On Tuesday, November 20, 2018, Defendants-Petitioners Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc. et al. (Brookdale) filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Court to resolve circuit splits regarding enforcement of the materiality and scienter elements of the False Claims Act (FCA) in cases involving the implied false certification theory of liability. The relator in the case, styled Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Prather, is a former Brookdale utilization review nurse who alleges that Brookdale did not obtain physician signatures on home health certifications as soon as possible after the physician established a plan of care, in violation of Medicare regulations. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee previously dismissed the lawsuit for failure to plead falsity, but the case was revived on appeal by a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which held that the relator adequately pleaded a regulatory violation. After the relator amended her complaint in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, which addressed the FCA’s materiality requirement, the district court dismissed the case for failure to plead materiality. On appeal, however, the Sixth Circuit again reversed in a 2-1 decision, finding that the relator adequately pleaded materiality and scienter. Continue Reading Supreme Court Review Sought on FCA Materiality, Scienter Elements
On August 12, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment with respect to FCA claims asserted against an anesthesia practice based on the theory that the practice’s physicians billed Medicare for anesthesia services without being present in the operating room during the patients’ “emergence” from anesthesia. In U.S. ex rel. Donegan v. Anesthesia Associates of Kansas City, PC, the Eight Circuit concluded that the relator failed to establish that the practice acted with the requisite knowledge because the practice’s interpretation of the billing regulation at issue was “objectively reasonable.”
The Seventh Circuit’s rejection of the implied certification theory of liability gave rise, in part, to the circuit split resolved by the Supreme Court’s opinion in Escobar. In its first FCA decision since the Supreme Court’s opinion – U.S. ex rel. Sheet Metal Workers International Association v. Horning Investments, LLC, the Seventh Circuit sidestepped the question of whether the relator’s allegations that a government contractor’s certification of compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act amounted to an implied false certification sufficient to give rise to FCA liability. Rather than tackle the implications of Escobar, the Seventh Circuit affirmed entry of summary judgment in favor of the contractor, explaining that the defendant’s conduct amounted to certifying compliance with an ambiguous statutory obligation and, therefore, did not constitute a “knowing” violation of the FCA.
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 a relator plead and prove that a defendant acted with the requisite level of knowledge to establish an FCA claim and evaluate how courts have evaluated this issue in recent cases.