Gov’t and IPC Continue FCA Fight In Court

The Government and IPC The Hospitalist Company, Inc. (“IPC”) continue their False Claims Act (“FCA“) fight in court, now disputing the scope of discovery in light of the Northern District of Illinois’ partial denial of IPC’s motion to dismiss (detailed by Duane Morris here).  The Government has moved to strike certain of IPC’s general objections to discovery: (1) IPC’s objection to producing documents from IPC’s nationwide operations and (2) IPC’s objection to producing documents dated after December 31, 2010 (“Motion“).

Continue reading “Gov’t and IPC Continue FCA Fight In Court”

On-call coverage contracts are OK

An  orthopedic surgeon agreed on two separate occasions to an on-call coverage contract with a local hospital in which he warranted that no portion of his compensation was in exchange for referrals.  When the contracts were terminated by the hospital after the surgeon invested in a competing surgery center, the surgeon brought a whistleblower False Claims Act action against the hospital, alleging that the contract was intended to induce his referrals.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Cooper v. Pottstown Hospital Co., LLC, et al., dismissed the surgeon’s complaint.  The district court’s description of the failure of the complaint illustrates the characteristics of on-call contracts that make them a permissible relationship between hospitals and physicians.  Continue reading “On-call coverage contracts are OK”

Certain FCA Defendants Dismissed; “Lumping” Defendants Together Is Not Enough To State An FCA Claim

A district court in the Northern District of Illinois recently partially granted a motion to dismiss the Government’s False Claims Act (“FCA”) complaint filed against IPC The Hospitalist Company, Inc. (“IPC”) and its subsidiaries and affiliates. The district court dismissed IPC’s subsidiaries and affiliates because the Government simply “lumped” those subsidiaries and affiliates in with IPC, and did not plead facts tying the subsidiaries and affiliates to the alleged fraud. The decision underscores an important defense available to FCA defendants, and highlights the nuanced pleading requirements that the Government must meet in an FCA case. Continue reading “Certain FCA Defendants Dismissed; “Lumping” Defendants Together Is Not Enough To State An FCA Claim”

Health Care Workers May Think Twice Before Becoming a Relator

The Federal False Claims Act (and many similar state false claims acts) allow an individual—called a “relator”—to file a lawsuit on behalf of the United States Government. If successful, the relator stands to collect a portion of the amount collected. Since the False Claims Act provides for treble damages and statutory penalties of up to $11,000 per false claim, the reward to the relator can be considerable.

Complaints by relators must filed under seal. This allows the Government time to investigate the relator’s allegations before deciding whether to intervene in the case. Cases in which the Government intervenes tend to have higher judgments or settlements. Once the Government makes this decision, the complaint is unsealed and the case can move forward.

Earlier this week, an Alabama judge ruled that the relators could not keep their identities secret, even though they voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit against Great Bend Regional Hospital. Frank Coyle and Randy Bruce argued that their careers in health care may be damaged if their identities are revealed. However, the court agreed with the Government, that the reason for sealing the complaint is for the limited purpose of protecting the Government’s investigative process.

It may have been a bad choice for Coyle and Bruce to ask for anonymity. If they had merely dismissed their case, the dismissal may have been a mere footnote or back page news item. By seeking anonymity and losing, it is front page news. When filing a case, relators may think that they will no longer have to work once they win millions of dollars. As these relators have learned, you don’t always win. And there are consequences to your actions.

Fees and Costs Awarded to False Claims Act Defendant

A recent decision in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York provides fair warning to qui tam relators who assert erroneous claims under the False Claims Act (“FCA”) that they could be hit with legal fees and expenses pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3730, which permits such an award “upon a finding that the . . . claims were objectively frivolous, irrespective of plaintiff’s subjective intent.”  Mikes v. Straus, 274 F.3d 687, 705 (2d Cir. 2001).

On December 1, 2014, in U.S.,  et al., ex  rel. Fox Rx, Inc., 1:12-cv-00275, defendant Managed Health Care Associates Long Term Care Network, Inc. (“MHA”), was awarded attorneys’ fees and expenses because the relator’s, Fox Rx, Inc.’ (“Fox”),  claim that MHA, which negotiates reimbursement rates, among other things, on behalf of a network of pharmacies, allegedly (i) failed to substitute generic drugs for named brand drugs, and (ii) dispensed drugs beyond their termination date, was objectively frivolous given that the plain language of the very agreement Fox attached to its second amended complaint demonstrated that MHA did not itself dispense drugs, and exercised no control or supervision of its network pharmacies’ dispensing. Continue reading “Fees and Costs Awarded to False Claims Act Defendant”

Another Win for a False Claims Act Defendant

On January 2, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California threw out claims that Walgreens pharmacy violated the federal and California false claims acts on the basis that the plaintiff failed to meet the applicable stringent pleading requirements.

In Irwin v. Walgreens, 2:13-cv-08473, a whistleblower/Relator contended that Walgreens cheated Medicare and Medi-Cal out of millions of dollars by establishing schemes to bill those government healthcare programs for prescriptions that were never picked up by patients, rather than restocking the drugs and reversing any associated charges to the government payers.  Among other things, the complaint asserted that, as demonstrated by the fact that they were not picked up by the patients, the prescriptions were not medically necessary, and therefore should not have been billed.  The complaint sought money damages, including a penalty of up to $11,000 for each violation and treble damages.  In September 2014, the government declined to intervene in the qui tam action. Continue reading “Another Win for a False Claims Act Defendant”

False Claims Act Defendants May Have Possible Counterclaims Against Whistleblowers

Although whistleblowers benefit from strong public policies protecting the means by which they assert and support their False Claims Act (FCA) allegations, a recent decision highlights a possible counterclaim theory that empowers defendants to assert claims against the whistleblower.  In U.S. ex rel. Notorfransesco v. Surgical Monitoring Association, Inc. et al., (E.D. Pa.),  the whistleblower was a former employee of the defendant, and the defendant asserted a counterclaim based on the former employee’s taking and disseminating confidential information from the former employer, including using that information in the qui tam complaint.  The counterclaim asserted breach of contract, implied contract and promissory estoppel theories.

The district court denied the whistleblower’s motion to dismiss the counterclaim, holding that the counterclaim raised claims that were independent of the FCA allegations and therefore were not against public policy.  The court also held that the defendant had plausibly asserted that it could be entitled to  injunctive relief and damages. Continue reading “False Claims Act Defendants May Have Possible Counterclaims Against Whistleblowers”

False Claims and Anti-Kickback Defendants Should Insist on Discovery from the Whistleblower/Relator

One arrow in the quiver for healthcare providers sued for violations of false claims and anti-kickback statutes is pressing for discovery from the whistleblower/relator, including a deposition of the relator.  The failure of the whistleblower to comply with the discovery obligations could result in meaningful sanctions, including dismissal.

In Guthrie v. A Plus Home Health Care, Inc. et al, 0:12-cv-60629-WPD (S.D. FL), the relator, William Guthrie, sued a home health care provider, its seven doctors, and their spouses, alleging that the doctors and their spouses implemented a fraudulent scheme of compensation and referral payments resulting in violations of the False Claims Act, the Stark Act, and the federal Anti-Kickback Statute. Continue reading “False Claims and Anti-Kickback Defendants Should Insist on Discovery from the Whistleblower/Relator”

7th Circuit Clarifies FCA Fraud Standard

In an opinion openly skeptical of a relator’s knowledge, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of False Claims Act claims against a Chicago pharmacy brought by a former employee of the pharmacy.  The principal claims in the case, Grenadyor v. Ukrainian Village Pharmacy, Inc., were that the pharmacy’s practice of soliciting and keeping its base of mostly Ukrainian customers by providing gifts of caviar and Russian language TV Guides, as well as waiving co-pays, amounted to kickbacks in violation of the federal (and several state) anti-kickback statutes.

Judge Richard A. Posner, the author of the court’s opinion, revealed his distaste for the relator early in the opinion by describing him as a “bounty hunter”.  The court rejected most of the relator’s claims because he had failed to identify a single patient who received gift bags worth more than the de minimis $50, even though the relator had amended his complaint ostensibly to correct this deficiency, and had not alleged that the pharmacy intended to offer kickbacks when it certified to the government that it would abide by Medicare and other federal laws. Continue reading “7th Circuit Clarifies FCA Fraud Standard”