Since 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been increasingly focused on adjudicating False Claims Act (FCA) matters for deficient cybersecurity practices. As the government increases scrutiny of data privacy and cybersecurity, it is increasingly important to develop and maintain robust cybersecurity systems, educate employees, and ensure adequate risk management. Taking time now to shore up your data privacy and cybersecurity will help to avoid FCA challenges in the future.Continue Reading Avoiding the False Claims Act with Good Cyber Practices
On April 18, 2023, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in two consolidated cases that have the potential to upend False Claims Act (FCA) litigation. Oral argument on both sides and questioning from the Justices indicated tensions and sincere disagreement over the complexities of applying the False Claims Act’s scienter element in areas of ambiguity.Continue Reading SCOTUS Signals Likely Reversal in SuperValu, Arguments Reflect Concerns over Application to Other FCA Cases
Cybersecurity-related FCA cases poised to increase as FCA enforcement ramps up
On February 7, 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that settlements and judgments under the False Claims Act exceeded $2.2 billion during the 2022 fiscal year and that the government posted its second-highest number of settlements and judgments in a single year.Continue Reading DOJ Posts Near-Record Year of False Claim Act Settlements and Judgments
On March 31, 2021, in United States ex rel. Felten v. William Beaumont Hospital, No. 20-1002, 2021 WL 1204981 (6th Cir. Mar. 31, 2021), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the False Claims Act’s (FCA) anti-retaliation provision protects former employees alleging post-termination retaliation. The decision creates a split with the Tenth Circuit, which held in 2018 in Potts v. Center for Excellence in Higher Education, Inc., 908 F.3d 610 (10th Cir. 2018), that former employees are excluded from the scope of the FCA’s anti-retaliation provision. While current employees are undoubtedly protected under the provision, Felten ultimately leaves the question of whether former employees may recover for post-termination retaliation under the FCA unsettled across all circuits.
Continue Reading Can Former Employees Assert Post-Termination Retaliation Claims Under the False Claims Act?
Paying workers as independent contractors instead of as employees may land a former executive in jail for criminal wire fraud. On June 12, 2019, the former operations manager and vice president of a Florida-based mail transportation contractor pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud related to such treatment. The Government’s case was based on pricing estimates for employee-related costs that the contractor later did not incur because it instead used independent contractors.
In the June 1, 2018 indictment of Alexei Rivero, the Government contended that Rivero purposely misclassified the drivers it hired as independent contractors. According to the indictment, this allowed the contractor to “misappropriate” $1.5 million in USPS contract payments “designated” for fringe benefits and $1.2 million designated for payroll taxes.
Continue Reading Government contractor pleads guilty to fraud for paying drivers as independent contractors
While the settlement of the False Claims Act case against Lance Armstrong has generated a press release, a quick online search didn’t produce a copy of the actual agreement. So I filed a Freedom of Information Act request and the next day the Department of Justice provided me a copy of the Lance Armstrong settlement agreement. Thank you, Team DOJ! Below is my take on that agreement and what it tells us about the case.
The settlement amount
The settlement agreement provides that Lance Armstrong will pay $5 million to the Government and $1.65 million to the relator Floyd Landis. To put this in context, the Postal Service had paid about $40 million to sponsor Team Postal. Trebling that amount, and throwing in civil penalties and investigative costs, bumps up potential damages to well over $100 million. The settlement amount was thus less than 7 cents on the dollar.
Damages was always the Government’s weakness – because there weren’t any. This should have been apparent at the outset from the contemporaneous USPS reports on how much publicity and new revenue the Team Postal sponsorship had generated. These reports were poppycock, of course, but they still posed insurmountable problems for the Government’s case.Continue Reading What the Lance Armstrong settlement agreement tells us about the Government’s case
Contractors are now familiar with the Supreme Court’s June 2016 decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar [PDF]. That decision recognizes False Claims Act liability for implied false certifications. But it also holds that FCA liability is available only when the false statement or omission is “material” to the Government’s decision to pay a claim. Our discussion of Escobar is available here.
Over the last 18 months, courts across the country have been asked to determine the impact of the Escobar decision. Ten of the eleven U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have interpreted Escobar. Numerous U.S. District Courts have applied Escobar in resolving pre-trial motions. Cases based on “garden-variety breaches of contract or regulatory violations” are being thrown out. Even jury verdicts are being overturned for insufficient evidence of materiality. There is one inescapable conclusion from these post-Escobar decisions: materiality matters.
In this entry, we discuss two recent decisions that illustrate the impact of Escobar. One reaffirms the notion that, after Escobar, minor non-compliance with a regulatory requirement will not normally support FCA liability. The other highlights the critical role the government’s actions can play in establishing materiality. Together they reject jury verdicts imposing more than $1 billion in False Claims Act liability.
Continue Reading After Escobar, materiality matters
After nearly a decade of litigation, justice was finally meted out in an extreme case of Government over-reach against a government contractor. The Government had sought to recover over $1.6 million from a government contractor whose subcontractor had underpaid a handful of employees by $9,900.
When all was said and done, a federal appellate court finally rejected the Government’s legal theory as essentially frivolous and ordered it to pay the contractor’s attorney fees, estimated at roughly $500,000. When the Government expressed concern that this would have a “chilling effect” on its efforts to vigorously enforce the False Claims Act, the court stated: “One should hope so.” The case is called U.S. ex rel. Wall v. Circle C Constr., LLC, No. 16-6169, (6th Cir. Aug. 18, 2017).
The story starts when the prime contractor, Circle C Construction, won a contract to construct buildings at the Fort Campbell military base. Circle C hired a subcontractor, Phase Tech, to perform the electrical work. The prime contract required compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act, which is similar to the Service Contract Act but applies to construction work. Like the Service Contract Act, the Davis Bacon Act requires the prime contractor and all subcontractors to pay construction workers the prevailing wages and benefits set by the Department of Labor. The Davis-Bacon Act also requires that the contractor submit certified payrolls as a condition of contract payment.
While Circle C did not have a written contract with its subcontractor Phase Tech, it did provide Phase Tech with the Wage Determinations from its prime contract. But Circle C did not verify whether Phase Tech was in compliance with the Davis Bacon Act. Phase Tech did not submit payroll certifications for two years after the project commenced, and later contended it was not aware it had to do so.
Eventually, one of Phase Tech’s employees brought a qui tam False Claims Act action against both Phase Tech and Circle C based on the under-payment of wages. Phase Tech settled the case by agreeing to pay $15,000, leaving Circle C as the remaining defendant. The Government agreed to take over the case from the employee and pursued the claim against Circle C.
Initially, the case did not go well for Circle C. The federal trial court hearing the case granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and damages of $555,000 (the entire cost of the electrical scope of work on the project), which was trebled to a total award of $1.66 million against Circle C.Continue Reading Government ordered to pay contractor’s attorney’s fees in False Claims Act case
The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, No. 15-7 (U.S. June 16, 2016), upholds the viability of the implied certification theory of False Claims Act liability. But it also makes cases arising from minor instances of noncompliance much harder to prove. The Court held that a knowing failure to disclose a violation of a material statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirement can create False Claims Act liability. The requirement need not be an express condition of payment, but it must be material to the Government’s decision to pay.
The requirement for proof of a misleading half-truth
Those hoping that the Court would eliminate implied certification altogether will be disappointed with the decision. It opens up the possibility of new False Claims Act cases in the Seventh Circuit and in other jurisdictions that had rejected the implied certification theory or limited its application to conditions of payment. Some cases that might have been thrown out on a motion to dismiss might stand a better chance of surviving through discovery and trial.
The Court nevertheless takes strong steps to limit misuse of the implied certification theory. According to the opinion in Escobar, liability under the implied certification theory can be imposed only when two conditions are satisfied. First, the claim for payment must make “specific representations about the goods or services provided.” An invoice that makes no affirmative statement about the quality of a contractor’s goods or services cannot be the basis for an implied certification.Continue Reading Universal Health v. Escobar: the new standard of proof for implied certification liability under the False Claims Act
[UPDATE: The Supreme Court resolved the Escobar case in a unanimous decision published on June 16, 2015. A link to our discussion of the Court’s opinion is available here.]
In some courts in the United States today, a government contractor or a healthcare provider seeking reimbursement from a federal program can violate the False Claims Act even when its work is satisfactory and its invoices are correct. Under the theory of “implied certification,” a minor instance of non-compliance with one of the thousands of applicable statutes, regulations, and contract provisions can be the basis for a federal investigation, years of litigation, as well as fines, penalties, suspension and debarment, even imprisonment of company personnel.
This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, Docket No. 15-7, a case involving the viability of the implied certification theory. Here, we look at the questions posed during oral argument to see if we can infer how the Court might resolve the case.
The Supreme Court agreed to consider two questions posed in Escobar. First, the Court agreed to address the current split in the circuits as to the viability of the implied certification theory. The First Circuit’s decision in United States ex rel. Escobar v. Universal Health Services, Inc., 780 F.3d 504 (1st Cir. 2015), broadly adopts implied certification. The Seventh Circuit’s decision in United States v. Sanford-Brown, Ltd., 788 F.3d 696 (7th Cir. 2015), firmly rejects it.Continue Reading How the Supreme Court will limit False Claims Act liability for implied certification