False Claims Act (FCA)

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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.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Poised to Resolve Two FCA Circuit Splits

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In U.S. ex rel. Howard v. Caddell Construction Company, Inc., 2021 WL 1206584 (E.D.N.C. Mar. 30, 2021), the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina held that status reports certifying compliance with subcontracting rules do not constitute false claims under the False Claims Act (“FCA”) because the claims were not relevant to the contract payments.
Continue Reading Subcontracting Status Reports, Even if False, Are Not Claims Under the FCA

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On June 3, 2021, the district court judge in U.S. ex rel. Conyers v. Halliburton Co. et al., reversed on reconsideration a prior ruling that a kickback presumptively inflates a contract price under the False Claims Act (FCA). The court previously held that the government was entitled to a rebuttable presumption that kickbacks received by a former employee of the prime contractor, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), inflated the contract price under the False Claims Act. The judge revised that ruling, citing to a factual dispute over whether the kickback actually inflated the amount the government paid to reimburse KBR for its subcontract costs. The dispute centered on the falsity element of the FCA and whether KBR submitted, or caused to be submitted, a false claim for payment to the government. The revised decision is consistent with other FCA case law holding that falsity cannot be predicated on a presumption, and that the government must prove that kickbacks actually inflated the contract price.
Continue Reading District Court Reverses Course on Whether Kickbacks Presumptively Inflated Government Costs Under the False Claims Act

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In its recent decision, CVE Appeal of First State Manufacturing, Inc., SBA No. CVE-184-A (2021), the Small Business Administration Office of Hearing and Appeals (OHA) denied an appeal of a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE) to cancel First State Manufacturing, Inc.’s verification of service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) status. CVE issued its Notice of Verified Status Cancellation based on concerns of present responsibility related to a consent judgment entered into merely a month before to resolve a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit against First State that required First State to pay over $393,000. Prior to the FCA lawsuit, First State’s Vice President for Marketing/Contract Administration and Chief Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer were criminally charged, pled guilty, and were sentenced to prison terms for bribing an Amtrak official to win federal Government contracts. In the appeal before OHA, First State argued that CVE erred in cancelling its verified SDVOSB status for two reasons: (1) the FCA consent judgment was based upon an underlying FCA settlement agreement that did not admit liability or wrongdoing by First State; and (2) the Federal Railway Administration, which oversees Amtrak funding, determined that First State was “presently responsible,” and that the likelihood of future harm to the Government did not warrant suspension or debarment. First State further argued that as the Federal Railway Administration is the agency with the potential injury, its determination of present responsibility should have been given greater deference by CVE.
Continue Reading False Claims Act Consent Judgment Prompts Termination of SDVOSB Status Even Without an Admission of Liability

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Over the past few years, both the government and False Claims Act relators (whistleblowers) have targeted more types of defendants than they have ever previously.  Against this backdrop, Congress passed two of the largest relief bills in modern history and thus even more companies find themselves involved with the federal government in a new way

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On April 21, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) inked its second civil settlement resolving allegations of fraud involving loans issued pursuant to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Sandeep S. Walia, M.D., a Professional Medical Corporation (Walia PMC), and its owner, Dr. Walia, agreed to pay $70,000 in damages and penalties to resolve alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) tied to allegations that Dr. Walia falsely certified in a second PPP loan application that his medical practice had not previously received a PPP loan after it had already received one from a different lender.  Walia PMC also agreed to repay the second PPP loan for $430,000.  This latest settlement is a continued reflection of the heightened scrutiny of the PPP, and suggests that the FCA may quickly become a favored enforcement tool by the government in its continued pursuit of PPP-related fraud.
Continue Reading Avoiding Loan Forgiveness Is No Shield from False Claims Act Liability in Latest Paycheck Protection Program Fraud Settlement

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On February 25, 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois announced a settlement to resolve allegations that a contractor that was not an eligible participant in the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program violated the False Claims Act by controlling a joint venture that claimed 8(a) status and won an

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In this episode, host Mana Lombardo and partner Tully McLaughlin discuss the top FCA decisions and developments of 2020 and look ahead to what’s in store in 2021 and beyond. “Let’s Talk FCA” is Crowell & Moring’s podcast covering the latest developments with the False Claims Act.

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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

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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