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Yesterday, February 17, 2021, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division, Brian Boynton, highlighted the central role that the False Claims Act (FCA) has held and will continue to play in the government’s civil fraud enforcement toolkit for years to come. In prepared remarks at the Federal Bar Association’s 2021 Qui Tam Conference, Grassley confirmed that he is drafting legislation intended to curb what he called the government’s incorrect interpretation that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has unfettered authority to dismiss qui tam lawsuits brought by relators. In an apparent reference to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Universal Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016), Senator Grassley also asserted that the courts have weakened the statute by dismissing cases based on a misapplication of the FCA’s materiality requirement, another area that he suggested was ripe for Congressional intervention. In separate remarks, Boynton highlighted DOJ’s top priority areas for FCA enforcement in the coming years as well as tools the government is developing to increase its ability to uncover complex fraudulent schemes.

Continue Reading “You Have to Come Down with a Sledgehammer, Not a Toothpick!” – Senator Grassley Previews Potential Amendments to Increase False Claims Act Enforcement and Recoveries

On February 3, 2021, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) issued an update to its Top Challenges in Pandemic Relief and Response, identifying new challenges in funding oversight and reiterating others identified in its original report issued in June 2020. The updated report, based on feedback received from Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) at more than 40 agencies, identifies four new challenges focused on ferreting out fraud related to pandemic funding and the health and safety of federal employees: (1) preventing and detecting fraud against government programs; (2) informing and protecting the public from pandemic-related fraud; (3) data transparency and completeness; and (4) federal workplace safety. The PRAC also identifies contributory risk factors within each new challenge and makes recommendations for agencies to conduct additional oversight. This PRAC update, along with a recently-issued quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR), confirm the rising tide of civil enforcement activity with respect to pandemic relief funds and the attendant risks to recipients and entities involved in administering such funds, particularly in light of the punitive damages provided for by the government’s most powerful civil fraud enforcement tool, the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729.

Continue Reading February Reports from PRAC and SIGPR Confirm Government’s Focus on Pandemic Funding Oversight and Enforcement Challenges

On January 19, 2021, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s rejection at summary judgment of a disgruntled employee’s False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim in Hickman v. Spirit of Athens, No. 19-10945 (11th Cir. Jan. 19, 2021). The Court’s decision makes clear that, despite expansions to the FCA in 2009 and 2010 protecting employees who engage in “efforts to stop 1 or more violations” of the FCA, plaintiffs must nevertheless establish that they held an objectively reasonable belief that they were attempting to prevent the submission of false claims to the government for their conduct to constitute protected activity.

The plaintiffs worked for Spirit of Athens, a nonprofit organization. The executive director became concerned in reviewing tax returns that $61,000 of the organization’s expenses were generally categorized as “other expenses” without any further explanation. The executive director verbally retracted her signature on the tax forms, but the organization’s president signed and submitted them himself. The executive director and her assistant then arranged for the board members to receive a copy of the tax documents, shared their concerns with the president, and even hired an outside firm to audit the organization’s tax returns. Apparently unhappy with the executive director and her assistant’s conduct, the president fired them. The two then brought suit against the organization, claiming that they were terminated for “their attempts to combat the organization’s misuse of federal funds.” The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding that plaintiffs had failed to establish that they had engaged in protected activity under the FCA.


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Holds that a Sincere Belief is not the Same as a Reasonable One Under the False Claims Act’s Retaliation Provision

Like many other aspects of the legal landscape, 2020 was defined by COVID-19 and emerging areas of exposure and enforcement to come related to pandemic relief funding. But 2020 also saw many other important FCA developments, from case law developments on materiality, causation, pleading requirements, bars to qui tam actions, and the government’s authority to

On January 6, 2021, the Administrative Conference of U.S. Courts authorized federal district courts to develop policies for accepting “highly sensitive court documents (HSDs),” which would normally be filed electronically under seal, via paper filing. The statement from the Administrative Conference also acknowledged that the recent cybersecurity attack on SolarWinds products compromised the confidentiality of

In General Medicine, P.C. v. United States, No. 3:20-mc-00053, the District Court for the Southern District of Illinois held that a third party has standing to challenge a False Claims Act (FCA) civil investigative demand (CID) that is issued to another entity. In that case, General Medicine, a company that employs physicians and nurse

On December 9, 2020, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DoD OIG) released its Audit of Department of Defense Implementation of Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.  The audit assesses the DoD’s issuance of relief under Section 3610, which authorizes certain agencies to reimburse contractors for any

On September 30, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment issued a memorandum titled “Delegation of Defective Pricing Authority to the Defense Contract Management Agency,” describing DCMA’s new, enhanced role in TINA audits and subsequent disputes. The memo states that DCMA has created a “Defective Pricing Pilot Team,” which

On July 28, 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled, “Serious Concerns of Potential Fraud in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program Pertaining to the Response to COVID-19.” The report identifies and summarizes OIG’s “serious concerns” of potential fraud and calls for “immediate attention and

On June 17, 2020, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) issued its first report, “Top Challenges Facing Federal Agencies: COVID-19 Emergency Relief and Response Effort” (the “Report”). PRAC was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). It consists of the twenty-one offices of inspectors general (OIGs) that oversee the