Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the Section 8 low-income housing assistance program, 42 U.S.C. 1437f. New Lansing renewed its Section 8 contract with Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority in 2014 for a 20-year term. In 2019, at the contractual time for its fifth-year rent adjustment, New Lansing submitted a rent comparability study (RCS) to assist CM Authority in determining the new contract rents. Following the 2017 HUD Section 8 Guidebook, CM Authority forwarded New Lansing’s RCS to HUD, which obtained an independent RCS. Based on the independent RCS undertaken pursuant to HUD’s Guidebook requirements, the Housing Authority lowered New Lansing’s contract rents amount.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of New Lansing’s suit for breach of contract. The Renewal Contract requires only that the Housing Authority “make any adjustments in the monthly contract rents, as reasonably determined by the contract administrator in accordance with HUD requirements, necessary to set the contract rents for all unit sizes at comparable market rents.” HUD has authority to prescribe how to determine comparable market rents, the Renewal Contract adopted those requirements, and thus the Housing Authority was required to follow those HUD methods. The Housing Authority did not act unreasonably by following the requirements in the 2017 HUD guidance. View "New Lansing Gardens Housing Limited Partnership v. Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority" on Justia Law

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TVA, wholly owned by the U.S. government, 16 U.S.C. 831, operates Tennessee's Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant. A containment dike that retained coal-ash sludge failed in 2008, causing 5.4 million cubic yards of coal-ash sludge to spill to adjacent property. TVA and the EPA responded under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan. TVA, as the lead agency, engaged Jacobs as its “prime contractor providing project planning, management, and oversight,” including evaluating potential hazards to human health and safety. Jacobs submitted a Safety and Health Plan. More than 60 of Jacobs’s former employees sued, claiming that they were exposed to coal ash and particulate “fly ash” during this cleanup. The suits were consolidated.The district court denied Jacobs’s motions seeking derivative discretionary-function immunity, reasoning that Jacobs would be entitled to immunity only if it adhered to its contract and there were genuine disputes of material fact as to whether Jacobs acted within the scope of its authority. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs but did not designate any particular theory, as listed in the jury instructions, for which Jacobs could be held liable, broadly finding that Jacobs “failed to adhere to the terms of its contract," or the Plan. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Jacobs is immune from suit only if TVA is immune; TVA would not have been immune from suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims raise either “inconsistency” or “grave-interference” concerns. View "Greg Adkisson v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc" on Justia Law

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USN4U brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, alleging that Wolf Creek and its employees submitted falsely inflated project estimates to NASA for facilities maintenance, resulting in the negotiation of fraudulently induced, exorbitant contract prices. USN4U alleged that “[t]he Government paid Wolf Creek and its union employees for labor not actually performed,” described specific projects, and alleged that when Wolf Creek performed NASA projects, workgroup leads instructed “participating union employee[s]” to falsely report their labor hours to “justify the inflated [labor] estimate.” USN4U identified several Wolf Creek employees who were allegedly active members of the fraudulent schemeCiting NASA’s subsequent decision to pay the invoices and continue to contract with Wolf Creek, and the government’s decision not to intervene in USN4U’s claim, the district court dismissed the suit.The Sixth Circuit reversed. USN4U adequately alleged fraud. NASA asked Wolf Creek for estimates and always awarded the contracts for the quoted amount, which could indicate that NASA trusted and relied upon the purported accuracy of Wolf Creek’s estimates. NASA plausibly would not have agreed to pay Wolf Creek the quoted amount if NASA knew that it was being grossly overcharged. View "USN4U, LLC v. Wolf Creek Federal Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Dorsa joined Miraca, which offers pathology services for healthcare providers. His employment agreement contained a binding arbitration clause. Dorsa claims that, during his employment, he observed Miraca giving monetary donations and free services to healthcare providers to induce pathology referrals, in violation of the AntiKickback Statute, the Stark Law, and the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1). Dorsa lodged internal complaints. Dorsa claims that Miraca fabricated a sexual harassment complaint against him. Dorsa filed a qui tam action against Miraca in September 2013. Days later, Miraca fired Dorsa, citing workplace harassment. Dorsa added an FCA retaliation claim.The government investigated the FCA claims and, in 2018, intervened for purposes of settlement, under which Miraca agreed to pay $63.5 million to resolve FCA claims. Miraca moved to dismiss the remaining retaliation claim, citing the arbitration clause, Dorsa argued that the clause did not apply because his claim was independent from the employment agreement. Miraca then asserted that the court did not have the authority to decide a threshold question of arbitrability. The district court ruled in favor of Dorsa. Miraca later moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of that motion. Miraca forfeited and waived its arguments about the district court’s authority to decide threshold questions of arbitrability and its ruling on the merits. Filing the motion to dismiss was inconsistent with Miraca’s later attempts to rely on the arbitration agreement. View "Dorsa v. Miraca Life Sciences, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lexington solicited bids for relocating its city offices, including one from CRM, a local real estate development firm. Wellman was an executive at CRM. While the committee deliberated on the CRM proposal, two City Council members began receiving campaign contributions from CRM employees. These actions prompted an investigation under 18 U.S.C. 666, which prohibits “federal funds bribery.” Agents suspected a straw contribution scheme arranged by Wellman and funded by CRM. Wellman falsified documents and cajoled his straw contributors to lie. Prosecutors opened a separate grand jury inquiry into potential obstruction charges against Wellman.Wellman was convicted on 11 federal charges, including obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting numerous associates to make false statements to the FBI, and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison with a $10,000 fine. The district court applied a two-level obstruction of justice enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3C1.1 but ultimately varied downward based on Wellman’s character and service to the community. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and Wellman’s argument that, at most, he obstructed an investigation into violations of Kentucky campaign finance laws, not federal bribery. A reasonable jury could conclude that Wellman corruptly obstructed, influenced, or impeded a federal grand jury proceeding. View "United States v. Wellman" on Justia Law

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In subsequently-consolidated cases, various relators sued Community Health Systems (CHS) and others, alleging that CHS submitted fraudulent claims for medically unnecessary hospital admissions to federal public-health insurance programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare. Relators’ counsel performed thousands of hours of work in assisting the government with the investigation. Seven years ago, the relators, the government, and CHS entered into a settlement agreement, disposing of the underlying claims. The settlement agreement left undecided the allocation of attorney fees under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3730(d). After settling with all the relators, CHS now claims that the relators are not entitled to attorney fees because the FCA’s first-to-file rule and public-disclosure bar precluded their claims. The district court agreed with CHS.The Sixth Circuit reversed. We CHS cannot now rely on these separate provisions of the FCA as a last-ditch effort to deny attorney fees to the relators. After the global settlement reached pursuant to a collaborative process between the government and relators’ counsel, there is no reason to apply the first-to-file and public-disclosure rules. The court remanded with instructions to the district court to determine an award of reasonable attorney fees to relators’ counsel. View "Cook-Reska v. Community Health Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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El-Khalil, a podiatrist, joined the Oakwood Taylor medical staff in 2008. During his time there, El-Khalil alleges that he saw Oakwood employees submit fraudulent Medicare claims, which he reported to the federal government. In 2015, Oakwood Taylor’s Medical Executive Committee (MEC) rejected El-Khalil’s application to renew his staff privileges. El-Khalil alleges that the MEC did so in retaliation for his whistleblowing. Pursuant to Oakwood’s Medical Staff Bylaws, El-Khalil commenced a series of administrative appeals. On September 22, 2016, Oakwood’s Joint Conference Committee, which had the authority to issue a final, non-appealable decision, voted to affirm the denial of El-Khalil’s staff privileges. On September 27, the Committee sent El-Khalil written notice of its decision.On September 27, 2019, El-Khalil sued Oakwood for violating the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3730(h). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely under a three-year limitations period, which commenced when Oakwood decided not to renew El-Khalil’s medical-staff privileges, rather than when it notified El-Khalil of that decision five days later. Section 3730(h) contains no notice requirement. As soon as Oakwood “discriminated against” El-Khalil “because of” his FCA-protected conduct, he had a ripe “cause of action triggering the limitations period,” View "El-Khalil v. Oakwood Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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The 1949 Federal Property and Administrative Services Act is intended to facilitate the “economical and efficient” purchase of goods and services on behalf of the federal government, 40 U.S.C. 101. In November 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, under the supposed auspices of the Act, issued a “Guidance” mandating that employees of federal contractors in “covered contract[s]” with the federal government become fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee and Ohio sheriffs’ offices sued, alleging that the Property Act does not authorize the mandate, that the mandate violates other federal statutes, and that its intrusion upon traditional state prerogatives raises federalism and Tenth Amendment concerns.The district court enjoined enforcement of the mandate throughout the three states and denied the federal government’s request to stay the injunction pending appeal. The Sixth Circuit denied relief. The government has established none of the showings required to obtain a stay. The government is unlikely to succeed on claims that the plaintiffs lack standing and the plaintiffs likely have a cause of action under the Administrative Procedure Act. The court noted the plaintiff’s concerns about disruptions to the supply chain if workers leave their jobs rather than receiving vaccinations and also stated: Given that expansive scope of the Guidance, the interpretive trouble is not figuring out who’s “covered”; the difficult issue is understanding who, based on the Guidance’s definition of “covered,” could possibly not be covered. View "Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Biden" on Justia Law

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Owsley. a nurse for Care Connection, a company providing home healthcare to Medicare patients, alleged that she observed, firsthand, documents showing that her employer had used fraudulent data from Fazzi to submit inflated claims for payment to the federal and Indiana state governments. She sued both companies under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(A), (B), (C), (G), and an Indiana statute.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Owsley’s complaint provided few details that would allow the defendants to identify any specific claims—of the hundreds or likely thousands they presumably submitted—that she thinks were fraudulent, and did not meet the requirements of Civil Rule 9(b). While Owsley’s allegations describe, in detail, a fraudulent scheme: Fazzi fraudulently upcoded patient data, which Care then used to submit inflated requests for anticipated Medicare payments, that information does not amount to an allegation of “particular identified claims” submitted pursuant to the fraudulent scheme. View "Owsley v. Fazzi Associates., Inc." on Justia Law

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Rite Aid’s “Rx Savings Program” provides generic prescription drugs at reduced prices. The program is free and widely available but excludes customers whose prescriptions are paid by publicly funded healthcare programs like Medicare or Medicaid. Federal regulations require pharmacies to dispense prescriptions for beneficiaries of those programs at their “usual and customary charge to the general public” (U&C rate). Rahimi alleged that Rite Aid overbilled the government programs because the amounts it charged did not take into account the lower Rx Savings Program prices. Rahimi claimed Rite Aid's submission of bills for those covered by publicly funded health insurance, representing the price to be the U&C rate, violated the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a).The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Rahimi’s claim. The Act’s public disclosure bar precludes qui tam actions that merely feed off prior public disclosures of fraud. From the beginning, communications about the Rx Savings Program have stated that publicly funded health care programs were ineligible for the discounted prices. Before Rahimi’s disclosures, Connecticut investigated membership discount prices; the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would review Medicaid claims for generic drugs to determine the extent to which large chain pharmacies are billing Medicaid the usual and customary charges for drugs provided under their retail discount generic programs; and a qui tam action was unsealed in California, describing an identical scheme. View "Rahimi v. Rite Aid Corp." on Justia Law