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Parties litigating False Claims Act (FCA) cases have long struggled with a thorny question around the essential element of scienter (the defendant’s intent, or state of mind): What/how much does a contractor need to know when submitting an invoice for payment for the related claim to be considered knowingly false when made? When that question arises in FCA litigation, a court’s determination of that essential element of scienter/knowledge often pivots on what the judge believes matters more:

(A) The defendant’s subjective belief at the time a claim is made; or

(B) An objective textual reading of what a person may have known or believed when a claim is made.Continue Reading The False Claims Act’s Fuzzy Scienter Element Brought into Sharp Focus

Most experienced contractors have a healthy fear of the various types of fraud claims: False Claims Act, federal and state wire and mail fraud, common law fraud, etc. They know that enforcement authorities are always looking for ways to swing the hammer against a contractor they suspect is fleecing the government. Fraud claims arise when a victim (sometimes the government) contends that the defendant lied about the goods or services offered in order to induce the victim to voluntarily transfer property to the defendant in an exchange. Where the victim parts with much for nothing in return, the fraud analysis is easy—the defendant’s intent to wrongfully steal property or to inflict a pecuniary loss is obvious. But in cases where the victim receives from the defendant goods or services of real value, whether the defendant intended to harm the victim or deprive them of their property becomes a more difficult question.Continue Reading No Harm, No Fraud: The Supreme Court Narrows the Application of the Wire Fraud Statute and Unanimously Overrules the “Right to Control” Theory

One of the most dynamic areas of the law that is of keen concern to federal contractors is the issue of employee noncompetition agreements (NCAs). Historically, NCAs were a common and valuable tool employers used to protect their businesses from unfair competition or misuse of confidential company information; NCAs prevented former employees from leveraging their on-the-job training and introductions to key customers in order to poach those same customers if the employees moved to a competitor or launched a rival business. But in recent years, a number of states have increasingly limited the enforceability of NCAs in employment and separation agreements. Last year, the District of Columbia joined California, North Dakota, and Oklahoma in essentially banning outright the use of NCAs in most circumstances. There has also been a gradual trend in many other states (e.g., Virginia, Maryland, Nevada) to limit or void noncompetes for low-wage or hourly workers. Hawaii passed a law in 2015 that specifically prohibits including a noncompete clause in the employment contract of an employee of a “technology business,” defined as any business that derives most of its gross income from the sale or license of products or services resulting from its software and/or information technology development. Everywhere you look, NCAs are increasingly under threat in most jurisdictions across the country.Continue Reading What Every Federal Contractor Should Know About the FTC’s Proposed Rule to Void Noncompete Agreements Nationwide—and What to Do About It

Scenario 1: A pharmacy chain hires a value consultant to review its Medicare and Medicaid billing practices for ways to optimize the coding of drug reimbursements to maximize profits. Drugs that had historically been charged for government reimbursement at $1/pill as the “usual and customary price” are now getting coded for reimbursement at $3/pill—a 200% markup that represents a pure profit windfall to the pharmacy chain. Is this a violation of the False Claims Act (FCA)?

Scenario 2: A construction company that has years of experience in federal procurement contracting had never charged the government for reimbursement of several cost items, because the company’s previous CFO did not feel such reimbursement would meet the “reasonableness” requirements of FAR Part 31 (e.g., FAR 31.201-2(a)(1) and 31.201-3). But the company’s new CFO, holding a different interpretation of the reasonableness standards and Cost Accounting Standards (CAS), instructs his program leads to start charging those items for reimbursement in all new and existing contracts. Is this a violation of the FCA?Continue Reading Knowing IS the Battle: Supreme Court to Address the FCA’s Scienter Standard

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Procurement Collusion Strike Force (PCSF, or Strike Force) celebrates its third anniversary this month. Formed in November 2019 as an interagency partnership consisting of DOJ’s antitrust prosecutors, lawyers in 13 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and investigators from the FBI and federal Offices of Inspector General, the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Postal Service, the Strike Force leverages joint resources to investigate public procurement crimes, employ complementary enforcement and prosecution strategies, eliminate anticompetitive collusion and fraud, and promote the integrity of government procurement. Employing education and state-level liaising, the Strike Force has been remarkably omnipresent and successful in that short time, despite numerous pandemic-related interruptions/delays in the courts. The pace of the Strike Force’s enforcement activity has quickened dramatically in 2022—and shows no signs of slowing in 2023.
Continue Reading DOJ’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force: Widening Its Stride on Its Third Anniversary

As COVID-19 antibodies begin flooding the immune systems of most Americans, it is important to remember the important role that hygiene has played over the past fifteen months. For many, the risks and dangers of the pandemic were kept at bay by hand washing, masking, and sanitizing after every new touch. That same kind of attention to hygiene is something federal contractors should retain as they are permitted to reenter a world filled with supply chain enforcement risk.
Continue Reading Prevention v. Cure: Supply Chain Hygiene Is the Key to Defending Enforcement

In United States ex rel. Silver v. Omnicare, Inc., et al. (D.N.J. No. 11-cv-01326), a whistleblower relator consistently alleged that certain pharmaceutical service providers have engaged in an illegal kickback arrangement and defrauded the government by offering unreasonably low prices to nursing homes for Medicare Part A patients’ prescription drugs in exchange for the opportunity to provide the same drugs at much higher costs to the nursing homes’ Medicaid and Medicare Part D patients for reimbursement. In a recent Order, the federal district court in New Jersey revived previously dismissed claims and permitted the relator to file a new, and fourth, amended complaint that asserts a new theory of liability to buttress the core kickback scheme allegations. The new complaint asserts that prescription drug event (PDE) data and enrollee encounter data are “claims for payment” under the False Claims Act (FCA)—and that even accurate PDE data can be a “false claim” under the FCA in cases where a pharmacy is alleged to pay kickbacks to its customers.
Continue Reading How the Truth Is False: Accurate Prescription Drug Event Data Can Trigger False Claims Act Liability

On January 14, 2021, the Department of Justice released its updated statistics for False Claims Act (FCA) recoveries in FY 2020. The Civil Division reported that it recovered $2.2 billion in settlements and judgments in the previous fiscal year—down nearly $900 million from FY 2019, and off nearly two-thirds from the government’s high-watermark collections of $6.1 billion in FY 2014. Although $2.2 billion in net FCA recoveries represents DOJ’s lowest FCA haul in a decade, it is still a remarkable figure considering court closures and pandemic-slowed dockets across the country over the past eleven months.
Continue Reading 2020 False Claims Act Recoveries Were Down by One-Third in 2020. . . and That’s Bad News for Federal Contractors

When Abraham Lincoln signed the False Claims Act (FCA) into law in 1863, it was a legislative reaction to a series of sensational congressional investigations into war profiteers’ sale of phony provisions and useless equipment to the U.S. government during the Civil War. Contractors who agreed to provide 100-pound bags of flour filled many of the bags with sand. Munitions suppliers demanded full payment (at exorbitant, wartime prices) for rusted, nonfunctioning weapons gleaned from scrap heaps. It was not a leap to find claims that sand was flour, or that a rusted flintlock was an Army rifle, were objectively false; these were not just breaches of contract, but out-and-out frauds. Congress stepped in to stop this “plundering of the public treasury,” and the FCA imposed penalties on those who sought to defraud the U.S. government and its taxpayers.
Continue Reading Honest Abe Would Demand “Objective Falsity” for FCA Liability. Will the Supreme Court?

The Prospect of False Claims Act’s Treble Damages Requires Meticulous Recordkeeping Under the CARES Act

On April 10, 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced its effort to root out fraud associated with the billions of dollars in payments promised under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Congressional watchdog is encouraging individuals – private citizens, government workers, contractors, etc. – to anonymously and confidentially report any allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement through FraudNet (the GAO’s fraud-reporting website), via e-mail or by calling 1-800-424-5454 (the GAO’s automated phone answering system). The GAO, of course, is seeking as much detail as possible about any allegations so the reports can be handed off to its own investigative unit, appropriate inspector general offices, or to the ultimate enforcer – the Department of Justice.Continue Reading Borrowers Beware: GAO Ramps Up Efforts to Root Out Fraud Among CARES Act Loan Recipients