On Thursday, September 15, 2022, an en banc panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the rehearing of an important case concerning the “knowledge” element of the False Claims Act—United States ex rel. Sheldon v. Allergan, No. 20-2330.  The panel was active, posing numerous questions for both parties during the oral argument, which spanned approximately 94 minutes. The audio recording of this hearing is available here.

As Covington has reported in the past, this appeal concerns questions related to the scope of the False Claims Act’s “knowledge” requirement. In its January 25, 2022 decision, the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s dismissal, finding that under the FCA “a defendant cannot act ‘knowingly’ as a matter of law if it bases its actions on an objectively reasonable interpretation of the relevant statute when it has not be warned away from the interpretation by authoritative guidance” and that “this objective standard precludes inquiry into a defendant’s subjective intent.”  United States ex rel. Sheldon v. Allergan Sales, LLC, 24 F.4th 340, 348 (4th Cir. 2022). That opinion was also subject to a strong dissent by Judge Wynn, which argued that the majority opinion disregarded two of the three FCA’s enumerated forms of knowledge (actual knowledge and deliberate ignorance), focusing only on the Safeco test for objective recklessness.

Continue Reading En Banc Rehearing of Fourth Circuit Sheldon Decision Addresses FCA’s Falsity And Knowledge Requirements

The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently announced a $5.2 million settlement with Numet Machining Techniques, LLC and affiliated entities (collectively, “Numet”) concerning alleged misrepresentations of size and ownership in connection with pursuing U.S. Government contracts.  The Numet settlement is an important reminder to the contractor community that representations and certifications—particularly those concerning small business status—should be made with due caution and that the discovery of incorrect representations during M&A due diligence can be a significant finding.  In this post, we explore the recent Numet settlement, examine the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) size and affiliation rules, and offer guidance to companies assessing the significance of incorrect representations.

Continue Reading DOJ Settlement Underscores the Significance of Incorrect Small Business Representations

On March 8, 2022, the Department of Justice announced the first settlement of a case under the Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative.  Established in October 2021, the Initiative aims to utilize the government’s authority under the civil False Claims Act to pursue alleged instances of fraud and misrepresentation concerning cyber practices.  (We previously wrote about the Initiative here.)  The Initiative has been a point of emphasis in DOJ speeches and public comments in recent months.  This settlement is a milestone in the rollout of the program and confirmation that DOJ intends to take allegations of cyber fraud seriously.
Continue Reading First Settlement of DOJ Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative

On February 23, 2022, Gregory E. Demske, Chief Counsel to the Inspector General for HHS’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”), provided opening remarks and answered questions during the Federal Bar Association’s annual Qui Tam Conference.  Mr. Demske spoke about OIG’s role in False Claims Act (“FCA”) enforcement and resolutions, and discussed enforcement priorities for the upcoming year.

Continue Reading Senior HHS Official Discusses Role of OIG in FCA Resolutions and Enforcement Priorities for 2022

On February 1, 2022, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released its annual report summarizing False Claims Act (“FCA”) enforcement activity in FY 2021.  The report confirmed what many practitioners already suspected: FY 2021 was another banner year in FCA enforcement.  DOJ’s annual judgments and settlements exceeded $5.6 billion, making FY 2021 the second largest annual recovery ever (and the largest since 2014).  But beyond this top line number, a closer analysis of the figures in DOJ’s report offers additional insight on strategies for preventing and mitigating costly FCA exposure.

Continue Reading DOJ Records Historic False Claims Act Recoveries in FY 2021

On January 25, 2022, the Fourth Circuit joined the growing number of circuits to hold that under the False Claims Act, “a defendant cannot act ‘knowingly’ if it bases its actions on an objectively reasonable interpretation of the relevant statute when it has not be warned away from the interpretation by authoritative guidance” and that “this objective standard precludes inquiry into a defendant’s subjective intent.”  United States ex rel. Sheldon v. Allergan, No. 20-2330, (4th Cir. Jan. 25, 2022) (“Opinion”) at 12.

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Sheldon Decision Confirms Objective Standard For Scienter Under FCA

If a contractor is working on a fixed-price contract, can it charge the government for attorney’s fees to defend a False Claim Act (“FCA”) case related to the contract?

In The Tolliver Group, Inc. v. United States (Fed. Cl. Jan. 22, 2020), the Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) said the answer was “yes,” if the government was liable for an equitable adjustment under the circumstances.  The decision was welcomed by contractors facing meritless FCA suits, which are often costly to defend even when the relator plainly does not have a case.

But the Federal Circuit has thrown cold water on Tolliver — at least for now.  In a decision last week, the court of appeals vacated Tolliver on jurisdictional grounds, concluding that the legal theory of the COFC’s decision was never presented to the contracting officer for a final decision under the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 (“CDA”), and that the COFC therefore lacked jurisdiction over the contractor’s claim.  The Tolliver Group, Inc. v. United States (Fed. Cir. Dec. 13, 2021).

Continue Reading FCA Defendants May Be Able to Recover Attorney Fees Under Their Fixed-Price Contracts, At Least For Now

In a December 2020 speech, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Granston warned that cybersecurity fraud could see enhanced enforcement under the False Claims Act (“FCA”).  On October 6, 2021, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) would be following through on that warning with the launch of the DOJ’s Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative.  The key component of the initiative is the use of the FCA against Government contractors and subcontractors that fail to comply with cybersecurity requirements, including information security standards and cyber incident reporting obligations, imposed by contract, statute, or regulation.

Under the FCA, the Government can recover treble damages and penalties from federal contractors and subcontractors that knowingly submit false claims for payment.  Notably, the FCA incentivizes private citizens (relators), including contractor employees, to file qui tam suits on behalf of the Government by guaranteeing them between 15 and 30 percent of the recovery.  DOJ stated that it intended to work with federal agencies, subject matter experts, and law enforcement partners on the Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative.  Recently, Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton confirmed that this initiative was also intended to incentivize relators and the aggressive relators’ bar to focus their attention on potential cybersecurity noncompliance as the basis for qui tam actions.

Continue Reading DOJ Announces New Civil Cyber-Fraud Initiative

Many of our clients have been calling to ask whether failure to comply with the Administration’s Executive Order imposing vaccine mandates on federal contractors could lead to False Claims Act liability, and what steps they can take to minimize the risk of liability.  Much remains unknown, especially what specific obligations will be included in the FAR clause to be released on October 8.  However, we have highlighted a few key considerations that should be front of mind for all contractors and subcontractors.

Continue Reading COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors Could Pose False Claims Act Risk

When the United States government decides to intervene in False Claims Act litigation after initially declining intervention, it is not “déjà vu all over again.”  Instead, as one court has recognized, the “government is getting on a moving train,”[1] and it can only be permitted to “intervene at a later date” if it can show “good cause” for doing so.  See 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(3).

On February 24, 2021, a Tennessee federal district court offered a pointed reminder of this principle when it denied a government motion to intervene in a qui tam suit after DOJ originally had declined to intervene six months earlier.  See U.S. ex rel. Odom v. Southeast Eye Specialists, No. 3:17-cv-00689 (M.D. Tenn. Feb. 24, 2021).  In so ruling, the court vacated a magistrate judge’s Report & Recommendation (“R&R”), which found that DOJ had established “good cause” for intervention.  Although motions to intervene pursuant to Section 3730(c) are often granted, the recent order issued in U.S. ex rel. Odom v. Southeast Eye Specialists illustrates that the “good cause” showing is not a hollow requirement and that it can serve as a meaningful constraint on belated attempts by DOJ to intervene to pursue a case after initially declining to do so.

Continue Reading False Claims Act Update: District Court Rejects DOJ Motion to Intervene for Lack of “Good Cause”