As previously discussed as a part of our ongoing FCA Fundamentals series, the False Claims Act (FCA) is the federal government’s most important and most effective tool for fighting fraud. While Congress has substantially expanded the scope of the FCA since its inception during the Civil War, courts have recognized that the FCA was “not designed to reach every kind of fraud practiced on the Government” and is not intended to be a “vehicle for punishing garden-variety breaches of contract or regulatory violations.” Rather, the FCA applies only to false or fraudulent claims or omissions that are “material” to the government. So what is materiality?

Continue Reading False Claims Act Fundamentals:  What is Materiality?

The False Claims Act, despite its name, does not define what it means for a claim to be “false” or “fraudulent.” This post examines the primary ways courts have interpreted the False Claims Act’s falsity element and discusses common issues that arise concerning falsity.

Continue Reading False Claims Act Fundamentals: What Is a False Claim?

On January 25, in a 2-1 decision in U.S. ex rel. Sheldon v. Allergan Sales, LLC, 2022 WL 211172, the Fourth Circuit became the most recent federal appellate court to hold that the objective scienter standard in the Supreme Court’s Safeco decision applies to the False Claims Act (FCA). Under the Fourth Circuit’s decision, the FCA’s scienter element cannot be met if the defendant’s interpretation of applicable statutory or regulatory requirements was objectively reasonable and no authoritative guidance from a circuit court or government agency warned the defendant away from its interpretation.

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Adopts Safeco’s Objective Reasonableness Standard for False Claims Act

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.

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).

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

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