Sealed cases filed in federal court likely involve False Claims Act, researcher says

By The Madison County Record | Aug 21, 2014

U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert presides over a new and secret civil suit.

Chief Judge David Herndon sealed the entire file including names of the parties.

“It is filed under seal because it is required by law to be filed under seal,” he said.

The suit apparently started on July 17, for its case number falls between numbers of two separate cases that started on that date.

Tim Reagan of the Federal Judicial Center said a case required by law to be filed under seal would likely involve the False Claims Act.

He called the Act a whistle blower law from the Civil War.

He said a person who becomes aware that someone defrauded the government can file an action under the Act and seal it.

The person filing the action must forward a copy to the Justice Department, he said. The case remains sealed until the government decides whether to intervene.

In 2008, Reagan led a team that found 576 civil cases under seal among 245,326 civil cases that started in federal courts in 2006.

Of those cases filed under seal, the team found 181 false claim actions, including dozens that the Justice Department had decided and dozens more that judges had dismissed.

The team found about 100 sealed civil cases that sprang from criminal proceedings.

They also found:

- 22 sealed cases involving minors, 14 involving confidential agreements, and 13 involving trade secrets.

- seven that judges sealed to protect medical information, and four they sealed to protect reputations of physicians.

- 19 actions sealed because both sides wanted them sealed.

- 16 cases apparently sealed in error.

- two that related to nuclear weapons.

Their survey resulted in judges unsealing cases that no longer required privacy.

According to Reagan, the tally of 576 sealed cases included 151 that most district court clerks would have filed as magistrate judge cases or miscellaneous cases.

His team found seals on about a sixth of all magistrate judge cases and about a third of miscellaneous cases.






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