This week marks the four-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark False Claims Act decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016). In Escobar, the Supreme Court confirmed that the question of government knowledge lies at the heart of FCA liability determinations, but it did not specifically address
Tenth Circuit Provides New Material on FCA’s Materiality Standard
Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued a decision that provided further clarity on the False Claims Act’s standard for materiality. The decision, United States ex rel. Janssen v. Lawrence Memorial Hospital, further demonstrated that materiality should be viewed through the eyes of the government customer rather than an hypothetical bystander. The decision also reconfirmed that the FCA is not a “general antifraud statute” and that contractual or regulatory language conditioning payment on compliance will not necessarily prove that noncompliance was material. Lawrence therefore serves as an important reminder to government contractors, practitioners, and other stakeholders about the significance of the materiality element in FCA litigation.
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Alleged Sales of Non-TAA-Compliant Products Under GSA Schedule Contracts Are Not False Claims, 7th Circuit Holds
Last year, we wrote about a trial court’s decision to dismiss a False Claims Act (“FCA”) complaint regarding alleged Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”) non-compliances because the relator failed to plead fraud with “particularity” under Rule 9(b). That decision offered a sweeping rebuke of speculative FCA claims, and emphasized why it can be difficult to present a valid FCA claim based on a potential violation of a complex regulatory scheme like the TAA.
Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously affirmed that decision in United States ex rel. Berkowitz v. Automation Aids, Inc., — F.3d — , 2018 WL 3567836 (7th Cir. July 25, 2018). In doing so, the Seventh Circuit provided additional guidance about various topics, including the Rule 9(b) standard for implied certifications and the power of the materiality defense. Our takeaways are below.
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UPDATED: Covington’s Escobar Tracker
In Universal Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016), the Supreme Court changed the landscape for False Claims Act litigation. The Court endorsed implied certification liability in certain circumstances, but set a high bar for demonstrating the materiality of a violation of law, regulation, or contract to the…
Trinity: Divine Fifth Circuit Ruling Gives FCA Defendants Reason for Praise
Last year, the Supreme Court’s watershed Escobar ruling altered the landscape of False Claims Act litigation when it declared that the FCA’s materiality requirement presented a “demanding” barrier to plaintiffs alleging contractual non-compliance. In the 15 months since that time, lower courts have issued a steady stream of rulings interpreting and refining this standard. In the latest—and perhaps most consequential—of these rulings, the Fifth Circuit overturned a $663 million FCA jury award on materiality grounds in the bellwether case of U.S. ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Industries, Inc. While the outcome may not be a surprise given the trend in recent decisions addressing the FCA’s materiality requirement—not to mention an earlier Fifth Circuit ruling involving a strikingly similar issue—Trinity serves as a forceful reminder of the formidable barrier to recovery presented by the materiality requirement.
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Introducing Covington’s Escobar Tracker
In Universal Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016), the Supreme Court changed the landscape for False Claims Act litigation. The Court endorsed implied certification liability, but set a high bar for demonstrating the materiality of a violation of law, regulation, or contract to the government’s payment…
Common Sense Prevails: “Tougher” To Satisfy Rule 9(b) Standard in “Implied Certification” FCA Case Arising from GSA Schedule Contractors’ Alleged TAA Non-Compliance
A U.S. District Court recently dismissed a False Claims Act (FCA) qui tam action alleging that numerous GSA Schedule contractors violated their obligations under the Trade Agreements Act (TAA), resulting in the submission of false claims under the “implied certification” theory of FCA liability. As discussed further below, the court’s decision — United States ex rel. Berkowitz v. Automation Aids, No. 13-C-08185, 2017 WL 1036575 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2017) — is important for at least two reasons:
- The court found that “often” it is “tougher” to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) when FCA allegations are based on an implied certification theory.
- The court held that, when dealing with conduct arising from a “sprawling federal procurement statutory and regulatory framework” (like the TAA), general allegations of non-compliance may support a breach-of-contract claim, but are insufficient in an FCA case. Rather, “specific allegations” about the fraudulent scheme are needed.
This decision comes at a particularly opportune time for contractors, given the likelihood of increased TAA and Buy American Act (BAA) enforcement during the Trump Administration and the corresponding potential uptick in whistleblower FCA activity involving these country-of-origin issues.
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High Court to Resolve Split of Authority on “Implied” False Claims
On December 3rd, the Department of Justice released its annual summary of recoveries in False Claims Act (FCA) cases. Although down from last year’s $5.69 billion, this year’s recoveries of $3.5 billion demonstrate the power that the government wields to drive settlements of fraud allegations. Of the $3.5 billion, $1.1 billion in recoveries are attributable to settlements and judgments in cases alleging false claims for payments under government contracts. A good portion of these settlements likely were driven by claims of false implied certifications.
For many years, federal courts have grappled with the issue of whether factually accurate claims submitted to the government for payment can nevertheless be “false or fraudulent,” pursuant to an implied certification theory, because of an underlying violation of law. On December 4th, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in a case that should decide whether this theory of liability is valid. …
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