Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Matt Curley provided insight to Law360 for an article analyzing the Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari concerning a case that may have addressed the discrepancies surrounding how False Claims Act (FCA) suits are pleaded. There is currently a split within the federal appellate courts regarding how the heightened pleading requirements of Rule 9(b) should be applied to FCA claims.
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 Supreme Court’s opinion in Escobar and its impact on the question of the FCA’s materiality requirement.
In addition to tackling the viability of the implied certification theory of liability in Escobar, the Supreme Court also held that the FCA does not restrict liability to noncompliance with express conditions of payment, stating that “[w]hether a provision is labeled a condition of payment is relevant to but not dispositive of the materiality inquiry.” The Supreme Court explained that any concerns about fair notice or open-ended liability without such a restriction on liability can be addressed through “strict enforcement” of the FCA’s “demanding” and “rigorous” materiality requirement, as well as the FCA’s scienter requirement.
The Supreme Court held that a relator’s breach of the seal in a qui tam case does not require mandatory dismissal of the complaint, but the Court declined to articulate what factors are appropriate to consider in determining whether dismissal is appropriate. The Court wrote only that appropriateness of dismissal in a given case should be left to the sound discretion of the district court. The district court in this case had not abused its discretion in declining to dismiss the case, and the appropriate test could be taken up in future cases.
On June 16, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated opinion in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar regarding the implied certification theory of False Claims Act (FCA) liability. The Court’s unanimous opinion, drafted by Justice Clarence Thomas, is significant in three respects, detailed further below: (1) the Court ruled that, in certain circumstances, the implied certification theory can be a basis for FCA liability; (2) the Court held that an express condition of payment in a statutory, regulatory or contractual requirement is relevant—but “not automatically dispositive”—in determining FCA liability; and (3) the Court clarified how the FCA’s materiality requirement should be enforced by lower courts addressing FCA suits premised on an implied false certification theory.
There are a number of key issues that will drive the government’s enforcement efforts in the coming year and that will have a significant impact on how healthcare fraud matters are pursued by relators asserting FCA claims and are defended on behalf of healthcare providers. In the coming weeks, we will examine these issues in greater depth and why healthcare providers should keep a close eye on these issues. This week, we examine the future of implied certification as a viable FCA theory of falsity.
In December 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition for writ of certiorari in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. Escobar and will consider whether and to what extent the implied certification theory is a viable theory of falsity under the FCA. This case undoubtedly will be one of the most closely watched FCA cases to be argued before the Supreme Court since the 1986 amendments to the FCA.
In a long-awaited ruling, the Supreme Court held that the Wartime Suspension Limitations Act (WSLA) does not toll the statute of limitations in civil FCA actions, as the WSLA applies only to criminal actions. After lying dormant for more than 40 years, the WSLA had threatened to upend the FCA’s limitations period and expose defendants to open-ended and extensive liability for otherwise stale FCA claims.
Amended in 2008, the WSLA provides that the statute of limitations applicable to any offense involving fraud against the United States during a time of war or when Congress has enacted a specific authorization for the use of military force is suspended until five years after the termination of hostilities. In a number of recent cases, relators had begun relying on the WSLA as a means to avoid dismissal of claims brought outside of the FCA’s limitations period.