Supreme Court

Last week, in Universal Health Services Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the viability of the “implied false certification” theory of False Claims Act liability, at least in certain circumstances.  Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Thomas explained that a defendant can face FCA liability under an implied certification theory where two conditions are satisfied:

  1. The claim asserts a request for payment and makes specific representations about the goods or services provided, and
  2. The failure to disclose noncompliance with material statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirements makes those representations misleading half-truths.

This portion of the ruling was not unexpected given the overwhelming acceptance of implied certification among the Circuit courts. But, more importantly, out of concern that the statute be applied too broadly, the Court also explained at length that the “materiality” standard in the statute is a “demanding” one, and set a high bar for the Government and relators to demonstrate materiality of the alleged non-compliance. Indeed, the Court rejected the argument that the materiality of an undisclosed violation of law, regulation, or contract depends entirely on whether the provision in question was designated by the Government as a “condition of payment.”  Instead, the Court explained that the ultimate test is not whether the condition of payment is expressly designated as such, but “whether the defendant knowingly violated a requirement that the defendant knows was material to the Government’s payment decision.”  Op. at 2 (emphasis added).
Continue Reading Supreme Court on False Claims Act: Implied Certification OK, But Materiality Is No Gimme

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.  
Continue Reading High Court to Resolve Split of Authority on “Implied” False Claims

Last week the Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear arguments in Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, Docket Number 14-916, an ongoing dispute over whether the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act (“the Act”), 38 U.S.C. § 8127, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (“VA”) to set aside all of its procurements for veteran-owned small businesses.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) sustained a Kingdomware protest after concluding that the Act does so require; the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (opinion) Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (opinion) both subsequently concluded that it does not.

In 2006, Congress passed the Act to increase the award of contracts to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses (“SDVOSB”) and veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSB”) (collectively, “VOSB”).  To that end, and as is relevant here, subsection (a) of the Act directs that the Secretary of the VA shall establish annual goals for the award of contracts to VOSBs.  At subsection (d), the Act directs that, “for the purpose of meeting the goals under subsection (a),” the VA “shall award contracts on the basis of competition” to a VOSB where there is a reasonable expectation that two or more such businesses will submit offers, and the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price.  This type of requirement, common in small business set-asides, is called the “Rule of Two.”

The salient question to be considered by the Supreme Court is whether the ostensibly-mandatory language of subsection (d) prevents the VA from utilizing the Federal Supply Schedule (“FSS”) without first conducting a Rule of Two analysis.  Generally, agencies may utilize the FSS to procure goods and services without having to conduct full and open competition, and orders against the FSS are not subject to the small business set-aside requirements of FAR Part 19, including the Rule of Two.

Continue Reading Supreme Court grants certiorari in VA procurement case

On April 20, 2015, the Supreme Court declined to review a March 2014 Federal Circuit decision holding that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) cannot use cooperative agreements—and instead must use procurement contracts—to administer funds under Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937.  The case is CMS Contract Management Services v. United States, 745 F.3d 1379 (Fed. Cir. 2014).  We reported on the Solicitor General’s petition for a writ of certiorari, which advocated that the Court reverse the Federal Circuit and revive the use of cooperative agreements in this context.

The Court’s cert denial came without comment or dissent, and functions to leave in place the ruling below.  The potential reach of the Federal Circuit’s decision is unclear.

Continue Reading Supreme Court’s Denial of Cert Means Questionable Future for Certain Cooperative Agreements

Earlier this month the Solicitor General, on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review a March 2014 Federal Circuit decision holding that HUD cannot use cooperative agreements—and instead must use procurement contracts—to administer funds under Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937. The petition is United States v. CMS Contract Management Services (No. 14-781).

Under Section 8, HUD maintains annual contribution contracts (“ACC”) with state and local public housing agencies (“PHA”) to administer $9 billion of federal housing assistance every year to low-income families. In 2011, HUD recompeted the ACCs nationwide, which triggered almost 70 protests in the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) by PHAs that did not receive new ACCs. In response, HUD withdrew the protested ACC awards (which covered 42 states), and in 2012 announced a new competition for the ACCs, now explicitly characterized as cooperative agreements whose “purpose” was to assist state and local governments “in addressing the shortage of affordable housing.” A flurry of pre-award protests in the GAO followed, in which certain PHPs argued that HUD was not permitted to treat the ACCs as cooperative agreements, and instead needed to treat them as procurement contracts (subject to standard procurement regulations prohibiting certain allegedly anticompetitive terms of the ACC competition). The GAO agreed with the PHPs, but HUD opted not to follow the GAO’s recommendation. Undeterred, the PHPs brought their protest to the Court of Federal Claims, which sided with HUD. On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed, coming to the same conclusion as the GAO that the ACCs needed to be treated as procurement contracts.

Continue Reading HUD Asks Supreme Court to Revive Use of Cooperative Agreements for Section 8 Funds