On February 11, 2019, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a group of relators’ qui tam suit against Crawford County Memorial Hospital for failure to meet the pleading standards required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). The court’s decision focused on the relators’ failure to allege the specifics of any actual claim for payment by Crawford County – a solid confirmation that the Eighth Circuit continues to require the pleading of identifiable false claims for payment, even in instances in which a relator is not in a position to have that information.

The three relators were a former EMT and two former paramedics at Crawford County. The relators alleged that Crawford County violated the FCA by submitting, among other things, claims for breathing treatments administered to patients by paramedics, claims for lab services performed by paramedics and EMTs, and claims with false credentials of service providers. The relators further stated that Crawford County used false statements to get these claims paid, including records documenting breathing treatments as taking 30 minutes when they did not, records referring to paramedics as “specialized ancillary staff” for breathing treatments, and documents containing false credentials for emergency staff. The complaint was fairly detailed – it included allegations that Crawford County required paramedics to perform breathing treatments previously provided by nurses, that hospital management told staff the change was explicitly for billing purposes, and that management required the paramedics to document each breathing treatment at 30 minutes, regardless of its actual length. Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Rejects FCA Claim for Failure to Allege Actual Claims for Payment

As we previously posted, on April 28, 2015, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in U.S. ex rel. Ruckh v. Genoa Healthcare LLC et al, held that expert testimony based on statistical sampling was appropriate in False Claims Act (FCA) cases and could not be excluded solely due to the concern that sampling, by its nature, subverts individualized proof. The court did, however, preserve the importance of Daubert motions to assail a purported sample, noting that defects in methodology or other evidentiary defects could still result in exclusion of an expert’s sampling analysis. Given the difficulties inherent in identifying a reliable sample in FCA cases involving issues of individualized proof, effective Daubert challenges to a relator’s or the government’s sampling expert are critical when litigating in courts that are inclined to permit sampling, whether offered to prove liability or damages.

In Ruckh, the relator alleged that the defendant defrauded the United States and the State of Florida by “upcoding” and “upcharging” for services provided to patients at 53 of the defendants’ medical facilities in Florida. Plaintiffs have long tested the limits of sampling, especially in actions alleging Medicare/Medicaid fraud in which issues of individualized medical decision making are in play. The relator, Ruckh, took this practice a step further, moving to admit expert testimony based on statistical sampling, prior to a sampling analysis having actually been completed. Ruckh argued that individually analyzing each claim from all 53 facilities was impractical and unnecessary to establish damages.

The defendants responded that, among other things, the court’s ratification of Relator’s statistical sampling methodology was premature. While the court did not foreclose sampling, it agreed with the defendants on the issue of ripeness, noting that arguments that go to the weight or reliability of an expert opinion are best reserved for Daubert proceedings.

This issue is an important one, as sampling can allow a plaintiff to increase the scope of alleged and provable damages dramatically without developing robust, individualized proof of its claims. Defendants have had success attacking the kind of methodology which purports to allow plaintiffs to draw inferences over a universe of claims that covers too wide an array of services. For example, defendants have successfully attacked analyses when a given universe of claims is rife with variability in terms of provider and type of procedure, arguing that such variability undermines the reliability of extrapolating from a statistical sample. While the law on the propriety of sampling in these types of cases is unsettled, there is no question that Daubert challenges will play an important role in any FCA case in which a relator or the government attempts to rely on a sample.