Today begins a new series on the history of qui tam litigation in Virginia.
The Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act may be the most successful qui tam statute in Virginia’s long history, but it is not the first. Not by a long shot…in fact, the qui tam concept — which involves one party giving another party standing to file a lawsuit on behalf of another party — is an ancient concept.
The first published qui tam opinion in Virginia legal history occurred under the Colonial Courts, in the 1730 in the case of Churchill v. Blackburn. Indeed, before the year 1900 there were at least 34 qui tam cases in decided in Virginia that resulted in published opinions, including Commonwealth ex rel Walker v. Southern Express Company, 92 Va. 59, 22 S.E. 809 (1895).
In Southern Express, the relator–unceremoniously referred to as the “informer”–brought suit to enforce a penalty under sections 1215 and 1220 of the Virginia Code of 1887, which prohibited rail carriers from charging fees in excess of a certain amount.
Section 1215 set forth the allowable fee, and section 1220 allowed any person who found a carrier charging more than the set amount to come forward, prosecute the case, and receive half of the fine. At that time, the fine was a steep $100. In today’s dollars, after inflation, that fine would come to just under $3,000.
Later entries in this series will cover in more detail the fascinating historical development of this concept in Virginia law.