The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently heard oral argument in connection with a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee that primarily raised two FCA questions:

  1. Did the relator’s amended complaint satisfy the FCA’s first-to-file rule?
  2. Did the amended complaint adequately plead fraud under Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? U.S. ex rel. Armes v. Garman, 2016 WL 3562062 (E.D. Tenn. June 24, 2016).

Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Hears Oral Argument in FCA Appeal

On August 18, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the denial of a FCA defendant’s request for attorney’s fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and held the government accountable for an unreasonable damages demand.

Background

In U.S. ex. rel. Wall v. Circle C Construction, LLC, a subcontractor for the defendant, Circle C Construction, failed to pay $9,900 in wages for electrical work performed in the construction of warehouses. The subcontractor’s paid wages thus failed to meet the requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act. As a result, Circle C Construction’s subsequent statements of compliance with federal regulations, including the Davis-Bacon Act, were false.

Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Reverses Denial of Attorney’s Fees and Expenses, Maintains Cost Recovery for Unreasonable Government Demands

A recent Sixth Circuit opinion in U.S. ex rel. Hirt v. Walgreen Co. should come as welcome news for FCA defendants concerned about the implications of the Sixth Circuit’s application last year, for the first time, of a “relaxed” standard for pleading false claims under Rule 9(b) in U.S. ex rel. Prather v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc.

Continue Reading Relax, Sixth Circuit Opinion Indicates Rule 9(b) Pleading Requirement Still Has Bite

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently upheld a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Abbott Laboratories in an action alleging that Abbott terminated a sales representative in retaliation for reporting a potential FCA violation. The appeals court held that the case should not proceed because the sales representative failed to show she reasonably believed an FCA violation had occurred. The holding potentially is helpful to FCA defendants facing retaliation allegations, but its precedential value may be limited because the court issued the unpublished opinion per curiam and with one judge dissenting.

Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Upholds Summary Judgment on FCA Retaliation Claim

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 requirement that the conduct alleged to have resulted in a false claim must be material to the government’s decision to pay that claim and how courts have evaluated this issue in recent cases.

FCA claims should fail when the regulations allegedly violated are immaterial to the government’s decision to pay a claim. Where the theory of FCA liability turns on compliance with statutes and regulations in the healthcare context, courts continue to distinguish between regulations that are conditions of participation in the federal healthcare program and regulations that are conditions of payment, holding only violations of the latter can underpin FCA liability. As the Sixth Circuit has explained, violations of condition of participation are best addressed through administrative sanctions, not the “extraordinary remedies” of the FCA.  See U.S. ex rel. Hobbs v. MedQuest Assocs., 711 F.3d 707 (6th Cir. 2013).

Continue Reading FCA Deeper Dive: Materiality and the Government’s Decision To Pay

The Sixth Circuit recently became the first appellate court to consider and reject FCA liability based on a healthcare provider’s alleged false attestation of compliance with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) Act’s meaningful use objectives. U.S. ex rel. Sheldon v. Kettering Health Network, 2016 WL 861399 (6th Cir. March 7, 2016). The HITECH Act was designed to encourage the adoption of Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology by healthcare providers through the creation of incentive payments for eligible providers.  As a condition of receiving those incentive payments, the HITECH Act requires healthcare providers to meet meaningful use objectives and compliance measures concerning the adoption of EHR technology.

Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of FCA Action Related to HITECH Meaningful Use Payments

For the first time since August 2011, the Sixth Circuit examined the standard for pleading False Claims Act (FCA) violations with particularity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b)—in particular, when the requirement that a relator plead an actual false claim submitted to the government can be “relaxed,” if at all. The case, U.S. ex rel. Eberhard v. Physicians Choice Laboratory Services, LLC (PCLS), No. 15-5691 (6th Cir. Feb. 23, 2016), involved allegations that PCLS, a medical testing services provider, submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid as a result of a purported scheme by PCLS to pay kickbacks—in the form of a commission on sales of PCLS products and services—to an independent sales force to induce them to solicit the referral of samples to PCLS for testing, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute. The relator, a former sales employee of PCLS, appealed the district court’s dismissal of his complaint for failure to plead any actual false claims submitted to the government with particularity under Rule 9(b), arguing that the district court should have applied a “relaxed” Rule 9(b) standard because of the relator’s purported “personal knowledge” of the false claims.

In affirming the district court’s ruling, the Sixth Circuit explained at the outset that unlike “some circuits hold[ing] that it is sufficient for a plaintiff to allege particular details of a scheme to submit false claims paired with reliable indicia that lead to a strong inference that claims were actually submitted, we have joined the Fourth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits in requiring ‘representative samples’ of the alleged fraudulent conduct.” Solely based on the relator’s failure to plead any false claims submitted in connection with the alleged kickback scheme, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the relator could not meet the pleading requirements of Rule 9(b).

Continue Reading No Time to Relax: Sixth Circuit Reviews Rule 9(b) Standard in FCA Case for First Time in Nearly Five Years

In a February 4, 2016, decision, United States ex rel. Wall v. Circle C. Construction, LLC, the Sixth Circuit summarily rejected the government’s assertion that the measure of damages in a False Claims Act (FCA) suit involving a violation of prevailing wage rate requirements was the total amount paid for the work.  The Sixth Circuit’s rejection of the “total contract value” theory of damages in the prevailing wage rate context is a welcome development for FCA defendants who are faced with increasingly creative damages theories asserted by the government and the relator’s bar.

Circle C’s Army Contract

For a case that involved a relatively minor non-compliance with the prevailing wage rate requirements applicable to federal construction contracts, the Circle C. Construction case has a long history.  Circle C entered into a contract to construct warehouses at the U.S. Army base at Fort Campbell, located in Kentucky and Tennessee.  Pursuant to the Davis-Bacon Act, Circle C was required to pay electrical workers at least $19.19 per hour, plus a fringe benefit rate of $3.94 per hour.  Circle C was also required to submit certified payroll for itself and its subcontractors.

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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

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.

The FCA’s public disclosure bar prevents a relator from filing a qui tam complaint based on information previously disclosed to the public, thereby dissuading parasitic lawsuits based on publicly available information. In cases considering the scope of the public disclosure bar, courts have continued to examine the issue of how or to whom information must be disseminated in order to constitute a “public disclosure,” which often has resulted in a narrowing of the public disclosure bar’s scope in a given case. Such cases marked a shift away from decisions favorable to FCA defendants toward a more nuanced and specific application of the public disclosure bar.

Continue Reading FCA Deeper Dive: When Public Disclosures Bar FCA Claims