for bringing the qui-tam action objects the State can dismiss the case without court approval.
Statute of Limitations
The Florida and Federal False Claims Act have the exact same Statue of Limitations. Civil actions must be filed:
- No more than 6 after the date of the violation or
- No more than 3 year after the date facts are known or should have been known to the department or
- In either case no more than 10 years after violations occur.
Timing in a False Claims qui-tam action is crucial. Consultation of a qualified Florida FCA attorney is recommended.
The Florida FCA mirrors the Federal Act very closely. There are minor differences can have a significant impact on a claim. Some of those differences can be traced to a revision of the Florida FCA in 2013.
The power of qui-tam actions through the Florida False Claims Act has benefited the State of Florida and relators greatly. Whistleblowers are provided a civil remedy for false claims, are rewarded for disclosing fraud, and in so doing help the State fight spending abuses and related waste to the taxpayers. An honest and straightforward Florida False Claims Act attorney will be the first the tell you that qui tam litigation has risks and potential rewards.
While whistleblowers are protected and incentivized under the Florida Law it's highly recommended potential relators seek counsel before taking action for help navigating what can quickly become a complex legal situation.
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