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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.

On remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in ECC International Constructors, LLC, ASBCA Nos. 59586, 59643, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals concluded that, by waiting until after a hearing on the merits and six years after the appeal was filed, the government forfeited its right to challenge the contractor’s satisfaction of the FAR’s sum-certain requirement for Contract Disputes Act claims.Continue Reading Wait Too Long and You Might Miss Sum-Thing: ASBCA Again Underscores that Failure to Timely Raise Sum-Certain Defense Can Result in Forfeiture Under New Federal Circuit Precedent

In JE Dunn Construction Company, ASBCA No. 63183, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (“ASBCA”) issued its first published decision applying the Federal Circuit’s recent holding that the FAR sum-certain requirement for Contract Disputes Act claims is not jurisdictional. The Board held that, because the government did not raise the issue until after a hearing on the merits, the government forfeited its right to challenge the contractor’s satisfaction of the sum-certain requirement.Continue Reading Use It or Lose It: ASBCA Finds That the Government Forfeited its Sum-Certain Defense

On August 25, 2023, in ECC CENTCOM Constructors, LLC v. United States, COFC No. 21-1169, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (“the Court” or “COFC”) barred ECC CENTCOM Constructors, LLC (“ECC”) from asserting claims that should have been asserted before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (“ASBCA”) citing the doctrine of claim preclusion. 

At the ASBCA, ECC had appealed a termination for default and sought time extensions and damages due to excusable delay.  The Board dismissed ECC’s appeal, finding that the Contracting Officer (“CO”) acted reasonably in terminating the contract and finding that ECC failed to present its excusable delay claims to the CO as required under M. Maropakis Carpentry, Inc. v. United States, 609 F.3d 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2010).  ECC requested a stay to allow it time to present its delay claims to the CO, but the Board denied the request stating that it was untimely and futile because ECC’s own expert testified that less than half of the delays were excusable, which meant that the CO’s termination decision would still be justified.  ECC appealed the ASBCA’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, where the Board’s decision was affirmed.Continue Reading Strike When the Iron is Hot: Court of Federal Claims Found a Contractor’s Defense to a Termination Was Precluded by its Failure to Previously Assert Those Claims in Litigation Before the ASBCA

When faced with a dissatisfying debriefing, a contractor may choose to respond to the agency to question or even rebut its evaluation.  However, the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision in NikSoft Systems Corporation (NikSoft) serves as an important reminder that those communications can be interpreted as agency-level protests, with potential to render subsequent GAO protests untimely. 

Continue Reading Bite Your Tongue or Eat Your Words: GAO Reminds Contractors that Correspondence with the Agency Can Be Construed as an Agency-Level Protest, Doubling Down on a Timeliness Trap

The continual push and pull between the courts and Congress over the contours of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) has once again spawned proposed legislation unfavorable to FCA defendants, this time poised to curtail defense arguments that continued government payment of claims in the face of alleged noncompliance with contractual or other legal requirements demonstrates a lack of materiality.

On July 25, 2023, a bipartisan group of senators proposed legislation entitled the “False Claims Act Amendments of 2023.”  Spearheaded by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the principal author of the 1986 FCA amendments, the bill purportedly attempts to close certain FCA defense “loopholes” left open by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 579 U.S. 176 (2016) (“Escobar”).  Senator Grassley has been an outspoken critic of more recent FCA judicial developments, which he deems a gradual curbing of the power of the “single greatest tool in the fight against fraud.”  These newest proposed amendments are another example of Grassley’s advocacy for stronger and more rigid fraud enforcement than courts have been willing to impose based on the text of the FCA. Continue Reading He’s a Material Guy in a Material World: Senator Grassley Proposes FCA Amendments to Weaken Materiality Defense Where Government Pays Despite Knowledge of Non-Compliance

On June 16, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources Inc., held that the Government may seek dismissal of a False Claims Act (“FCA”) qui tam suit over a relator’s objection so long as it intervenes in the litigation, either during the initial seal period or afterward.  The Court also held that, when handling such a motion, district courts should apply Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 41(a), the rule generally governing voluntary dismissal of suits.  And in a dissent that—in the long run—may end up being more impactful than the Court’s holding, Justice Thomas (joined in a concurring opinion by Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett) questioned the constitutionality of the qui tam provisions themselves.  Continue Reading See(2)(A) You Later: Supreme Court Holds that DOJ Has Broad Dismissal Authority Even After Unsealing

On May 15, 2023, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (“ASBCA” or “the Board”) in J&J Maintenance, Inc., d/b/a J&J Worldwide Services, ASBCA No. 63013 issued an instructive analysis of its jurisdiction to hear monetary and nonmonetary claims.  Partially granting a government motion to dismiss, the ASBCA explained that, if a contractor does not seek monetary relief in its claim to the contracting officer (“CO”), then the contractor cannot seek monetary relief on appeal to the Board.  Addressing the contractor’s claim for contract interpretation, however, the Board denied the government’s motion to dismiss and held that, where a contractor can reasonably articulate “significant consequences” of its claim other than the recovery of money, the fact that the claim may also have a financial impact on the parties does not strip the Board of jurisdiction.  Continue Reading Money Talks, But So Do Other Impacts: ASBCA Underscores that a Claim with Possible Financial Impacts Is Not Fundamentally a Monetary Claim Unless It Has No Other Significant Consequences

On April 6, 2023, the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA), in BES Design/Build, LLC, CBCA 7585, dismissed a contractor’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction, finding the appeal untimely, and underscoring that a contractor cannot reset the 90-day appeal window by resubmitting its original claim.

On February 24, 2021, BES Design/Build, LLC (BES) submitted

On April 3, 2023, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey announced a settlement with a public relations firm to resolve allegations that the New Jersey company violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by receiving a $2 million second-draw loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to which the company was not

Next Tuesday, April 18, 2023, the highest court in the land will hear arguments in what is poised to be the most influential False Claims Act (FCA) case since the landmark decision in Universal Health Servs. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016).  On January 13, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear two consolidated appeals from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in United States ex rel. Schutte v. SuperValu Inc., 9 F.4th 455 (7th Cir. 2021) and United States ex rel. Proctor v. Safeway, Inc., 30 F.4th 649 (7th Cir. 2022).  The Court’s decision will likely have far-reaching ramifications for FCA cases involving ambiguous contractual or regulatory requirements and may also provide benchmarks for assessing the key element of scienter across all FCA cases.  

In Supervalu and Safeway, the Seventh Circuit joined several of its sister circuits in applying the scienter standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Safeco Insurance Company of America v. Burr, 551 U.S. 47 (2007) to the FCA, finding that a defendant’s conduct is not reckless when (1) acting under an objectively reasonable, albeit erroneous, interpretation of an ambiguous regulation or contract provision; and (2) no authoritative guidance existed to warn the defendant away from that interpretation. Continue Reading Fair Warning Protection or a “Free Pass to Fleece the Public Fisc”?: SCOTUS Takes Up the Safeco Objective Reasonableness Standard and Subjective Intent Under the FCA