Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Limiting Discovery and Preventing Claim Smuggling in False Claims Act Cases

Dear Readers:

Joining the growing number of courts that limit or phase discovery in False Claims Act cases ("FCA"), the Southern District of Mississippi recently rejected attempts by the relators to obtain "unfettered discovery" so that they may search for new claims beyond the single claim for which they were an original source and on which they won at trial. See United States ex rel. Rigsby v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 2014 WL 691500 (S.D. Miss., Feb. 21, 2014).

In Rigsby, two relators sued State Farm alleging that it engaged in a massive scheme to defraud the National Flood Insurance Program ("NFIP") in its administration of flood claims arising from Hurricane Katrina and they filed a list of 18 properties in which they asserted that State Farm had defrauded the NFIP. When initially considering case, the Court found that only one of the properties, the "McIntosh claim," was the sole "instance of State Farm's having submitted an allegedly false claim of which either relator had first hand knowledge." Having first hand knowledge of a single claim, the Court initially permitted the relators to obtain discovery about and proceed to trial on the McIntosh claim. The Court reserved ruling on whether to permit the relators to expand their suit and obtain additional discovery until after the trial of the McIntosh claim, stating it would "consider [then] whether additional discovery and further proceedings are warranted." The jury found that State Farm had presented a false claim for payment to the NFIP in connection with its processing of the McIntosh flood claim. Relators then asked the court to "initiate expanded discovery into claims on other properties insured by State Farm."

The Court refused to permit the relators additional discovery in order to expand their claims into areas where they did not have knowledge and when it was unclear whether other claims really existed. Relying on the 5th Circuit's decision in US ex rel. Grubbs v. Kanneganti, 565 F.3d 180 (5th Cir. 2009), the Court noted that satisfying Rule 9(b) with "sufficient detail" and defeating a motion to dismiss permits a relator access to the discovery process, but discovery should be "targeted" only to "the claims alleged, avoiding a search for new claims." Applying Grubbs, the Court observed: "Armed with knowledge of a purported scheme and evidence related to the single Mcintosh claim, Relators seek far-reaching, unfettered discovery in order to search for new claims beyond the Mcintosh claim, the only false claim which they have firsthand knowledge. Grubbs states that even if a complaint survives a Rule 9(b) challenge, discovery should be tailored to the claims alleged, so as to avoid a search for new claims. To allow expanded discovery in the fashion Relators seek would permit improper smuggling of additional claims beyond the single claim to which Relators have personal knowledge."

In short, the Court showed that simply satisfying Rule 9(b) as to one claim does not open the door for relators to go in search of other claims to which they do not have personal knowledge, even if they have broadly described a scheme to defraud for which they have only one example. Since "Relators have not pleaded sufficient details regarding any other claims to survive a Rule 9(b) challenge . . . . . discovery would necessarily be overly broad because the Amended Complaint lacks enough detail to permit the Court to craft reasonable discovery parameters."

A. Brian Albritton
March 19, 2014

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