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On December 21, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that it recovered more than $3.7 billion in settlements and judgments from civil False Claims Act (FCA) cases in Fiscal Year 2017. The FY 2017 figures reflect the government’s continued trend of annually amassing multi-billion dollar recoveries under the FCA.  This recovery is the fourth largest total in thirty years, and the eighth consecutive year that recoveries have exceeded $3 billion.

At the industry level, DOJ reported $2.47 billion in recoveries from the health care sector, and $220 million from defense companies.  The largest health care industry recoveries in FY 2017 came from the drug and medical device industry.  In the procurement fraud arena, the bulk of the recovery came from two large settlements, one involving charges to the Department of Defense and the other involving charges to the Department of Energy.  The government collected approximately $1 billion from the remaining industries, including national security, food safety and inspection, federally insured loans and mortgages, highway funds, small business contracts, agricultural subsidies, disaster assistance, and import tariffs.

The change in presidential administration appears to have had little effect on FCA activity.  DOJ continued its pursuit of individual owners and executives of private corporations under the FCA.  It entered into numerous settlements wherein individuals agreed to joint and several liability with their company.  DOJ also obtained over $60 million in FCA settlements and judgments with individuals that did not involve joint and several liability with the corporate entity.  Also, the number of new FCA actions in FY 2017 remained high with relators bringing 674 new qui tam matters and DOJ initiating 125 matters on its own.  Of the $3.7 billion recovery, $3.4 billion related to suits initiated by whistleblowers, and over $3 billion of that came from suits where the government either intervened or otherwise pursued the matter.  These numbers are consistent with the prior five years and suggest that the FCA will remain an active area for investigations and litigation in 2018.

On May 16, 2017, the Fourth Circuit issued a decision in United States ex rel. Omar Badr v. Triple Canopy, holding that the Government had properly alleged an implied certification claim under the standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Universal Health Servs. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016).  In the eleven months following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on the implied certification theory of liability, Escobar has been cited in nearly 100 court opinions. (Our recent Feature Comment in the Government Contractor highlights some of the key cases and developing trends).

In Badr, the relator alleges that a security contractor responsible for ensuring the safety of an air base in a combat zone employed Ugandan guards who were unable to meet the required marksmanship scores on a U.S. Army qualification course. According to the relator, Triple Canopy knowingly falsified marksmanship scorecards and presented claims to the government for payment for those guards.

Continue Reading It’s the Cover-Up That Gets You

On March 2, 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report highlighting necessary improvements to effectively implement the Whistleblower Protections Pilot Program (WPPP).  The WPPP, introduced in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, and made permanent by Congress in December 2016, expanded whistleblower rights against reprisal for employees of contractors, subcontractors, and grantees.  That same year, the FAR was also amended to require contracting officials to include a contract clause requiring contractors to communicate to their employees their rights under the WPPP in contracts exceeding the simplified acquisition threshold and awarded after September 30, 2013.  The WPPP also required agencies use best efforts to include the FAR clause in major contract modifications of existing contracts.

Continue Reading Whistle(blowing) While You Work: GAO Recommends Improvements to Whistleblower Protections Pilot Program

On February 14, the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion in United States ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Cmty. Inc. addressing only the first of the two issues that the district court had certified for interlocutory appeal: (1) whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) possesses an unreviewable veto authority over proposed settlements and (2) whether statistical sampling, the analysis of data from a subset of the population of interest in order to make projections across the population of claims at issue, is an appropriate methodology for establishing liability and damages in False Claims Act (FCA) cases.
In its decision, the Fourth Circuit became the third circuit to affirm that the DOJ has absolute, unreviewable authority to veto settlements in qui tam cases where it has declined to intervene. However, notwithstanding that the name of the defendant corporation is derived from the Greek word for love, the Fourth Circuit’s decision (on Valentine’s Day) not to opine on the statistical sampling issue showed no love for those that hoped that the court would bring needed clarity on the permissibility of statistical sampling in FCA cases. Instead, as the authors predicted in a recent Law360 article, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the interlocutory appeal as “improvidently granted” because the panel viewed statistical sampling as an evidentiary issue, rather than a pure question of law.

Continue Reading Valentine’s Day Disappointment for FCA Practitioners Hoping for a Ruling on Stat Sampling

On January 26, 2017, the Fourth Circuit heard oral argument in United States ex rel. Omar Badr v. Triple Canopy, one of four False Claims Act decisions that the Supreme Court vacated and remanded for further consideration in light of the Court’s June 2016 holding regarding the implied certification theory in Universal Health Servs. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016).  In Triple Canopy, the relator alleges that a security contractor responsible for ensuring the safety of an air base in a combat zone knowingly employed guards who allegedly falsified marksmanship scores, and presented claims to the government for payment for those unqualified guards. The defendant prevailed on a motion to dismiss at the district court after demonstrating that the government failed to plead that it ever reviewed — and therefore ever relied on — the allegedly false scorecards. United States ex rel. Badr v. Triple Canopy, Inc., 950 F. Supp. 2d 888 (E.D. Va. 2013). The Fourth Circuit reversed, explaining: “Common sense strongly suggests that the Government’s decision to pay a contractor for providing base security in an active combat zone would be influenced by knowledge that the guards could not, for lack of a better term, shoot straight … If Triple Canopy believed that the marksmanship requirement was immaterial to the Government’s decision to pay, it was unlikely to orchestrate a scheme to falsify records on multiple occasions.” 775 F.3d 628, 637–38 (4th Cir. 2015).

Continue Reading The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight: Post-Escobar Application of the Materiality Standard in the Fourth Circuit

On January 13, 2017, the FAR Council released a final rule (available here) that: (1) prohibits agencies from contracting with entities that require employees/subs to sign internal confidentiality agreements or statements that restrict the lawful reporting of waste, fraud, or abuse; and (2) requires bidders on federal contracts to certify that they do not utilize such agreements. Starting on January 19, 2017, the rule will apply to all solicitations and contracts using fiscal year 2015 funds and subsequent fiscal year funds, unless the solicitation or contract already contains a comparable provision/clause.
Continue Reading Final FAR Rule on Internal Confidentiality Agreements: Considerations for Contractors Before Employees Sign on the Dotted Line

Congress amended the civil False Claims Act in 1986 to give the statute more teeth as a fraud enforcement tool. Thirty years later, FCA litigation is as active as ever with more than 800 new cases filed in 2016, which is the second highest number of new cases on record. Not only was 2016 a major year for FCA recoveries (the third-highest ever) but the year also saw major developments ranging from a massive increase in civil penalties and a landmark decision on the implied certification theory of liability. In a “Feature Comment” published in The Government Contractor, C&M attorneys highlight some of the most important settlements and decisions from 2016 on key issues—from liability to damages, qui tam provisions, and more.

On November 1, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in State Farm and Casualty Co. v. United States ex rel. Rigsby on the question of what standard should govern the decision whether to dismiss a relator’s claim for violation of the False Claims Act’s (“FCA”) seal requirement, which mandates that any FCA action brought by a whistleblower be filed with the court under seal and not publicly disclosed until the government has had an opportunity to investigate the allegations in the complaint and determine whether to intervene.  This is the third year in a row that the Court has heard a case involving the FCA and, while Rigsby is not likely to be a blockbuster ruling like last year’s implied certification decision in Escobar (description available here), the case presents an opportunity for the Court to address a three-way circuit split.

When deciding on the standard that should govern, the Court will have to weigh competing policy considerations. On the one hand, relators and their counsel should not be allowed to act with impunity by violating the seal in bad faith in order to gain a tactical advantage in settlement talks.  At the same time, the Court during the argument seemed to recognize that the government only has the resources to intervene in select cases and so the government relies heavily on relators to pursue recoveries.  As such, the government’s interests could be harmed if a relator is automatically dismissed from a case because of an insignificant or technical violation of the seal.  Indeed, the Rigsby case illustrates the tension between these competing policy considerations.  Here, relators’ counsel violated the seal in bad faith, but he then withdrew from the case, and the relators went on to win a judgment against State Farm.  Should that violation have caused the relators’ action to be dismissed altogether?  If not, was any type of sanction warranted?  Those questions and others were before the Court at oral argument.

Continue Reading Should Loose Lips Sink Qui Tam Suits? Supreme Court to Decide Whether FCA Seal Violations Should Result in Dismissal

After a U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining implementation of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” final rule (discussed here), OFPP issued a Memorandum for Chief Acquisition Officers on October 25 instructing federal agencies to refrain from implementing the enjoined portions of the final rule, and to “immediately” amend any solicitations containing such clauses. See the OFPP Memo here.