The Department of Justice has announced a $14 million False Claims Act (FCA) settlement with Coloplast, a medical product manufacturer, after Coloplast self-disclosed violations of the Trade Agreements Act (TAA) and Price Reduction Clause (PRC) while under contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The TAA requires contractors to furnish end products that are U.S.-made or “substantially transformed” in designated countries. Coloplast disclosed that it misapplied the substantial-transformation standard, causing Coloplast to report incorrect countries of origin for products and to improperly retain certain products on contract after manufacturing moved to non-designated countries. Coloplast also disclosed that it overbilled the Government by failing to provide the VA with discounts pursuant to the terms of the PRC, which normally requires tracking discounts offered to designated commercial customers and offering corresponding downward price adjustments to VA customers.
On September 12, 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the first-ever settlement with a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lender. The lender, Prosperity Bank, agreed to pay $18,673.50 to resolve allegations it improperly processed a PPP loan on behalf of an ineligible applicant. The announcement coincides with DOJ’s creation of three COVID-19 fraud “Strike Force” teams designed to enhanced DOJ’s efforts to combat and prevent COVID-19 related fraud.
Pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, lenders who originated PPP loans were entitled to receive a fixed fee from the Small Business Administration (SBA) ranging from 1% to 5% of the loan amount. Prosperity Bank, a regional bank with branches throughout Texas and Oklahoma, was one of those lenders.
In Tolliver Group, Inc. v. United States (Aug. 17, 2022), the Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) granted the contractor’s request for summary judgment, awarding $195,890 in legal fees the contractor incurred to successfully defend against a False Claims Act suit brought by a whistleblower. The court held that the cost principles in Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) Subpart 31.2 applied to the contractor’s fixed-price task order, and the contractor’s legal fees were allowable and payable under the contract. This is the second time that the COFC addressed the contractor’s entitlement to legal fees, having previously held that the contractor could recover a portion of them under the Spearin doctrine (which we reported on here). The Federal Circuit later vacated that award on jurisdictional grounds (reported on here) and remanded the case to the COFC.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently rejected an argument advanced by two subsidiaries of a nationwide health care “watchdog” that the government improperly moved to dismiss two False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuits in U.S. ex rel. Health Choice Alliance LLC et al. v. Eli Lilly & Co. Inc. et al., No. 19-40906 (5th Cir. Jul. 7, 2021). The relators accused Bayer Corp. and Eli Lilly & Co. Inc. of participating in a kickback scheme by offering free patient-education services to providers in exchange for providers prescribing their products in violation of the Anti-Kickback Act and the FCA. The government initially declined to intervene in the cases, then a year later, notified the relators that it intended to move to dismiss and detailed its concerns about the viability of the cases. After two-and-a-half months of negotiations with the relators, the government moved to dismiss the cases pursuant to its authority under 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A), citing, among other things, its two-year investigation into the relators’ cases. The District Court granted the motions and the relators appealed.
Before undertaking its substantive analysis under the FCA, the Fifth Circuit analyzed whether it had jurisdiction to hear the relators’ appeal. Though the relators and government agreed that there was appellate jurisdiction, the Fifth Circuit identified a potential issue based on the timeline of two events: (1) relators’ voluntary dismissal without prejudice; and (2) the District Court’s order granting the government’s motion to dismiss. Specifically, the Fifth Circuit analyzed whether the relators’ voluntary dismissal eight months prior to the government’s motion to dismiss deprived the District Court of the ability to issue a final appealable order. The Fifth Circuit declined to create a Circuit split on the question, and concluded “that the prior without-prejudice dismissals did not deprive the district court’s subsequent decision of finality.”…
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
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
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
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…
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
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has added emergency loans for small businesses to its list of government programs vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. On March 2, 2021, GAO released its latest High Risk List identifying troubled federal government programs in need of significant improvement. The GAO concluded that the Small Business Administration (SBA) must demonstrate more robust integrity controls and better management practices over the PPP and EIDL programs. GAO’s findings put pressure on the SBA to ensure quicker adoption of GAO’s recommendations for improvements and keeps public focus on the need for SBA audits and investigations of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program participants.
Continue Reading GAO’s High Risk List Puts Spotlight on Emergency Loans For Small Businesses, Reinforcing Audit and Investigation Risk for PPP and EIDL Program Participants