On July 26, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a long-promised bill to amend the False Claims Act (FCA).  Not-so-creatively entitled the False Claims Act Amendments Act of 2021 (S.B. 2428), the proposed legislation is notably co-sponsored by a prominent—and bipartisan—group of senators.  The text of the bill, available here, would most importantly bring changes to the analysis of the FCA’s materiality element while also affecting the process through which defendants may obtain discovery from the government.

According to a press release issued by Senator Grassley, the legislation is mainly intended to “clarif[y] the current law following confusion and misinterpretation of the Supreme Court decision in United Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar.”  As we have previously covered at length (in blog posts dated June 23, 2016; March 20, 2020; April 8, 2020; and June 25, 2021) the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Escobar confirmed that the FCA’s materiality element is “rigorous” and “demanding,” and that it cannot be satisfied simply by showing that the government would have had the “option” to decline payment had it known the facts underlying an allegedly fraudulent claim.

Instead, Escobar focuses the materiality inquiry on the government’s actual or likely response to alleged fraud: if the government regularly pays similar claims with knowledge of the facts, that is “strong evidence” that the alleged misrepresentations are not material; on the other hand, if the government often denies payment under similar circumstances, that supports a finding of materiality.

In Senator Grassley’s view, however, Escobar has given way to “confusion” and “misinterpretation” that “has made it all too easy for fraudsters to argue that their obvious fraud was not material simply because the government continued payment.”   Consistent with that view, the proposed legislation appears calculated to make materiality-based dismissals—as well as other kinds of dismissals—more difficult for FCA defendants to obtain.  Whether it would succeed in that aim, however, is open to debate.


Continue Reading Changes Coming to the FCA?  Proposed Amendments Would Impact Materiality Analysis, Government Discovery, Among Other Issues

How should a court evaluate the FCA’s materiality requirement when the government’s ability to deny claims is constrained? According to a recent decision from the Eleventh Circuit, the court should “broadly” consider the government’s “pattern of behavior as a whole,” and may find evidence of materiality in administrative actions that might not support materiality in other cases.

Background

The case, U.S. ex rel. Donnell v. Mortgage Investors Corporation, was brought by two mortgage brokers who specialized in originating mortgage loans guaranteed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Under the program at issue, VA regulations limited the fees and costs lenders could collect from veterans and required lenders seeking VA guarantees to certify compliance with the fee-and-cost restrictions. The relators alleged that the defendant, Mortgage Investors Corporation (MIC), defrauded the VA by charging veterans prohibited fees and falsely certifying they had not done so.

After originating loans and obtaining VA guarantees, MIC typically sold its loans on the secondary market to holders in due course. This introduced an “important wrinkle,” the appeals court noted, because the VA is statutorily required to honor its guarantee when borrowers default on loans possessed by holders in due course.


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Broadens Materiality Analysis for Some Cases

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 Tenth Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a declined qui tam False Claims Act lawsuit filed against Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH) by a former LMH employee, reasoning that the materiality inquiry focuses on the likely reaction of the Government. In U.S. ex rel. Janssen v. Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 949 F.3d 533 (10th Cir. 2020), the relator alleged that over a period of years LMH engaged in two fraud schemes:

  1. LMH falsified patient arrival times submitted to Medicare under certain programs that tied compensation to quality-of-care metrics; and,
  2. LMH falsely certified compliance with a requirement under the Deficit Reduction Act that it educate employees with detailed information about the False Claims Act.


Continue Reading Tenth Circuit Strictly Enforces Materiality Requirement to Nix FCA Lawsuit

This is the second post of a two-part discussion of recent developments related to the materiality standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Universal Health Services v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar.  Read our previous post, which covered appellate court decisions and key decisions related to government knowledge and payment.

Courts Take Differing Approaches to the Significance of Government Intervention Decisions

In assessing the False Claims Act’s (FCA) materiality element, courts have increasingly taken divergent approaches to analyze the significance of the government’s decision about whether to intervene in a qui tam action.

In several 2019 decisions, district courts held that the government’s decision to intervene in a qui tam action was relevant – even if not dispositive – to the materiality analysis under Escobar.  In U.S. ex rel. Longo v. Wheeling Hospital, Inc., for instance, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia found that the government’s decision to intervene in the very qui tam action before it “strongly militate[d] in favor of materiality.”  And in U.S. ex rel. Arnstein v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York explained that the government’s decision to intervene in “a factually similar case” in the same district “provide[d] strong evidence that AKS [Anti-Kickback Statute] violations were material to the Government’s payment decisions,” even though the government had not intervened in the case before the court.


Continue Reading Escobar’s “Rigorous” Materiality Standard: Recent Developments – Part Two

This is the first post of a two-part discussion of recent developments related to the materiality standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar.  Our second post covers government intervention decisions, the “essence of the bargain” test, and the materiality of Anti-Kickback Statute violations.

The Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar continues to play a significant role in FCA litigation, particularly with respect to courts’ analyses of the FCA’s materiality element.  In Escobar, the Supreme Court described the materiality element as “rigorous” and “demanding” and set forth a number of non-exclusive considerations to guide the materiality inquiry, which primarily focus on the government’s actual conduct and its payment (or non-payment) of purportedly false claims.  In 2019, courts continued to grapple with specific applications of Escobar’s directives, with some courts appearing to apply its materiality guidance less “rigorously” than others.

Some Appellate Courts Appear to Apply Escobar Less Rigorously Than Others

As we have previously discussed, the seemingly irreconcilable decisions issued by the nation’s circuit courts about how Escobar’s non-exclusive factors should apply in particular cases led parties in at least three such cases to seek further clarity from the Supreme Court.  But last year the Supreme Court denied review in each of those three cases, perhaps signaling that – at least for now – it is content to allow the various issues raised in Escobar to continue to percolate in the lower courts.


Continue Reading Escobar’s “Rigorous” Materiality Standard: Recent Developments – Part One

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar confirming the viability of the implied false certification theory in False Claims Act (FCA) cases and mandating that claims brought pursuant to that theory satisfy “demanding” materiality and scienter requirements.  As discussed in a prior post, since Escobar, the U.S. Courts of Appeals have wrestled with analyzing and applying the materiality and scienter requirements discussed in the Supreme Court’s opinion, resulting in a number of recent petitions for writ of certiorari filed with the Supreme Court seeking clarification of the Escobar mandates.

In one of its first actions of 2019, the Supreme Court recently denied petitions in two closely-watched FCA cases, U.S. ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Industries, Inc., and Gilead Sciences Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Campie.

$660 Million Reversal Stands in Harman

The plaintiff-relator in Harman sought review from the Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a $660 million jury verdict, holding that the relator failed to prove that the defendant’s alleged misrepresentations were material to government’s payment decisions.  The relator in Harman claimed that the defendant produced and sold defective highway guardrails to various states, causing them to submit fraudulent claims for reimbursement to the federal government.  However, evidence was presented that the Federal Highway Administration was aware of the alleged defects but continued to pay for the guardrails despite their non-compliance.  Relying on Escobar, the Fifth Circuit held that relator failed to overcome such “strong evidence” that the requirements at issue were not material.   The Supreme Court’s recent denial of the relator’s petition leaves intact the Fifth Circuit’s judgment and precedential opinion, providing a potential defense to FCA defendants in cases where the government was aware of certain conduct but continued to pay claims.


Continue Reading With Widening Circuit Splits and Mounting Pressure, Will 2019 See a Post-Escobar Decision from the Supreme Court?

Perhaps the single most appropriate word to describe the current state of the civil and criminal healthcare fraud enforcement environment is uncertainty.  From changes in personnel and policy at the highest levels of government to a myriad of state and federal legislative developments, healthcare providers face an unsettled landscape as they move into the coming year.

Healthcare Fraud Recoveries Again Exceed $2B

To be sure, statistics would suggest that it was business as usual for the government’s healthcare fraud enforcement efforts.  While civil fraud recoveries by the Department of Justice (DOJ) dipped to more than $2.8 billion in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018 (FY 2018) as compared to $3.7 billion in FY 2017, recoveries attributable to the healthcare industry were $2.5 billion in FY 2018 – up from $2.1 billion in FY 2017.  This is the ninth consecutive year where recoveries associated with the healthcare industry exceeded $2 billion.


Continue Reading Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Year End Review: A Look Back…A Look Ahead

On November 30, 2018, the Solicitor General of the United States filed an amicus curiae brief in the closely watched False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit, Gilead Sciences Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Campie. In what appears to be an unprecedented move, the Solicitor General stated in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court – without any prior indication – that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will move to dismiss the relator’s complaint if the case is remanded back to the district court because allowing the case to proceed “would impinge on agency decision making and discretion and would disserve the interests of the United States.”

Defendant Gilead Seeks Review of Ninth Circuit Decision

Two relators filed an FCA lawsuit against Gilead Sciences, Inc. in 2010 alleging that the pharmaceutical manufacturer misrepresented to the government that it obtained an active ingredient in three of its HIV drugs from specifically approved facilities. The relators also allege that Gilead provided false or inaccurate information to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an attempt to gain approval to receive ingredients from an alternate facility. The relators argue that the government would not have reimbursed Gilead for the drugs at issue had it known the truth about the source of the drugs’ active ingredients.
Continue Reading DOJ Informs Supreme Court that It Will Dismiss FCA Case if Remanded to District Court