The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama recently ordered that a relator’s qui tam lawsuit must be unsealed upon the case’s voluntary dismissal, denying the relator’s request to maintain the action under seal post-dismissal. This ruling in U.S. ex rel. Meythaler v. Encompass Health Corporation serves as an important reminder that public access to court records is vitally important and that whistleblowers’ allegations and identities will almost certainly be made public, even where the case is dismissed without litigation.

FCA Complaint Filed Under Seal

The relator, a physician formerly employed by the defendant, filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA) against an inpatient rehabilitation facility operator and the CEOs of two of its Alabama facilities. The complaint alleged numerous schemes, including allegations that the defendants sought reimbursement for treatment of patients who were not eligible for rehabilitation benefits, delayed discharges and other orders to increase reimbursement, and made improper referrals to a home health agency. Per the FCA’s procedural requirements, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(2), the relator filed his complaint under seal, giving the government a statutory period of at least 60 days to investigate the allegations and determine whether to intervene in the case.

The government declined to intervene in the action last fall. The relator then filed a notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice, to which the government later consented. The relator also filed a motion asking the court to maintain the action under seal even after the case was dismissed to prevent the defendants from learning that the relator had filed a qui tam action against them. The government took no position on the relator’s motion.


Continue Reading Relator Cannot Maintain Dismissed Qui Tam Action Under Seal, District Court Rules

The roller coaster ride of U.S. ex rel. Ruckh v. Genoa Healthcare, LLC continues.  In a previous post, we wrote about the staggering $348 million judgment entered following a jury verdict against a management company and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) owned by Consulate Health Care.  The jury found the defendants committed False Claims Act (FCA) violations by artificially inflating Resource Utility Group (RUG) levels for Medicare therapy patients and falsely certifying that the SNFs had created timely and adequate patient care plans required by Medicaid.  Following the judgment, defendants filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), and as we noted here, the district court judge took the extraordinary step of overturning the judgment on materiality grounds.

In the latest turn, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision in part and reinstated most of the jury verdict.  While the district court, in applying Escobar’s materiality standard, had found “an entire absence of evidence” of materiality, the Eleventh Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, holding that “plain and obvious” evidence of materiality supported a jury verdict of $85 million in single damages.  The appellate court ordered the district court to enter judgment in treble that amount, plus per-claim statutory penalties under the FCA.  That comes to over $255 million.


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Reinstates Massive FCA Judgment in Ruckh

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently released its report detailing the settlements and judgments obtained in 2019 from civil cases involving fraud and abuse claims.  As in years past, the substantial majority of these settlements and judgments—$2.1 billion of the $3 billion total—were the result of qui tam whistleblower lawsuits filed under the False Claims Act (FCA).

Following the government’s intervention decision, the first test for many of these qui tam lawsuits is surviving a motion to dismiss.  Because FCA suits allege fraud against the government, they must be pleaded with particularity as required by Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  This post discusses recent developments to those standards from 2019.

Courts have held that to satisfy Rule 9(b), FCA complaints must include a detailed description of the alleged fraud scheme and facts to show the scheme resulted in a request for reimbursement from the government.  A failure on either account will result in dismissal.


Continue Reading Recent Developments in False Claims Act Pleading Standards

Earlier this month, the Eleventh Circuit Court partially affirmed a lower court’s decision in United States vs. Aseracare, stating that disagreements between doctors related to a patient’s prognosis does not qualify as hospice fraud under the False Claims Act (FCA).

Earlier in the year, I discussed the case with with Hospice News stating, “Settlements

On November 16, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Hunt, agreeing to decide how the FCA’s statute of limitations applies in qui tam actions brought by a private relator in which the government declined to intervene. The Court’s decision in Hunt should bring sorely needed clarity to a question that has deeply divided the federal courts of appeals.

The Supreme Court Will Review the Eleventh Circuit’s Interpretation of 31 U.S.C. § 3731(b)(2)

The FCA’s statute of limitations provision, 31 U.S.C. § 3731(b), states that a civil action may not be brought under the FCA:

  • more than 6 years after the date on which the violation of section 3729 is committed, or
  • more than 3 years after the date when facts material to the right of action are known or should have been known by the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances, but in no event more than 10 years after the date on which the violation is committed,

whichever occurs last.

The specific question presented in Hunt is whether § 3731(b)(2), which operates as a tolling provision to the six-year limitations period of § 3731(b)(1), applies to FCA actions brought by a relator in which the government declined to intervene, and if so, whether the government’s knowledge or the relator’s knowledge is the relevant trigger for the limitations period.


Continue Reading Supreme Court Agrees to Resolve Circuit Split on FCA Statute of Limitations

Following the recent high-stakes trial in U.S. ex rel. Ruckh v. Salus Rehabilitation, LLC, a federal district court overturned the $350 million verdict handed down against the owners and operators of 53 skilled nursing facilities who were accused of “upcoding” patient Resource Utilization Group scores, “ramping up” treatment during assessment periods and failing to maintain comprehensive plans of care for their patients.

As set out in a previous post, in overturning the verdict, the district court held that the relator failed to offer sufficient evidence at trial to satisfy the “rigorous and demanding” requirements of materiality and scienter as set forth in the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar.


Continue Reading DOJ Stakes Out its Position on Escobar and Post-Payment Conduct in the Wake of Ruckh

A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (Eleventh Circuit) recently affirmed two grants of summary judgment in favor of defendant Lincare, Inc. d/b/a Diabetic Experts of America (collectively, “Diabetic Experts”) by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (District Court).  Diabetic Experts provided diabetic supplies to Medicare patients, some of whom had previously ordered medical supplies from Diabetic Experts for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  To promote sales, staff at Diabetic Experts would place calls to individuals who had previously ordered COPD-related equipment regarding a need for diabetic supplies.

Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Affirms Two Grants of Summary Judgment in Favor of Diabetic Experts

In a question of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit recently examined whether a relator’s secondhand knowledge of his employer’s billing practices was sufficient to make him an original source relative to the FCA’s public disclosure bar. Following several other circuits, the Eleventh Circuit answered that question by concluding that such knowledge would not render a relator an original source.
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Holds Secondhand Knowledge Does Not Make Relator an Original Source

The FCA continues to be the federal government’s primary civil enforcement tool for investigating allegations that healthcare providers or government contractors defrauded the federal government. In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine recent court decisions that have required a relator only to plead a reliable indicia of the submission of false claims to satisfy Rule 9(b).

Relators in a pair of cases from the Middle District of Florida succeeded in satisfying Rule 9(b) under a relaxed pleading standard. In U.S. ex rel. Space Coast Medical Associates, LLP, 94 F. Supp. 3d 1250 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 6, 2015), the district court held relators had pleaded “sufficient indicia of reliability that claims were submitted” by alleging “particularized knowledge of the Defendants’ billing process and of alleged fraudulent bills,” as well as “individual Medicare patients who received treatment.”


Continue Reading FCA Deeper Dive: Rule 9(b) and the Pleading of Actual Claims Under a Relaxed Standard

The FCA continues to be the federal government’s primary civil enforcement tool for investigating allegations that healthcare providers or government contractors defrauded the federal government. In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine the FCA’s public disclosure bar and recent cases considering whether disclosures are sufficient to bar FCA claims.

Courts have continued to clarify the requirements for a relator to be considered an original source, and thus exempted from the public disclosure bar, under the FCA’s pre-PPACA and post-PPACA versions. In these cases, courts have typically focused on the requirements that a relator have “direct and independent knowledge of the information on which the allegations are based” (pre-PPACA) and “knowledge that is independent of and materially adds to the publicly disclosed allegations or transactions” (post-PPACA).


Continue Reading FCA Deeper Dive: Original Sources under the FCA’s Public Disclosure Bar