In a concise, six-page discovery order, a federal judge in Minneapolis may have just started the proverbial shifting of tectonic plates undergirding routine defense procedures in False Claims Act (FCA) litigation by requiring a defendant in an FCA lawsuit to produce the information provided to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the DOJ’s process of determining whether to pursue the matter.
The FCA creates liability for persons or entities found to have knowingly submitted false claims to the government or having caused others to do so. Like some other federal laws, the FCA creates a private right of action; under the act, a private party—a whistleblower or “relator”—may bring a qui tam action on behalf of the government. When initially filed, the court seals the complaint pending the government’s investigation of the case. If the government chooses, it may intervene and pursue the matter. If not, the relator may pursue the case on its own. (In either case, the relator is entitled to a percentage of the government’s recovery.)
View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.
In an important decision for providers facing a lawsuit alleging violations of the False Claims Act, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in U.S. ex rel. Pelletier v. Liberty Ambulance Service, Inc., Case No. 3:11-cv-587-J-32MCR (Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division), dismissed the government’s complaint intervening in a qui tam action that alleged that Liberty Ambulance Service, among other providers that settled with the government prior to the dismissal, submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for ambulance services that were never provided, on the basis that the government’s complaint failed to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 9.
The Court’s decision is significant because the government attached to its complaint affidavits of current and former employees of Liberty and a dispatcher, along with other materials, suggesting that falsified reports were submitted to Liberty that would be payable by Medicare and Medicaid, but, as the Court found, “the allegations stop short of describing what happened once the run reports were submitted to the Liberty office for processing.” The Court’s decision hinged on the lack of any evidence pertaining to the actual billing process employed by Liberty. In fact, the affidavit of the person who claimed the most familiarity with that process, did not claim to have witnessed the submission to the government of any actual false claims.
Although the dismissal was without prejudice to the government amending the complaint to provide greater particularity, the decision is an important example for providers facing False Claims Act claims of how the heightened pleading requirements under FRCP 8 and 9 may strengthen their defense.
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
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
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