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

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

On May 12, 2021, the Biden administration unveiled a rather expansive executive order intent on “Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity.” The lengthy and sweeping order is a comprehensive national cybersecurity overhaul. In addition to requiring significant improvements to the cybersecurity posture of the Federal Civilian Executive Branch (FCEB) agencies, the order also prescribes:

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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?

When entering a casino, professional gamblers understand that “the house doesn’t beat the player. It just gives him the opportunity to beat himself.” This axiom is precisely why in the long run casinos make money, while gamblers see their bank accounts dwindle. The same holds true in the corporate world with respect to the creation, implementation, and maintenance of compliance programs. A company gambling on its compliance obligations does so at its own peril and must understand exactly what the “House” expects. If it doesn’t, then that company may join the unfortunate few that roll the dice or spin the wheel and come up with snake eyes or double zeros. That risk is multiplied if the company betting on sufficient compliance is receiving federal dollars, where failure can lead to catastrophic civil and criminal liability. Fortunately, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has published its version of “House Rules” that it is supposed to consult when examining whether to investigate, prosecute, or settle criminal charges against a company. In this respect, DOJ prosecutors are tasked with looking at specific factors outlined in the “Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations” (“Principles”) section of the Justice Manual. Among other factors, these Principles instruct DOJ prosecutors to consider “the adequacy and effectiveness of the corporation’s compliance program at the time of the offense, as well as at the time of a charging decision.” In furtherance of this mandate, the DOJ’s Criminal Division issued revised guidance on June 1, 2020, regarding the specific factors DOJ prosecutors should consider in making that evaluation. This updated version of the DOJ’s “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs” (Guidance) clarifies and modifies certain areas of the version last updated in April 2019. Among other noteworthy revisions, the Guidance underscores the need for companies to ensure their corporate compliance program is:
Continue Reading Gambling on Compliance? DOJ Updates the House Rules on Corporate Compliance Program Expectations

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

Section 8(a) of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 authorizes the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to enter into prime contracts with federal agencies and to subcontract the performance of the contract to qualified small businesses. As most are aware, the 8(a) program is designed to assist “socially and economically disadvantaged small business” concerns that are owned by one or more individuals who are from a socially and economically disadvantaged group and whose management and daily operations are controlled by such individuals. 15 U.S.C. § 637(a)(4)(A)-(B). Included in the definition of “socially and economically disadvantaged groups” are, among others, Indian tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives, which allows each “maximum practical opportunities” to participate in the government contracting market. But in so doing, those companies must stomach the good with the bad, i.e., they must be prepared to (a) navigate the thicket of regulatory hurdles required to do business with the government and (b) combat potential allegations of fraud if there is a perception that one or more of those hurdles has not been cleared successfully.
Continue Reading Alutiiq False Claims Act Settlement Highlights Significant Government Contract Compliance Risks for Tribal, NHO, and ANC 8(a) Subsidiaries