Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ninth National Institute on the Civil False Claims Act and Qui Tam Enforcement

Last week, I attended the ABA's National Institute on Civil False Claims Act and Qui Tam Enforcement in Washington, D.C..  It was well attended and a worthwhile event overall.  A few observations:

  • The conference was attended by a great mix of people:  lots of plaintiff's counsel (a/k/a relators' counsel), defense counsel, a number of attorneys from state attorneys' general or state Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and a number of federal investigators and counsel from federal agencies.  Unlike conferences such as the ABA's White Collar Crime which are huge with nearly a 1,000 attendees, this conference is still quite small (I would estimate around 200+) and there was a very collegial atmosphere.
  •  As with the attendees, so too with the panels as they were always had a mix of defense counsel, relators' counsel, and various government representatives usually from the a U.S. Attorney's Office or Department of Justice.  Most panels provided a very broad perspective.
  • Joyce Branda, now Acting Deputy Attorney General for the Civil Division and chair of the first panel, noted that 600 False Claims Act/Qui Tam cases were being filed each year, 2/3 of them health care related, though she said that "other areas were developing."  Branda further observed that the government intervenes in 22% of qui tam cases and that percentage has "held steady over the years."
  •  Dan Anderson, co-chair of the Institute and Deputy Director of the Commercial Litigation  Branch of DOJ's Civil Division, told the conference "we are doing much more with much less.  We are doing the best we can  and are stretched very thin."
  • More than one speaker discussed the increased use  of Civil Investigative Demands ("CIDs"):  a very effective investigative tool that allows the government prior to intervening in a qui tam case to conduct depositions and obtain interrogatories and the production of documents.  Prior to the recent amendments of the False Claims Act, the Attorney General had to personally approve the issuance of a CID, but their use has now been liberalized and they are now being issued by DOJ-Civil as well as U.S. Attorneys.
  •  29 states have passed False Claims Act statutes.  The panel on State Qui Tam Enforcement was one of the best.
  •  John Boese, conference co-chair and author of a leading treatise on the False Claims Act, observed rather critically that the False Claims Act has become not just a statute to sanction those making false claims, but with the False Claims Act "jurisprudence being dominated by false certification claims," it is increasingly used as an "enforcement mechanism" for compelling compliance with governmental regulations.  He gave the example of a bid protest.  In the past, he explained, a losing bidder might challenge the legitimacy of a competitor's bid; now, they file an FCA/qui tam claim.
  • Panelist Peter Hutt II of Akin Gump noted that  non-intervened qui tam cases impose very real and substantial costs on the businesses as a result of the discovery that stems from such suits.  Invited to say what he would change about the False Claims Act, he argued that there was too many meritless qui tam suits and that such suits resulted from the "over-incentive" of damages presently allowed under the FCA.  To discourage meritless suits, Hutt argued that real fee shifting should be introduced and that it should apply not just to the relator but to a relator's counsel as well.  He also argued for a cap on relators' recoveries. Hutt's comments about meritless suits brought an interesting reaction from other panelists. The relators' counsel on the panel did not believe meritless qui cases were a problem, but they also discussed that they carefully review potential qui tam cases and only file a handful of the cases they review.  Speaking for herself, an Assistant U.S. Attorney from the Northern District of California who handles FCA/qui tam cases argued that if qui tam cases had been investigated and found to be without merit, then they should be dismissed by the government as permitted by the statute --though she did not cite any instances of that occurring.  Boese argued that since dismissals of qui tam required hearings and that such hearings had often been hotly contested by relators, DOJ rarely exercised its authority to dismiss.
A. Brian Albritton
June 10, 2012

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