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.
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.
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).
On March 29, 2019, the United States District Court for the Central District of California denied the Department of Justice’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against UnitedHealth Group (“United”) in a False Claims Act suit alleging that United knowingly retained overpayments for unsupported diagnosis codes submitted for Medicare Advantage patients. In reaching its decision, the Court relied on the decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to vacate a portion of CMS’s 2014 Final Overpayment Rule applicable to the Medicare Advantage program in UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co. v. Azar, 330 F. Supp. 3d 173 (D.D.C. 2018), which we previously discussed here.
On March 14, 2018, the Third Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part a district court ruling granting the United States’ motion for summary judgment. The case raised three issues: (1) whether an individual without any ownership interests in a company can face FCA liability for the company’s failure to perform a required act to qualify for Medicare reimbursement; (2) whether an unsworn statement is sufficient to create a material issue of fact when weighed against facts admitted during a plea colloquy; and (3) whether a defendant corporation is collaterally estopped from contesting FCA liability or damages based on an individual’s plea colloquy.
On September 7, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated CMS’s 2014 Final Overpayment Rule, applicable to the Medicare Advantage program, granting summary judgment to UnitedHealthcare that the Final Rule violated the Medicare statute, was inconsistent with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the False Claims Act (FCA), and violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). In broad strokes, the District Court confronted two statutory issues. The first centered on the undisputed fact that the Final Rule did not account for known errors in the data (from traditional Medicare) used to calculate payments to Medicare Advantage plans. The court found that this failure violates the statutory mandate of “actuarial equivalence” because, although “payments for care under traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage are both set annually based on costs from unaudited traditional Medicare records,” the Final Rule “systematically devalues payments to Medicare Advantage insurers by measuring ‘overpayments’ based on audited patient records.” As a result, the court concluded that the Final Rule “establishes a system where ‘actuarial equivalence’ cannot be achieved.” On the same basis, the court found that the Final Rule violates the statutory requirement to use the “same methodology” in calculating expenditures in traditional Medicare and determining payments to Medicare Advantage plans. The Final Rule “fails to recognize a crucial data mismatch and, without correction, it fails to satisfy [the Medicare statute].” (more…)
Noncompliance with ambiguous regulations often presents a weak case for an FCA suit. A growing number of courts (as discussed here and here) have held that reasonable interpretations of regulations, absent contrary guidance from the government, reflect a mens rea inconsistent with the requisite “knowing” misconduct under the FCA. However, the Eleventh Circuit recently reached a contrary conclusion, holding that defendants who articulate reasonable interpretations of ambiguous regulations can nonetheless be liable under the FCA. See United States ex rel. Phalp v. Lincare Holdings, Inc., No. 16-10532 (May 26, 2017). (more…)
On February 13, 2017, the District Court for the District of Columbia rejected motions for summary judgment filed by cyclist Lance Armstrong and his agents Capital Sports and Entertainment Holdings Inc. (CSE) in an FCA suit alleging the defendants violated the FCA by issuing payment invoices to the United States Postal Service (USPS) under sponsorship agreements while actively concealing Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The Court rejected Armstrong’s motion because it found that the government raised genuine issues of fact regarding the applicability of two of its three theories of FCA liability, its common-law claims, and the issue of actual damages. As a result, the Court will set the case for trial, where Armstrong may face nearly $100M in damages. A copy of the court’s order can be found here.