Under the False Claims Act’s (“FCA”) first-to-file bar, “no person other than the Government may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending action.” But can a relator amend her complaint to add, remove, or substitute relators without violating the first-to-file bar? Recently, the Third Circuit in In re Plavix
First-To-File Rule of the False Claims Act Continues to Present Interpretive Challenges
Two years ago, when the Supreme Court addressed the “first-to-file” bar of the False Claims Act (FCA) in Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter, it predicted that its holding might “produce practical problems,” as “[t]he False Claims Act’s qui tam provisions present many interpretive challenges, and it is beyond our ability in this case to make them operate together smoothly like a finely tuned machine.” Immediately validating this prediction, upon remand of the Carter case, a new interpretative challenge emerged in the same case regarding the first-to-file bar. That challenge was presented to the Fourth Circuit in oral argument last week.
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First Circuit Finds Pharma Relators’ Suit Ten Years Too Late Under First-to-File Rule
This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit declined to revive a False Claims Act qui tam suit against Baxter Healthcare Corporation, agreeing with the district court that the relators were not the “first to file.” The case is United States ex rel. Ven-A-Care of the Florida Keys, Inc. v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., Nos. 13-1732, 13-2083 (1st Cir. Dec. 1, 2014).
The first-to-file rule prevents an aspiring FCA relator from filing a suit that is similar or related to an already-pending qui tam suit. It derives from 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(5), which provides that “no person other than the Government may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying” a pending qui tam suit. In the First Circuit, the first-to-file rule is jurisdictional, which allowed the appeals court here to dispose of the case on that ground alone and avoid a myriad of tricky issues wrapped up in this procedurally convoluted case. As the court noted, however, it is less clear whether other jurisdictions, like the D.C. Circuit, consider the first-to-file rule to be jurisdictional.
The would-be relators in this case were a former Baxter employee and an employee of a Baxter customer. In a 2005 suit, they alleged that Baxter, a pharmaceutical company, defrauded the Government by artificially padding the prices of its drugs, which triggered inflated reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid. But a decade earlier, in 1995, a Florida pharmacy had filed a similar qui tam action alleging the same types of claims against multiple pharmaceutical companies, including Baxter. Baxter ultimately settled with the pharmacy, but not until 2011—6 years after the employee-relators filed their case. After extensive procedural skirmishing unrelated to the issue at hand, Baxter asserted that the employee-relators could not maintain their qui tam suit because the Florida pharmacy was the first to file.…
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