On April 16, 2012, Governor Nathan Deal signed the Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act (House Bill 822) into law. The Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act, which goes into effect on July 1, 2012, establishes civil penalties for any person or legal entity that commits or conspires to engage in certain fraudulent acts, including but not limited to:
- Knowingly presenting a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;
- Possessing property or money to be used by the state or local government and knowingly delivering less than all of that money or property;
- Knowingly buying or receiving as a pledge of an obligation or debt, public property from an officer or employee of a state or local government who lawfully may not sell or pledge the property; and,
- Knowingly concealing or improperly avoiding an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the state or a local government.
Individuals or entities guilty of committing these violations will be assessed civil penalties of $5,000 to $11,000 for each false or fraudulent claim, plus attorneys’ fees and three times the amount of damages which the state or local government sustains because of the violation. An individual who commits these violations will only be held liable for two times the amount of damages if he or she fully cooperates with government investigators and provides all known information about the violation within 30 days.
Under the law, the Georgia Attorney General may also investigate alleged violations of this law and file a civil suit. The Attorney General may also delegate the authority to investigate and bring suit to a local government that has allegedly sustained damages because of the violation.
In addition, an individual may bring suit upon written approval by the Attorney General; however, the suit must be in the name of the State of Georgia or local government.
There are several limitations to civil actions under the False Claims Act. For example, public employers are not allowed to bring a civil action that is based upon allegations of wrong doing that the public employee or official had a duty to report or investigate. This also includes information to which the public employee or official had access as a result of his or her position.