Bankruptcy disclosure of debtors’ potential (although losing) FCA claim

In United States ex rel Spicer v. Navistar Defense, LLC, the Fifth Circuit found that bankruptcy debtors failed to make adequate disclosure of a potential False Claims Act claim as an estate asset.  No. 12-10858 (May 5, 2014).  Accordingly, the trustee was the real party in interest and was able to take over the administration of the claim, even though he did not learn of it until after the bankruptcy closed and long after suit was filed on the claim.  The review of the debtors’ disclosure is of broad general interest.  As to the merits, the Court affirmed dismissal, reminding that “a false certification of compliance, without more, does not give rise to a false claim for payment unless payment is conditioned on compliance.”

Criminal remedy not “alternate remedy” as to later-filed FCA case

Babalola and Adetunmbi alerted authorities to Medicare fraud by the clinic they worked for. Federal authorities investigated and the clinics’ operators, the Sharmas, were indicted and pleaded guilty, accepting a criminal restitution obligation of over $40 million.  United States ex rel Babalola v. Sharma, No. 13-20182 (Feb. 14, 2014).  During the criminal proceedings, the whistleblowers filed a FCA suit against the Sharmas.  The Sharmas asserted an interest in the restitution proceeds, arguing that it was an “alternate remedy” within the meaning of the FCA that would give them “the same rights in such proceeding as [they] would have had if the action had continued under this section.”  The Fifth Circuit disagreed, finding that other Circuits’ authorities “implicitly recogniz[e] that a qui tam suit must be filed before there is an alternate remedy.”   A dissent conceded that this reading of the FCA was correct, but called for Congressional intervention in situations like this where the plaintiffs “took the path of the Good Samaritan and without delay provided the government with the evidence needed to pursue the defrauders.”

Notes on pleading

Two unpublished cases offer nuts-and-bolts insight on pleading requirements.  A pro se copyright infringement complaint failed when the plaintiff “[d]id not plausibly allege that the defendants copied any original work of authorship by her.”  Richards v. BP Exploration & Production, No. 12-30508 (April 3, 2013, unpublished).  A qui tam suit under the False Claims Act failed to allege fraud with sufficient particularity.  The Court noted that while Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b) applies to FCA claims, its application there is “context specific and flexible,” and a plaintiff can plead with enough particularity “without including all the details of any single court-articulated standard–it depends on the elements of the claim in hand.”  Nunnally v. West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital, No. 12-30656 (April 3, 2013, unpublished) (quoting United States ex rel. Grubbs v. Kanneganti, 565 F.3d 180, 189-90 (5th Cir. 2009)).

Federal investigator may bring qui tam suit

The case of Little v. Shell Exploration presented an issue of first impression — whether a federal employee, even one whose job is to investigate fraud, may bring a qui tam action under the False Claims Act.  690 F.3d 282 (5th Cir. 2012).  After review of the statutory text, the Court sided with a majority of other Circuits that have addressed the issue and concluded that one may.  The Court acknowledged the practical issue of “how to ensure employee fidelity to agency enforcement priorities in the face of personal monetary incentives,” but concluded that the government could address that issue with personnel guidelines and with its power to intervene and dismiss actions.  The Court remanded for consideration of whether the “public disclosure” and “original source” aspects of the Act barred the specific claims raised by these relators — matters that could limit the scope of the first holding.

JNOV affirmed in false claims case, sanctions awarded

In Gonzalez v. Fresnius Medical Care, the Court affirmed a JNOV on claims under the False Claims Act.  Nos. 10-50413, 10-51171 (July 30, 2012).  The Court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the plaintiff had not shown a wrongful patient referral scheme, noting that the number of referred patients stayed the same over time, whether or  not the alleged conspiracy was in place.  Id. at 8.  The Court also agreed that a line of cases about claims “tainted by fraud” was limited to the fraudulent inducement context.  Id. at 9-11.  Finally, the Court affirmed a sanctions award under 28 USC §  1927 based on the plaintiff’s changing testimony on whether she was asked to cover up the alleged scheme, noting differences between the deposition, the errata sheet afterwards, and then trial testimony.  Id. at 13-16.