Senator Charles Grassley, who supported the nomination of Merrick Garland for Attorney General, sent the then-nominee a letter on February 24 to ask the Department of Justice to work to “further clarify and strengthen the False Claims Act.” As we reported in previous posts (here, here, and here), Senator Grassley has publicly criticized DOJ’s position that its authority to dismiss FCA suits over relators’ objections is virtually unfettered, and has criticized the materiality standard established by the Supreme Court in Escobar as lending undue weight to role of government conduct (or lack thereof) in response to allegations of fraud. The letter discloses that Senator Grassley is working with “a cadre of bipartisan Senate colleagues” to “strengthen” and “improve” the False Claims Act by narrowing the materiality requirement, and by requiring a court to assess the merits of a qui tam in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss filed by DOJ. We will continue to monitor and report on any such legislation that may ultimately be proposed.
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.
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.
In its May 4, 2020 Opposition to the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in United States ex rel. Schneider v. JPMorgan Chase NA, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) advocated a reading of the FCA that preserves the Executive Branch’s unfettered discretion to dismiss a qui tam, absent “extraordinary circumstances.” DOJ’s power to dismiss derives from FCA Section 3730(c)(2)(A), which provides that the Government “may dismiss” a relator’s action if the relator “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.” Since the revealing of the Granston Memo, which we have addressed here and here, DOJ has more frequently sought to use this statutory power. In hopes of doing so in an unrestricted manner, DOJ presented the Supreme Court with the following question in its Opposition: “Whether the United States’ decision to dismiss a relator’s FCA claim under Section 3730(c)(2) is subject to judicial review where the relator does not allege that the government’s dismissal decision was a fraud on the court.”
On January 27, 2020, Deputy Associate Attorney General Stephen Cox provided insight into current DOJ False Claims Act enforcement priorities and topics such as dismissals under the Granston Memo and reliance on subregulatory guidance as the basis of enforcement. A copy of his remarks can be found after clicking Read More.
According to the statistics published by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in December of 2018, fraud recoveries, including under the False Claims Act, declined in 2018 for the third straight year. While the majority of the dollars recovered by the government in these actions continues to come from the providers of healthcare services, technologies that enable those services, the manufacturers of the drugs, devices, and the private insurers who pay for healthcare, recoveries from the healthcare sector have also declined. While we await the official 2019 statistics from DOJ, we know that this year has continued this Administration’s trend of decreasing enforcement recoveries. That said, recoveries from the industry continue to be counted in the billions of dollars and outstrip levels seen a decade ago. While this Administration’s enforcement priorities have shifted from those of the last, and while DOJ is taking steps to exercise discretion and preserve its enforcement resources in some matters, both DOJ and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) continue to devote substantial resources aggressively to pursuing high priority enforcement issues, particularly those that potentially impact patient safety and substantially increase costs to the federal healthcare programs.
The District Court has ruled on motions filed by DOJ to dismiss FCA cases against certain drug manufacturers in declined qui tam suits, consistent with the principles articulated in the Granston Memo. We previously described DOJ’s motions here. On Friday, the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas adopted in part the recommendation of a Magistrate Judge that DOJ’s motion be granted. Specifically, the Court agreed that the government had satisfied the heightened standard for dismissal adopted by the Ninth and Tenth Circuits, as articulated by the former in Sequoia Orange; namely, that the government has a legitimate interest in preserving its resources, that dismissal was rationally related to that interest, and that there is no evidence that the government’s decision was “fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal.” In particular, the Court found the government’s interest in controlling litigation costs to be legitimate and held that avoiding the need to make employees available for deposition is rationally related to that interest. As such, the Court found it unnecessary to address the Magistrate’s recommendation that it instead adopt the view, embraced by the D.C. Circuit in Swift and other courts (as reported here and here), that DOJ has “unfettered discretion” to dismiss FCA claims. The court’s opinion is here.
Friday’s ruling bolsters DOJ’s efforts to dismiss meritless qui tam suits but fails to sharpen the split of authority on the breadth of its right to do so. We will continue to monitor and report on updates on this important issue.
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.
Since last year’s Granston Memo (discussed recently here and here), DOJ has actively sought dismissal of FCA cases that it believes do not serve the interests of the federal government. DOJ’s power to do so derives from Section 3730(c)(2)(A) of the FCA, which provides that the Government “may dismiss” a relator’s action if the realtor “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.” In United States ex rel. Davis v. Hennepin County, the court considered two questions about the scope of that statutory power: (1) whether the government must first intervene in a case before moving to dismiss the action, and (2) whether the government must show a valid purpose and a rational relationship between dismissal and the accomplishment of its stated purpose. The district court answered “no” to both questions and dismissed the relator’s suit. In so doing, the court signaled its view that the Eighth Circuit would side with the D.C. Circuit in the split over the standard that applies when the government seeks dismissal under Section 3730(c)(2)(A) (the circuit split is discussed here and here).
When the government moves to dismiss a qui tam action, it must satisfy two procedural requirements: it must first notify the relator that the government has filed a motion to dismiss, and second, it must provide the relator an opportunity for a hearing on the motion. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A). In the year since the issuance of the Granston Memo, which we have written about, here, here, here, and here, both relators and courts have grappled with the breadth of the government’s discretion to dismiss qui tam actions.