Since the 2016 Supreme Court decision in Universal Services Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, courts have wrestled with exactly how to apply the unanimous decision. This post highlights developments across the country in numerous substantive areas addressed in the Escobar decision. If you need a refresher on the Escobar decision, see our previous post explaining the major elements of the case.
Recently, in United States ex. rel. Ibanez v. Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co., No. 16-3154 (Oct. 27, 2017), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to dismiss an FCA complaint brought by two relators on behalf of the government, finding that the complaint lacked the particularity required under Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Former Employees Accused Company of Improperly Promoting Medication
The qui tam action was brought by two former employees of Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co., who alleged that the company, along with co-defendant Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., had engaged in a scheme to encourage healthcare providers to prescribe the antipsychotic drug Abilify for certain unapproved or “off-label” uses and that some of the resulting prescriptions were paid for by government programs.
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:
- Did the relator’s amended complaint satisfy the FCA’s first-to-file rule?
- 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).
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 are taking a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine recent court decisions considering the level of specificity required of a relator under Rule 9(b) in pleading the alleged FCA fraud scheme.
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 are taking a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine recent court decisions requiring relators to plead actual claims to satisfy the requirements of Rule 9(b) in order to avoid dismissal.
Federal courts have continued to examine the particularity of the pleading required by Rule 9(b) in the context of FCA claims. Although courts generally agree that a relator must plead the “who, what, when, where, and how” of the alleged fraud, the manner in which courts have applied this standard and the types of allegations considered sufficient to satisfy Rule 9(b) continues to vary significantly.
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.
On September 1, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of an FCA lawsuit by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and in doing so, evaluated the particularity required to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 9(b) as it relates to both a relator’s obligation to plead specific claims and the specifics of the underlying fraudulent conduct at issue.
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.
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 recent court decisions considering the level of specificity required of a relator under Rule 9(b) in pleading the alleged FCA fraud scheme.
While analyzing the circumstances of fraud is necessarily a case-by-case analysis, courts have applied decidedly different approaches to examining certain components of a fraudulent scheme, including the “who” and “when” requirements.
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).