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Sky-Diving Without a Parachute? Ninth Circuit Reluctantly Holds Escobar’s Two-Part Test Mandatory, For Now

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2016 Escobar decision, the majority of litigation regarding that decision’s impact has concerned the issue of materiality. While the materiality predicate to False Claims Act (FCA) liability announced in Escobar has certainly assumed top billing, another aspect of the Supreme Court’s decision is increasingly getting attention: that is, whether the two-part test for applicability of the implied certification theory of FCA liability is mandatory. In Escobar, the Supreme Court held that the implied certification theory “can be a basis for liability, at least where two conditions are satisfied: first, the claim does not merely request payment, but also makes specific representations about the goods or services provided; and second, the defendant’s failure to disclose noncompliance with material statutory, regulatory or contractual provisions makes those representations misleading half-truths.” Since this pronouncement,...

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Sixth Circuit Declines to Revisit Materiality Ruling

This week, the Sixth Circuit declined the en banc petition of Brookdale Senior Living Communities to revisit a three-judge panel’s two-to-one decision to permit the Relator’s third amended complaint to move forward. We previously analyzed this decision here. The court’s one-page order did not explain the reasoning for declining the petition, although it noted that the dissenting judge voted in favor of re-hearing. Fortunately, most courts have taken to heart the Supreme Court’s direction that materiality is a “demanding” and “rigorous” test in which “minor or insubstantial” non-compliance would not qualify as material. However, the Sixth Circuit’s decision that noncompliance with a physician signature timing requirement sufficiently alleged materiality under Escobar arguably is inconsistent with Escobar. The better analysis of the Relator’s complaint would conclude that the Relator pled insufficient facts, under the Rule 9(b) particularity standard, to...

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Recent District Court Decisions Highlight Conflicting Stances on Dismissal of Frivolous FCA Claims

On June 29, 2018, federal district courts in California and Kentucky issued conflicting decisions over the deference owed to prosecutors in seeking to dismiss frivolous False Claims Act (FCA) claims and the effect of the January 2018 Granston Memo, which recognized dismissal as an “important tool” to advance governmental interests, preserve limited resources and avoid adverse precedent. In United States et al. v. Academy Mortgage Corporation (N.D. Cal.), the relator, an underwriter at Academy Mortgage Corporation (Academy), claimed that a mortgage loan originator violated the FCA by falsely certifying loans for government housing insurance. The government declined to intervene after the relator filed her initial complaint, which limited the alleged misconduct to a one-year period at the specific branch where the relator was employed. The relator next filed an amended complaint that included additional allegations and identified specific employees allegedly...

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Timing is Everything: The Sixth Circuit’s Application of the Materiality Test

The materiality test articulated in Escobar has become one of the most litigated issues in False Claims Act (FCA) practice. Most courts have taken to heart the Supreme Court’s direction that materiality is a “demanding” and “rigorous” test in which “minor or insubstantial” non-compliance would not qualify as material. However, a recent Sixth Circuit two-to-one decision found that noncompliance with a physician signature timing requirement sufficiently alleged materiality under Escobar, reversing the district court’s dismissal of the case. United States ex rel. Prather v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc., 892 F.3d 822 (6th Cir. 2018). This opinion arguably is inconsistent with Escobar. The better analysis of Relator’s complaint would conclude that the Relator pled insufficient facts, under the Rule 9(b) particularity standard, to suggest that the untimely physician signature somehow resulted in the government paying for home health services for which...

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District Court Decision Joins Ranks of FCA Cases Confirming Escobar’s Materiality Standard

On June 8, 2018, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted in part a motion for summary judgement filed by a government contractor in an implied false certification case under the False Claims Act (FCA), holding that the relator failed to satisfy the Supreme Court’s materiality standard put forth in the historic Escobar case. The defendant, Triple Canopy, is a government contractor that provides security services to government agencies overseas. As a result of its overseas services, Triple Canopy was the target of at least two qui tam complaints alleging FCA violations under an implied certification theory. As we previously reported, on May 16, 2017, after a years-long battle, the Fourth Circuit upheld FCA allegations against Triple Canopy, finding that that specific complaint met Escobar’s materiality standard (in part due to Triple Canopy’s attempts to conceal its wrongdoing and the government’s decision not to renew Triple Canopy’s...

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Another Court Grants Summary Judgment to FCA Defendant Based on Escobar’s Materiality Standard

On April 6, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a motion for summary judgment filed by a waste company in an implied certification case under the False Claims Act (FCA), holding that the relator failed to satisfy the Supreme Court’s materiality standard announced in the landmark Escobar case. The claims in U.S. ex rel. Cressman v. Solid Waste Services, Inc. arose from waste company employees discharging leachate, a liquid that passes through or is generated by trash, onto a grassy area at a transfer station, rather than sending the leachate to a treatment plant.  The relator reported the leachate discharge to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which conducted an investigation.  The waste company cooperated in the investigation, conducted its own investigation, and took corrective steps in response to the allegations.  The company also entered into a consent decree in connection with which...

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Update: Judge Denies Relator’s Attempt to Freeze Nursing Home’s Assets Pending Appeal

On January 23, 2018, the same judge who two weeks ago set aside a $350 million jury verdict against a nursing home operator denied a new emergency motion by relator to freeze the defendant’s assets pending the relator’s appeal of the court’s order granting judgment as a matter of law. The relator argued that the defendant should be enjoined from engaging in transactions outside the ordinary course of business during the pendency of the appeal to protect “Relator’s, the United States’, and the State of Florida’s interests during the time the appeal is pending.”  Relator asserted that she has a “strong likelihood of success” on appeal and that the defendant could attempt to “thwart judgment” by transferring assets to related parties while the appeal is pending. The judge denied Relator’s motion, serially rejecting each of Relator’s arguments, with frequent references to the deficiencies in Relator’s case that ultimately led the court to overturn the jury’s...

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DOJ Issues Memorandum Outlining Factors for Evaluating Dismissal of Qui Tam FCA Cases in Which the Government Has Declined to Intervene

As first reported in the National Law Journal, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Division, recently issued an important memorandum to its lawyers handling qui tam cases filed under the False Claims Act (FCA) outlining circumstances under which the United States should seek to dismiss a case where it has declined intervention and, therefore, is not participating actively in the continued litigation of the case against the defendant by the qui tam relator. Authored by Michael Granston, director, Fraud Section, Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division of the DOJ, the eight-page memorandum follows comments made by Mr. Granston last year suggesting that—in cases where the DOJ has determined that allegations in a qui tam complaint lack merit—the United States would more aggressively exercise its statutory authority to dismiss FCA complaints pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A). The DOJ later indicated that Mr. Granston’s public discussion of its...

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Escobar Upends $350 Million FCA Verdict

On January 11, 2018, a federal court in Florida overturned a $350 million False Claims Act (FCA) jury verdict against a nursing home operator, finding “an entire absence of evidence of the kind a disinterested observer, fully informed and fairly guided by Escobar, would confidently expect on the question of materiality.” In United States ex. rel. Ruckh v. CMC II LLC et al., the relator claimed that a skilled nursing facility and its management company failed to maintain “comprehensive care plans” ostensibly required by Medicare regulations as well as a “handful of paperwork defects” (for example, unsigned or undated documents). In addition, the relator alleged a corporate-wide scheme to bill Medicare for services that were not provided or needed. On February 15, 2017, a jury found that the defendants, collectively, had submitted or caused to be submitted more than 200 false claims and, based on statistical sampling and extrapolation, returned a verdict of...

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Dismissed in Florida: Former Compounding Pharmacy Sales Representative’s FCA Whistleblower Suit

On November 8, 2017, the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida dismissed a relator’s non-intervened claims in United States ex rel. Stepe v. RS Compounding LLC for failure to satisfy the particularity requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). Relator originally filed her complaint under seal on December 16, 2013, under the federal False Claims Act (FCA) and Florida’s analogous statute. Over three years after the complaint was filed, the government elected to partially intervene as to fraudulent pricing allegations relating to TRICARE. Relator amended her complaint in July 2017 and added state false claims counts under the laws of 16 additional states. All 17 states declined to intervene in the case in September 2017. The complaint alleges that Relator, through her work as a sales representative for defendant RS Compounding, became aware of Defendants’ purported schemes to defraud the government on prescription compound and gel...

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