The Third Circuit recently held that relators are not automatically entitled to an in-person hearing when the government moves to dismiss a qui tam suit over the relator’s objection. U.S. ex rel Chang v. Children’s Advocacy Center of Delaware, No. 18-2311 (3d Cir. Sept. 12, 2019). Weih Chang filed qui tam lawsuit in 2015 alleging the Children’s Advocacy Center of Delaware had misrepresented material information when applying for governmental funding. After a lengthy investigation, the United States declined intervention and moved to dismiss under the statutory provision that allows dismissal, “notwithstanding the objections of the person initiating the action if the person has been notified by the Government of the filing of the motion and the court has provided the person with an opportunity for a hearing on the motion.” 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A). The district court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the government had shown a legitimate interest in dismissing the suit and Chang had not met the burden of showing that the move to dismiss was arbitrary or capricious. Chang appealed, arguing that he had a statutory right to an in-person hearing prior to dismissal and that at the hearing he could have introduced evidence to show that the dismissal was arbitrary and capricious. Id. at *5-6. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court opinion, holding the court had not erred in granting dismissal without conducting an in-person hearing. Id. at 8.
On August 28, 2019, the United States filed a brief in opposition to Sutter’s June 14, 2019 motion to dismiss the Department of Justice’s Complaint-in-Intervention in a False Claims Act suit alleging Sutter knowingly submitted and caused the submission of unsupported diagnosis codes for Medicare Advantage Organization (MAO) patients in order to inflate Medicare reimbursements. On the same day, the Relator, Kathy Ormsby, also filed a similar brief in opposition to Sutter’s motion to dismiss. We previously discussed Sutter’s motion to dismiss here and the Department of Justice’s Complaint-in-Intervention here.
On August 6, 2019, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas granted a motion to dismiss filed by Baylor Scott & White Health (“Baylor”), a network of inpatient short-term acute care hospitals, in a False Claims Act suit alleging that Baylor submitted “more than $61.8 million in false claims” by upcoding certain diagnosis codes. The Court dismissed all claims with prejudice, finding that the Relator, Integra Med Analytics LLC, alleged only “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” that were “insufficient under Rule 8’s pleading standards.” The Department of Justice declined to intervene in the suit.
Last week, the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion holding that a Relator bringing an FCA claim premised on an AKS violation – at least when relating to lease arrangements – must show that the financial arrangements were not at fair market value. See Bingham v. HCA, Inc., Case No. 1:13-cv-23671 (11th Cir. 2019). Significantly, this ruling provides that proving fair market value (or lack thereof) is not a burden imposed solely on defendants as part of a safe harbor defense, but is instead an essential element to establishing the existence of remuneration in the first instance. In the same opinion, the court also held that a Relator cannot rely upon information gleaned in discovery to satisfy Rule 9(b)’s pleading requirements.
On May 13, 2019, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that the False Claims Act’s (“FCA”) alternative 10-year statute of limitations applies to non-intervened actions. As previously reported here, Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Hunt, presented two main issues: whether relators are entitled to invoke the FCA’s 10-year statute of limitations set forth in 31 U.S.C. § 3731(b)(2), and whether relators are considered “official[s] of the United States” whose knowledge is relevant for determining when the 10-year limitations period applies. Writing for the unanimous Court, Justice Thomas ruled favorably for relators on both questions.
Earlier this month, in a FCA case in which the Government intervened, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota held that the Government was obligated to produce evidence that supported its allegation that amounts that physicians paid for social trips and other benefits provided by Defendants were below fair market value. In United States v. Cameron-Ehlen Grp., Inc., No. 13-CV-3003 (WMW/DTS), 2019 WL 1453063, at *1 (D. Minn. Apr. 2, 2019), the Government’s Complaint-In-Intervention alleged that Defendants, Precision Lens and Paul Ehlen, schemed to pay kickbacks—in the form of “lavish hunting, fishing and golf trips, private plane flights, frequent-flyer miles and other items of value”—to physicians to induce them to use products supplied by Defendants. The Complaint-In-Intervention includes several specific examples where physicians “were remunerated by not paying the full fair market value for trips and other benefits provided by Defendants.” (more…)
Following a recent Florida case allowing an FCA suit to proceed against an individual pharmacy owner (on which we reported here), last week a judge in the District of Massachusetts ruled on a motion to dismiss an FCA action pending against nine individual defendants relating to allegations of off-label marketing of the Aegerion drug Juxtapid, which was approved to treat Homozygous Familial Hypercholesterolemia (“HoFH”). See United States ex rel. Clarke v. Aegerion Pharms., Inc., Case No. 1:13-cv-11785. The individuals filed a joint motion to dismiss, making arguments that applied to the complaint as a whole – such as causation and materiality – and also attacking the claims specific to the individuals. The court denied the motion as to the broadly applicable arguments. Most notable, however, is the Court’s discussion of whether the relators could pursue claims against individual defendants, including board members and executives of the manufacturer.
A recent decision from the Southern District of New York denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment identified a number of characteristics of a pharmaceutical company’s promotional speakers program that may raise concerns under the Anti-Kickback Statute. The opinion highlights the features of the promotional speaker program at issue that persuaded the court that it ran afoul of the AKS.
On March 19, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Cochise Consultancy v. United States ex rel. Hunt, a case that appears likely to resolve a circuit split on an issue of critical importance: in non-intervened FCA cases – which comprise the vast majority of FCA cases – are relators entitled to invoke the FCA’s alternative 10 year statute of limitations set forth in 31 U.S.C. § 3731(b)(2)? That provision provides for a ten year statute of limitations if the action is brought no more than three years after “the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act” knows, or should know, the material facts of the violation. While an opinion is not expected until later this year, the tenor and content of the Justices’ questions suggest that the Court’s answer to that question is likely to be yes.
On January 28, 2019, in remarks to the Advanced Forum on False Claims and Qui Tam Enforcement, Deputy Associate Attorney General Stephen Cox discussed current Department of Justice policy on key False Claims Act enforcement topics, including the Granston Memo, cooperation credit, FCA liability for individuals, and the Brand Memo (which, as noted here, has now been formalized in the Department of Justice’s Manual). A copy of his remarks can be found here.