As we have previously covered in a blog post dated August 25, 2021, the Senate is currently considering Senate Bill 2428, the False Claims Amendments Act of 2021 (FCAA), which would cause several significant changes that would make it more difficult for defendants in False Claims Act (FCA) cases.  On October 28, 2021, Senate Judiciary Committee (Committee) considered the bill originally introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in July of this year.

After a series of negotiations with other Republican senators, the Committee passed a new, amended version of the FCAA by a vote of 15-7.  The Committee-approved bill was reported to the Senate on November 16, 2021.  Even under the amended language passed by the Committee, the FCAA, if passed into law, will likely make FCA litigation cases more complex and costly than they already are.

The Materiality Burden-Shift Is Gone, But the Threat to Escobar Is Not

As previously discussed on this blog, the FCAA’s most significant change is to alter the “rigorous” materiality standard set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in United Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar.  Senator Grassley even stated before the Committee that the purpose of the FCAA was to “make very clear we don’t have to rely on different courts interpreting it a different way.  These amendments will clarify misinterpretations created by the Escobar court, by clarifying what should already be common sense.”

Continue Reading False Claims Act Amendments Take More Direct Attack at Escobar and Pass Senate Judiciary Committee

On December 2, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia granted a motion to dismiss a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit brought by the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, which alleged that a Walgreens clinical pharmacy manager falsified hepatitis C drug prior authorization submissions to Virginia Medicaid. See United States v. Walgreen Co., 2021 WL 5760307 (W.D. Va. Dec. 3, 2021).

Reasons for Dismissal

In dismissing the case, the district court reasoned that the prior authorization requirements were not “material” to payment as required to state an FCA claim within the meaning of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar because Virginia Medicaid’s prior authorization requirements were unlawful under §1927(d)(1) and (2) of the Social Security Act.  The district court’s opinion entirely rejected the government’s theory of FCA liability, concluding that “[t]he allegations reveal that Walgreens did not receive any payment that it was not entitled to receive.”

Details of the Suit

The Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) administers the Virginia Medicaid program through contracted third parties, including Managed Care Organizations (MCOs), to provide prescription drugs and other services to Virginia Medicaid recipients.

Continue Reading FCA Lawsuit Against Walgreens Dismissed Because Government Fails to Plead Materiality

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

As 2020 draws to a close, we take a look back at a number of the most significant False Claims Act (FCA) cases of the prior 12 months.  Although no blockbuster cases emerged, such as the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Escobar, there were a number of noteworthy cases that will have lasting impact on future FCA litigation.  We discuss those cases briefly below.  We expect to cover these cases and much more in our Healthcare Fraud and Abuse Review, which we will release in early 2021.

Materiality

U.S. ex rel. Janssen v. Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 949 F.3d 533 (10th Cir. 2020)

Background.  In 2016, the Supreme Court held in Escobar that whether a defendant can be held liable under the FCA for violating a statute, rule, regulation, or contract provision turns, in part, on the elements of materiality and scienter, which the Court said are “rigorous” and “demanding.”  Post-Escobar, courts have grappled with specific applications of these standards, with some courts appearing to apply them less “rigorously” than others.

Allegations.  In U.S. ex rel. Janssen v. Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the relator primarily alleged that the defendant hospital falsified patient arrival times associated with certain CMS pay-for-reporting and pay-for-performance programs.  The relator introduced proof that the hospital had knowingly falsified arrival times in patient records by recording actual arrival times on patient triage sheets but then entering later times in the medical record or delaying patient registration until after the administration of some tests.

Continue Reading Key False Claims Act Cases in 2020

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