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False Claims Act Statistics, News & Analysis

Two Courts Confirm Penalties Not Yet Issued Do Not Support Reverse False Claims

The D.C. Circuit and the Tenth Circuit recently joined several other circuits, including the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth, in holding that liability for reverse false claims cannot be based on contingent obligations to pay the government (meaning obligations to pay that may arise after future discretionary actions), reaffirming that when Congress amended the FCA in 2009 to define the term “obligation,” it intended that liability would result for reverse false claims only where there are failures to pay specific, definite obligations owed to the government.

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False Claims Act Cert. Monitor: Defendant Asks Court to Resolve Asserted Rule 9(b) Split and Reverse FCA Liability for "Contingent" Obligations

Victaulic, a manufacturer of pipe fittings, asked the Supreme Court in late May to review a Third Circuit decision we have written about twice before in a petition captioned Victaulic Co. v. U.S. ex rel. Customs Fraud Investigations, LLC, No. 16-1398. Victaulic asks the Court to take up two issues: (1) whether Rule 9(b)’s pleading standard requires allegations of an “opportunity for fraud,” of “actual false claims,” or of “particular details of a scheme paired with reliable indicia of fraud,” and (2) whether an alleged failure to pay a “contingent” obligation that arises only after the exercise of discretion by the government is actionable as a reverse FCA claim.

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False Claims Act Cert. Monitor: Attorneys’ Fees, Reverse False Claims, Public Disclosure Bar, and Government Employees as Relators Feature in Three New Petitions

Three new FCA relator cert. petitions have landed in the past few weeks, covering the gamut of FCA legal issues.

First, the relator in U.S. ex rel. Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, 16-1278, takes us back to 1L Property, alleging that the Army in 1949 granted the defendant water district a “determinable fee simple estate subject to a possibility of reverter interest retained by the United States.” In other words, the government gave the water district government land to keep so long as the land was used for recreation, conservation, etc. The relator contends that when the defendant entered into oil and gas leases on the land but kept the land and the lease income, it knowingly and improperly avoided an obligation to return the property and income to the government—i.e., a conversion reverse false claim. The question presented to the Court is whether, for a reverse false claim, the relator needed to plead that the defendant subjectively knew that it was violating the terms of the deed and had not committed a mistake of law. A potential difficulty for this petition, however, is that neither Sixth Circuit’s majority nor the dissent focused on the question of subjective knowledge of mistake of law, but rather on whether the relator pleaded sufficient facts from which the court could infer that the defendant “knew or should have known” of the requirement to return the property. The response is currently due June 26, 2017.

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Fifth Circuit Reaffirms that Speculative Penalty Exposure Does Not a "Reverse False Claim" Make

In the context of an environmentally-based FCA case, the Fifth Circuit held last week that a contingent penalty cannot create reverse false claim liability because it is not an “obligation” to pay the government. This holding marks at least the third time in as many months that a circuit court has addressed the FCA’s reverse false claim provision and is the second of those decisions construing the definition of “obligation” under the FCA as amended by the 2009 Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (“FERA”). The two decisions resulted in different outcomes, however: one handed the defendant a resounding victory, and the other breathed life back into the relator’s case. Is this yet another circuit-split and potential fodder for Supreme Court review? Not so fast.

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I Knowingly Drank Coffee With Cream Today . . .

Because I knew both that I was drinking coffee and that it contained cream. The Sixth Circuit applied similar reasoning in its most recent False Claims Act decision, U.S. ex. rel. Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, No. 15-4406, 2016 WL 6832974 (6th Cir. Nov. 21, 2016), in which it decided—as a matter of first impression—construction of the FCA’s scienter requirements for a reverse false claim (31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(G)) and a conversion  (31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(D)), as amended in 2009 by the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (“FERA”). Construing the FCA’s reverse false claim prohibition against knowingly avoiding an obligation to the United States, the court held that liability will attach only if the offender knows both of the obligation and that he avoided it. Similarly, to be liable for a conversion under the FCA, the offender must know both that he caused to be delivered “less than all” of certain property to the government and also that the property at issue belongs to the government. With these holdings, the Harper court reaffirmed the important threshold scienter distinctions separating an ordinary breach of contract from a violation of the FCA.

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Spooky Stuff: FCA Trolls Win Big in the Third Circuit

In today’s post-Halloween blog, we take a look at a case out of the Third Circuit that may have sent a shiver down the spine of any potential FCA defendant. This non-intervened reverse false claim case originating from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania previously had been dismissed with prejudice by the District Court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). United States ex rel. Customs Fraud Investigations, LLC v. Victaulic Co., No. 15-2169, 2016 WL 5799660 (3d Cir. Oct. 5, 2016). Last month, however, the Third Circuit brought the case back, giving the relator's case a potentially promising afterlife.

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