On July 10, 2020, a federal magistrate judge in the District of Minnesota issued a 39-page decision sanctioning DOJ (and the defendants) for various discovery violations in an FCA case based on alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute.
As previously reported here, the Defendants Paul Ehlen (“Ehlen”), the majority owner of Precision Lens, and Cameron-Ehlen Group (conducting business as Precision Lens) (collectively, the “defendants”) are involved in the distribution of intraocular lenses and other products for ophthalmic surgeries. DOJ alleges that the defendants provided physicians with expensive trips, meals, and other in-kind remunerations at no cost or below fair market value. DOJ further alleges that, in exchange, these physicians purchased the Defendants’ products and used them during surgeries, which were subsequently billed to Medicare, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act. DOJ and the defendants filed motions seeking sanctions against the other in connection with inadequate preparation of 30(b)(6) designees and potential spoliation of information, documents, and electronically stored information. DOJ also filed a motion to compel the production of additional potentially relevant documents.
In a July 30 speech from the floor of the Senate honoring National Whistleblowers Day, Senator Charles Grassley announced that he is working on legislation that would “clarify” purported “ambiguities created by the courts” regarding the proper interpretation of the False Claims Act.
We recently reported on the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Ruckh v. Salus Rehabilitation LLC, which was the first case to assess the role of litigation funding agreements in qui tam litigation. In that case, the Eleventh Circuit rejected a challenge to the relator’s standing based on the existence of a litigation funding agreement.
On June 25, 2020, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s decision to set aside a jury’s $350 million verdict in favor of the relator. In Ruckh v. Salus Rehabilitation, LLC, Angela Ruckh, a registered nurse, alleged that two skilled nursing facilities (“SNFs”) and two related management services companies violated various Medicare and Florida Medicaid SNF regulations. The Eleventh Circuit’s decision adds further gloss to the FCA’s materiality and causation standards.
The 2015 Balanced Budget Act (BBA) requires that federal agencies make inflationary adjustments to civil monetary penalties on a yearly basis to account for inflation using calculations based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. On June 19, 2020, DOJ issued a final rule that will increase the civil penalties in FCA actions for penalties assessed after this date. The prior minimum False Claims Act penalty of $11,181 will be increased to $11,665 per claim. The maximum penalty will also increase from $22,363 to $23,331 per claim. The revised civil penalties, once adopted, will apply to all assessments of FCA civil penalties after the effective date, including penalties associated with violation predating the adjustment, but assessed on or after the date that the increases go into effect.
In a May 4, 2020 letter to Attorney General William Barr, Senator Chuck Grassley “vehemently” disagreed with the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) view, expressed in a brief recently filed with the Supreme Court by the Solicitor General, that the DOJ’s authority to dismiss an FCA claim “is an unreviewable exercise of prosecutorial authority.” As a principal author of the 1986 FCA amendments that substantially expanded the whistleblower provisions, Senator Grassley argued that he could “confidently say” that the text of the FCA plainly states that the court—not DOJ—should decide whether the government’s motion to dismiss a qui tam claim succeeds.
On March 23, 2020, the Ninth Circuit revived a whistleblower suit in which Jane Winter, a registered nurse, alleged that Defendants Gardens Regional Hospital (“Gardens Regional”), S&W Health Management Services (“S&W Health”), RollinsNelson, and various physicians orchestrated medically unnecessary inpatient admissions resulting in the submission of more than $1.2 million in false claims to Medicare. The District Court held that Winter’s allegations failed to state a claim under the FCA because “subjective medical opinions . . . cannot be proved objectively false.” Winter appealed and the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the FCA did not does not require plaintiffs to plead objective falsehoods and that false certification of medical necessity may give rise to FCA liability.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Minnesota held that DOJ was required to articulate the factual basis for its allegation that Defendants’ claims for payment resulted from kickbacks, rejecting the argument that such information was irrelevant based on a legal presumption of causation. The Government alleges that defendants Precision Lens and Paul Ehlen provided kickbacks to physicians, including “lavish hunting, fishing and golf trips, private plane flights, frequent-flyer miles and other items of value,” to induce them to use products that Defendants supplied. The Government further alleges that these kickbacks violated the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), causing the submission of false claims to the Government.
On September 30, 2019, a judge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a motion to dismiss in an intervened FCA qui tam suit, finding that the relators, the United States, and the state of Illinois failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirements for fraud claims. The suit targeted an entity referred to as C&M Specialty Pharmacy (“C&M”), which provides specialized medication for complex medical conditions.
On October 8, 2019, a judge in the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted a stay and certified two questions for interlocutory appeal in relator Integra Med Analytics’ FCA suit against Providence Health & Services (“Providence”), its affiliates, and J.A. Thomas and Associates, Inc. (“JATA”), a clinical documentation consultant. The case, on which we have previously reported here, involves allegations that Providence perpetrated an upcoding scheme whereby it trained its doctors to describe medical conditions with language that would support increasing the severity levels of the DRGs that Providence reported to Medicare, leading to inflated Medicare reimbursements.