2022 was a busy year for the False Claims Act. While recoveries were down, new cases reached a record mark, and settlements addressed multiple important and developing enforcement areas, from cybersecurity to small business fraud, bid rigging, Trade Agreements Act compliance, pandemic fraud, and more. Of particular note, the U.S. Supreme Court held argument concerning
Amanda H. McDowell is an associate in the Government Contracts and Health Care groups in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office. Amanda represents contractors in litigation, regulatory, and counseling matters. Her practice focuses on False Claims Act litigation, government investigations, bid protests, and state and federal regulatory compliance.
Hundreds of Millions of Potential Liability Result from Federal Jury False Claims Act Verdict Against Ophthalmology Product Distributor
In a prime example of the significant interplay between the Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) and the False Claims Act (“FCA”), a federal jury has returned a verdict of more than $43 million in damages against Cameron-Ehlen Group, Inc., which does business as “Precision Lens,” and its owner. The verdict in this long-running and closely watched fraud case out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota comes after a six-week trial, with the jury ultimately finding that the defendants paid kickbacks to ophthalmic surgeons to induce their use of defendants’ products in cataract surgeries reimbursed by Medicare, resulting in the submission of 64,575 false claims between 2006 and 2015. While the jury calculated damages at the massive sum of $43 million, that number may grow exponentially after the court applies the FCA’s treble-damages calculation (increasing the liability to $129 million) and statutory penalties of between $5,500 and $11,000 for each of the 64,575 claims (resulting in additional penalties of $355 million to $710 million). All told, the total FCA liability is expected to range between $485 million and $839 million.
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ASBCA’s FY2022 Report – A Look at the Numbers
On November 1, 2022, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) published its FY 2022 Report of Transactions and Proceedings, which provides statistics regarding the adjudication of appeals between contractors and the Army, Navy, Air Force, Corps of Engineers, Central Intelligence Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Contract Management Agency…
U.S. Supreme Court Poised to Resolve Two FCA Circuit Splits
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Polansky v. Executive Health Resources Inc., No. 19-3810 (3d Cir. Oct. 28, 2021), which involves the Government’s authority to dismiss a relator’s qui tam action pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A) of the False Claims Act. In Polansky, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held the Government must intervene in FCA suits before moving to dismiss and that, where responsive pleadings have been filed, a court has wide discretion to permit or deny the Government’s exercise of dismissal authority. This cemented two circuit splits. The first split is between the Third, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits, which require the Government to intervene before moving for dismissal of an FCA suit, and the D.C., Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, which do not require the Government to intervene before moving for dismissal of an FCA suit at any point in the litigation. The second is a three-way split among the Circuits regarding the standard of review a court must apply when determining whether the Government can dismiss a qui tam action over a relator’s objection: the Third and Seventh Circuits apply the Rule 41(b) standard, the D.C. Circuit considers the Government’s dismissal authority unfettered, and the Ninth Circuit applies a “rational relation” test requiring the Government to demonstrate a valid government purpose and a “rational relation” between the dismissal and that government purpose. The Supreme Court is now poised to resolve both of these splits.
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Second Circuit Reinforces the Relator’s Burden to Plead Materiality
In U.S. ex rel. Foreman v. AECOM, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit confirmed that the materiality factors set forth by the Supreme Court in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar apply to all types of False Claims Act claims and reinforced the relator’s heavy burden even at the pleading stage. This precedential opinion provides several key takeaways for defendants facing FCA liability where the significance of the allegations to the government’s payment decision is in doubt.
Foreman involved a contract to provide maintenance and management support services for the Army, including tactical vehicle and equipment maintenance, facilities management and maintenance, supply and inventory management, and transportation services. The alleged violations stemmed from the contractor submitting timesheets with improper labor hours, failing to properly log and track government property, and hitting a consistently low man-hour utilization (“MHU”) rate—the ratio of time personnel would spend actively engaged in maintenance projects. After the government declined to intervene, the district court dismissed the relator’s claims for failure to plausibly allege materiality.
On appeal, the Second Circuit largely affirmed the district court, while reversing only as to the allegations of labor overcharging due to the lower court’s improper reliance on a document not incorporated into the complaint. The Court’s discussion with respect to the other allegations provides important guidance as to the materiality analysis and the burdens that apply at the pleading stage.…
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To Be, or Not to Be: The ASBCA Holds that a Cost is Not “Incurred” Without a Legal Obligation to Pay
In its recent decision, Cellular Materials International, Inc., ASBCA No. 61408 (Dec. 27, 2021), the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (“ASBCA”) observed that whether a cost has been “incurred” for purposes of claiming allowable costs under FAR 52.216-7 is a fact-intensive inquiry.
Pursuant to its Government contract requirements, Cellular Materials International, Inc. (“CMI”)…
Not So Majeure—GAO Finds Agency Properly Rejected a Bid Classifying All COVID-19-Related Events as an Excusable Cause of Delay
In American Mine Services, LLC, B-420138 (Dec. 3, 2021), the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) denied a protest by American Mine Services (“AMS”), finding that the Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) reasonably rejected AMS’ bid because it included a provision stating that COVID-19, as well as other similar pandemics or endemics, would be considered “force…
Tipping the Scales: Third Circuit Weighs in on Circuit Split Regarding the Government’s Dismissal Authority Over False Claims Act Qui Tams
In its recent decision Polansky v. Executive Health Resources Inc., No. 19-3810 (3d Cir. Oct. 28, 2021), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit became the most recent to weigh in on the circuit split regarding the Government’s authority to dismiss False Claims Act (“FCA”) qui tam actions pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A). Siding with the Seventh Circuit’s recently-adopted approach, the Third Circuit held that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a) applies to government dismissals in FCA qui tam actions the same as it would in any other suit. In doing so, the Third Circuit cemented what is now a three-way split regarding the standard the Government must meet to exercise its dismissal authority, rejecting both the D.C. Circuit’s approach, that the Government’s dismissal power is unfettered, and the Ninth Circuit’s approach that the motion to dismiss must have a “rational relation” to a valid government purpose. In the same opinion, the Third Circuit also entered the fray on a second, related split, siding with the Sixth and Seventh Circuits in finding that the Government must intervene in FCA suits before moving to dismiss. In contrast, the D.C., Ninth, and Tenth Circuits do not require the Government to intervene before moving for dismissal of an FCA suit at any point in the litigation.
The qui tam action in Polansky accused Executive Health Inc. of systematically enabling its client hospitals to over-admit patients by certifying inpatient services that should have been provided on an outpatient basis and then billing those services to Medicare. The relator filed the complaint in 2012 under seal where it remained for two years until the Government declined to intervene. After the declination, the relator continued the suit until 2019 when the Government notified the parties that it intended to dismiss the action pursuant to its authority under § 3730(c). The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted the Government’s motion over the relator’s objection, and the relator subsequently appealed to the Third Circuit.
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Task Force Issues New FAQs for Contractor Vaccine Requirements
On November 1, 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) issued new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for federal contractors that are subject to Executive Order (EO) No. 14042 on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors. The new guidance addresses requests for accommodations, applicability to corporate affiliates, and recommendations for enforcement and compliance. As required by the implementing contract clause, covered contractors are required to comply with this new guidance.
Requests for accommodations: First, the FAQs state that requests for accommodation do not need to be resolved before a covered contractor employee begins work on a covered contract or at a covered workplace. While requests are pending, these employees must follow workplace safety protocols for employees that are not fully vaccinated as specified in the Task Force Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors, which Crowell addressed in client alerts on September 24, 2021 and October 6, 2021. On the other hand, for covered employees that are not vaccinated because they received an accommodation from the covered contractor, agencies are entitled to determine which protocols such employees must follow when they enter a federal workplace. Notably, agencies may determine that mandating the vaccine is the only safety measure available. In such cases, covered employees with accommodations would be unable to work at the federal workplace but the contractor would not be relieved from meeting its contractual requirements. Covered contractors could presumably take the same approach for employees that only or occasionally work at a covered contractor workplace. Additionally, covered contractors should notify their contracting officer when one of their employees who works at a federal workplace has received an exception to the requirement to be fully vaccinated.
Corporate Affiliates: Second, the FAQs clarify that corporate affiliates of a covered contractor that do not otherwise qualify as covered contractors may be covered by the vaccine mandate if: “(i) either one controls or has the power to control the other; or (ii) a third party controls or has the power to control both.” Indicia of control also include interlocking management or ownership, identity of interests among family members, shared facilities and equipment, or common use of employees. Therefore, employees of a corporate affiliate of a covered contractor working at the covered contractor’s “covered contractor workplace” will be subject to the vaccine mandate. Additionally, a facility that is owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by an affiliate that is not a covered contractor will be considered a “covered contractor workplace” subject to the vaccine mandate where an employee of the affiliated covered contractor working on or in connection with a covered contract is likely to be present during the period of performance.
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Executive Order 14042 Agency Class Deviation Guidance, A Side-by-Side Comparison
Executive Order 14042, issued on September 9, 2021, requires that certain federal contractors and subcontractors mandate vaccinations against COVID-19 for covered employees in addition to requiring compliance by covered employees and visitors with other COVID-19 safety protocols.
However, E.O. 14042 leaves several questions unanswered, including how agencies should implement the order and, in some cases,…