The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a notable decision that offers defendants in FCA cases premised on violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) significant new defenses relating to causation. The panel soundly rejected the government’s position that as a result of the 2010 amendments to the AKS, any claim provided in violation of the AKS is tainted, and therefore “false,” under the FCA. Instead, the Eighth Circuit held that for an AKS violation to render a claim false, the kickback must have been the but-for cause of the submission of the claim. United States ex rel. Cairns v. D.S. Medical LLC, No. 20-3010, 2022 WL 2930946 (8th Cir. July 26, 2022). The decision creates a circuit split with the Third Circuit and given the many courts of appeal that have not weighed in on this question, promises to generate renewed debate in district courts across the country as to the appropriate causation standard in FCA cases involving alleged violations of the AKS.
A court in the District of Maryland again dismissed a declined qui tam action in which the relator, a bariatric surgeon, alleged that two medical device companies violated the AKS by providing surgeons with free advertising in exchange for physicians using the companies’ LAP-BAND medical devices in bariatric surgeries. See United States ex rel. Fitzer v. Allergan, Inc., 17-cv-00668 (D. Md. Mar. 22, 2022). We reported on the court’s prior dismissal of the relator’s second amended complaint for failure adequately to plead a knowing and willful violation of the AKS here. Relator fared no better on his third attempt; as the court found, he failed to adequately plead presentment and causation. (more…)
On July 6, 2021, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s dismissal of the qui tam suit against IBM in United States ex rel. Cimino v. Int’l Bus. Machines Corp., No. 19-7139. The relator alleged that IBM and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) had entered into a software license agreement, but that upon learning that the IRS was uninterested in renewing the agreement, IBM fraudulently induced the IRS to extend the contract. In particular, IBM allegedly collaborated with the auditor of the agreement, resulting in an audit finding that the IRS owed IBM $292 million for noncompliance with the contract’s terms. IBM then offered allegedly to waive that fee in exchange for the IRS renewing the agreement. The relator further alleged that once the new agreement was in place, IBM nonetheless collected $87 million of the noncompliance penalty by disguising that amount as fees for products and services that were never provided. According to the relator, this scheme yielded FCA liability in two ways: first, IBM fraudulently induced the IRS to renew the agreement; second, IBM submitted false claims by billing $87 million for unprovided products and services.
Late last week, Judge Patti Saris (D. Mass.) issued an opinion on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by a qui tam relator and Massachusetts and a group of defendants that includes South Bay Mental Health Center (“South Bay”) and its private equity fund owner, permitting the vast majority of plaintiffs’ claims to proceed to the jury. The opinion addresses important questions of law as to each of the elements of the FCA related to claims to Medicaid for services allegedly provided in violation of various state regulatory requirements. However, the opinion is most notable for being the first to hold at the dispositive motion stage that a private equity fund and its principals can act with the requisite scienter and cause the submission of false claims, and thus be exposed directly to the treble damages and statutory penalties of the FCA as a result of conduct by a healthcare provider portfolio company. As such, we may expect it to add momentum to DOJ’s stated intent to pursue FCA claims against PE investors in the industry, as we previously reported here.
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently ruled on a summary judgment motion in a case that has been pending in the federal courts since 2002, involving alleged conduct by the defendant drug manufacturer from 1996-2004, when the pharmaceutical industry and compliance programs were vastly different than they are in 2020. U.S. ex rel. Gohil v. Sanofi U.S. Services Inc’s, No. 02-cv-02964 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 12, 2020). In its ruling, the court adopted an expansive definition of remuneration and a low bar to satisfy the causation element of FCA claims premised on underlying alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute. On this basis, the court is allowing the relator to proceed to trial on allegations that his former employer caused the submission of false claims by paying kickbacks in the form of fees to physicians to participate in advisory boards and speaker programs, educational grants, and meals and gift baskets, while granting summary judgment for the defendant based on allegations related to preceptorships and other alleged kickbacks.
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.
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.
Two years ago, the Seventh Circuit reversed itself by abandoning its “but-for” causation test in FCA cases in favor of a “proximate cause” rule that had been adopted by all other circuits that had addressed the issue. See United States v. Luce, 873 F.3d 999 (7th. Cir. 2017) (overruling United States v. First National Bank of Cicero, 957 F.2d 1362 (7th Cir. 1992)). The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court with instructions to determine whether the government could establish that the defendant’s conduct proximately caused harm to the government. In an opinion issued last week, the district court strictly applied the new standard and concluded the government could not show proximate cause. United States v. Luce, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114718 (N.D. Ill. July 10, 2019).
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida recently held that a False Claims Act suit can proceed against a Florida pharmacy and its owner, rejecting in particular the owner’s arguments that the complaint did not sufficiently allege that he acted with improper intent or caused the submission of false claims.
Last week, the Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc. on allegations that the company violated the False Claims Act as a result of off-label marketing efforts and kickbacks to physicians, emphasizing the relator’s failure to demonstrate a causal link between the alleged improper conduct and any false claims. (more…)