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.
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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).


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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

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).


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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.

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.


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On April 6, 2015, the Sixth Circuit delivered a costly blow to the United States government to the tune of $657 million when it issued its opinion in United States v. United Technologies Corporation and remanded the case back to the district court to review the damages award, yet again.

This was the second time that the Sixth Circuit heard arguments deriving from the United States False Claims Act case against Pratt & Whitney (“Pratt”), now owned by United Technologies, for false statements the company made when competing against GE Aircraft for contracts to build F-15 and F-16 jet engines. In 1983, in an attempt to outbid GE Aircraft and make it hard for the government to issue a split-award contract, Pratt misstated its projected costs and certified that the company’s bid included its “best estimates and/or actual costs.” After uncovering Pratt’s overstated costs projections, the government filed both an administrative action against the company in the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (“ASBCA”) under the Truth in Negotiations Act and a lawsuit in district court alleging violations of the False Claims Act.


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On February 25, 2015, the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court’s decision to dismiss FCA allegations pursuant to the FCA’s public disclosure bar because the “publicity” aspect of the public disclosure bar was not satisfied.   The Sixth Circuit’s opinion became the most recent appellate decision to require disclosure beyond the government or the government’s agents or contractors to implicate the public disclosure bar.

In U.S. ex rel. Whipple v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hosp. Authority, OIG instituted an audit of the defendant’s billing practices in response to an anonymous complaint.  That audit led to a subsequent investigation by OIG, during which it consulted with the DOJ.  In 2009, the defendant resolved the matter through a refund to the government, and the government declined to pursue the matter further.


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