In its upcoming term, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to address the issue of whether the United States can seek to dismiss a whistleblower’s False Claims Act (“FCA”) lawsuit after it has elected not to participate in the case. And, if it can seek dismissal, what standard should apply?
On June 21, 2022, the Court agreed to consider the matter of United States ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc. (Case No. 19-3810). In his cert petition, the whistleblower presses the theory that after the United States declines to intervene in an FCA qui tam case, it lacks any authority to dismiss the action. At a minimum, the petitioner argues that the Court should resolve a long-standing split among the Circuit Courts regarding the standard that applies to such a motion—a split that has splintered even further in response to an uptick in such motions since 2018.
The attention-grabbing headline from the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) annually released statistics on False Claims Act (“FCA”) settlements and judgments is that the government recovered more than $5.6 billion from FCA cases in fiscal year (“FY”) 2021. While this is the second largest annual recovery in FCA history and the largest since 2014, procurement fraud cases represented a substantially smaller percentage of the total recoveries than in years past. Healthcare resolutions dominated, accounting for more than five billion of the $5.6 billion in settlements and judgments. In previous years, healthcare matters have accounted for closer to two-thirds of the total recoveries, making last year’s outsized healthcare figure—driven by the blockbuster opioid settlements of late 2020—an outlier.
Beyond the top-line dollar figures, the report shows that FCA activity continues at a healthy, if not fully robust, pace. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact qui tam filings; the number of new whistleblower suits dropped to 598 in FY 2021, a ten-year low. The number of DOJ-initiated matters remains higher than the near-term average, particularly in healthcare, but also in Department of Defense (“DOD”)-related cases. Contractors, healthcare providers, and others—especially those who received federal funding through pandemic aid programs—can anticipate that FCA investigations and resolutions will play out over the next several years.
The Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in U.S. ex rel. CIMZNHCA, LLC v. UCB, Inc. widens the Circuit split on the standard of review applicable when the government seeks to dismiss a qui tam case under the False Claims Act (“FCA”). The FCA, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A), provides that the government may dismiss a qui tam case without the relator’s consent if the relator is given notice and an opportunity to be heard. Although the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has increasingly exercised its dismissal authority since issuance of the “Granston Memo” in January 2018—which encouraged DOJ attorneys to consider seeking dismissal if in the best interests of the government—as the Seventh Circuit noted, the FCA does not indicate “how, if at all,” courts are “to review the government’s decision to dismiss.” Circuit Courts have taken divergent views in answering that question.
Circuit Court Decisions
The D.C. Circuit, in Swift v. United States, 318 F.3d 250 (D.C. Cir. 2003), decided that the government has an “unfettered right” to dismiss based on the Executive branch’s “historical prerogative” to decline to prosecute a case. The Ninth Circuit, in U.S. ex rel. Sequoia Orange Co. v. Baird-Neece Packing Corp., 151 F.3d 1139 (9th Cir. 1998), and the Tenth Circuit in Ridenour v. KaiserHill Co., LLC, 397 F.3d 925 (10th Cir. 2005), imposed a rational-relation test: the government must establish a rational relation between dismissal and the accomplishment of a valid government purpose. If the government satisfies this test, the burden shifts to relator to show that dismissal is fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal. So far, the Supreme Court has declined to step in, denying certiorari in April 2020 in United States ex rel. Schneider v. JP Morgan Chase Bank on the question of whether the government’s dismissal decisions constitute an “unreviewable exercise of prosecutorial authority.” Now, however, the Seventh Circuit has articulated a new standard, relying on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a) governing voluntary dismissals by plaintiffs. Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Weighs in on Government Dismissal Authority under the FCA”
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently released its annual fraud statistics for FY 2018. The statistics reveal that False Claims Act (“FCA”) recoveries reached their lowest level since FY 2009. However, although total recoveries are down, this decrease is more a by-product of a down year in major health care and financial services recoveries, and we think it is too early to view these numbers as reflecting a sea change in enforcement.
The annual statistics published by DOJ on December 21, 2018 demonstrate that the Government recovered a total of $2.88 billion in qui tam and non-qui tam FCA judgments and settlements in FY 2018. This represents the lowest amount recovered since FY 2009, when the Government recovered nearly $2.47 billion. It also demonstrates a short-term trend in declining recovery. FY 2018 was the second straight year in which fraud recovery decreased. However, recent comments by the Trump administration’s nominee for U.S Attorney General likely indicate that no affirmative decision to decrease FCA actions will occur in the next few years. Continue reading “What DOJ’s FY 2018 False Claims Act Recovery Statistics Reveal”
The Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) bombshell statement last month that it would seek dismissal of the Gilead False Claims Act (“FCA”) suit—a qui tam suit alleging misrepresentations and concealments regarding active ingredient sources and quality for HIV medications—surprised many in the government contracts community. Though DOJ had signaled earlier last year in the so-called “Granston memo” that it may seek dismissal of certain FCA cases, the fact that DOJ sought to do so while a case was on appeal to the Supreme Court—and without consulting relators—was unexpected. Continue reading “Breaking Camp(ie): Supreme Court Sends Gilead FCA Case Back for Likely Dismissal, Postponing Escobar’s Return”