Justia Government Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Supreme Court
United States ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc.
The False Claims Act (FCA) imposes civil liability on those who present false or fraudulent claims for payment to the federal government, 31 U.S.C. 3729–3733, and authorizes private parties (relators) to bring “qui tam actions” in the name of the government. A relator may receive up to 30% of any recovery. The relator must file his complaint under seal and serve a copy and supporting evidence on the government, which has 60 days to decide whether to intervene. As a “real party in interest,” the government can intervene after the seal period ends, if it shows good cause.Polansky filed an FCA action alleging Medicare fraud. The government declined to intervene during the seal period. After years of discovery, the government decided that the burdens of the suit outweighed its potential value, and moved under section 3730(c)(2)(A) (Subparagraph (2)(A)), which provides that the government may dismiss the action notwithstanding the objections of the relator if the relator received notice and an opportunity for a hearing.The Third Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The government may move to dismiss an FCA action whenever it has intervened, whether during the seal period or later. It may not move to dismiss if it has never intervened. A successful motion to intervene turns the movant into a party; it can assume primary responsibility for the case’s prosecution, which triggers the Subparagraph (2)(A) right to dismiss, consistent with the FCA’s government-centered purposes. The government’s motion to dismiss will satisfy FRCP 41 in all but exceptional cases. The government gave good grounds for believing that this suit would not vindicate its interests. Absent extraordinary circumstances, that showing suffices for the government to prevail. View "United States ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc." on Justia Law
United States ex rel. Schutte v. Supervalu Inc.
Petitioners sued retail pharmacies under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729, which permits private parties to bring lawsuits in the name of the United States against those who they believe have defrauded the federal government and imposes liability on anyone who “knowingly” submits a “false” claim to the government. Petitioners claim that the pharmacies defrauded Medicaid and Medicare by offering pharmacy discount programs to their customers while reporting their higher retail prices, rather than their discounted prices, as their “usual and customary” charge for reimbursement. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the pharmacies could not have acted “knowingly” if their actions were consistent with an objectively reasonable interpretation of the phrase “usual and customary.”The Supreme Court vacated. The FCA’s scienter element refers to a defendant’s knowledge and subjective beliefs—not to what an objectively reasonable person may have known or believed. The FCA’s three-part definition of the term “knowingly” largely tracks the traditional common-law scienter requirement for claims of fraud: Actual knowledge, deliberate ignorance, or recklessness will suffice. Even though the phrase “usual and customary” may be ambiguous on its face, such facial ambiguity alone is not sufficient to preclude a finding that the pharmacies knew their claims were false. View "United States ex rel. Schutte v. Supervalu Inc." on Justia Law
Ciminelli v. United States
Then-New York Governor Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative administered through Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, a nonprofit affiliated with SUNY, aimed to invest $1 billion in upstate development projects. Investigations later uncovered a scheme that involved Cuomo’s associates--a member of Fort Schuyler’s board of directors and a construction company made payments to a lobbyist with ties to the Cuomo administration. Fort Schuyler’s bid process subsequently allowed the construction company to receive major Buffalo Billion contracts.The participants were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. Under the Second Circuit’s “right to control” theory, wire fraud can be established by showing that the defendant schemed to deprive a victim of potentially valuable economic information necessary to make discretionary economic decisions. The jury instructions defined “property” as including “intangible interests such as the right to control the use of one’s assets,” and “economically valuable information” as “information that affects the victim’s assessment of the benefits or burdens of a transaction, or relates to the quality of goods or services received or the economic risks.” The Second Circuit affirmed the convictions.The Supreme Court reversed. Under Supreme Court precedents the federal fraud statutes criminalize only schemes to deprive people of traditional property interests. The prosecution must prove that wire fraud defendants “engaged in deception,” and also that money or property was “an object of their fraud.” The "fraud statutes do not vest a general power in the federal government to enforce its view of integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking.” The right-to-control theory applies to an almost limitless variety of deceptive actions traditionally left to state contract and tort law. The Court declined to affirm Ciminelli’s convictions on the ground that the evidence was sufficient to establish wire fraud under a traditional property-fraud theory. View "Ciminelli v. United States" on Justia Law
Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C.
Cummings, who is deaf and blind, sought physical therapy services from Premier, requesting an American Sign Language interpreter at her sessions. Premier declined. Cummings sought damages, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability under the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act. Premier is subject to those statutes because it receives reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid. The district court determined that the only compensable injuries allegedly caused by Premier were emotional in nature.The Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Spending Clause legislation, including the statutes at issue, operates based on consent; a particular remedy is available in a private Spending Clause action only if the funding recipient is on notice that, by accepting federal funding, it exposes itself to liability of that nature. Because the statutes at issue are silent as to available remedies, the Court followed the contract analogy. A federal funding recipient is on notice that it is subject to the “usual” remedies traditionally available in breach of contract suits; emotional distress is generally not compensable in contract.The Court rejected an argument that such damages may be awarded where a contractual breach is particularly likely to result in emotional disturbance. Even if it were appropriate to treat funding recipients as aware that they may be subject to rare contract-law rules, they would lack the requisite notice that emotional distress damages are available under these statutes. There is no majority rule on what circumstances may trigger the allowance of such damages. View "Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C." on Justia Law
Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck
New York requires cable operators to set aside channels for public access. Those channels are operated by the cable operator unless the local government chooses to operate the channels or designates a private entity as the operator. New York City designated a private nonprofit corporation, MNN, to operate public access channels on Time Warner’s Manhattan cable system. Respondents produced a film critical of MNN. MNN televised the film. MNN later suspended Respondents from all MNN services and facilities. They sued, claiming that MNN violated their First Amendment free-speech rights. The Second Circuit partially reversed the dismissal of the suit, concluding that MNN was subject to First Amendment constraints.The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded. MNN is not a state actor subject to the First Amendment. A private entity may qualify as a state actor when the entity exercises “powers traditionally exclusively reserved to the State” but “very few” functions fall into that category. Operation of public access channels on a cable system has not traditionally and exclusively been performed by government. Providing some kind of forum for speech is not an activity that only governmental entities have traditionally performed and does not automatically transform a private entity into a state actor. The City’s designation of MNN as the operator is analogous to a government license, a government contract, or a government-granted monopoly, none of which converts a private entity into a state actor unless the private entity is performing a traditional, exclusive public function. Extensive regulation does not automatically convert a private entity's action into that of the state. The City does not own, lease, or possess any property interest in the public access channels. View "Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck" on Justia Law
Azar v. Allina Health Services
The Medicare program offers additional payments to institutions that serve a “disproportionate number” of low-income patients, 42 U.S.C. 1395ww(d)(5)(F)(i)(I), calculated using the hospital’s “Medicare fraction.” The fraction’s denominator is the time the hospital spent caring for patients entitled to Medicare Part A benefits; the numerator is the time the hospital spent caring for Part-A-entitled patients who were also entitled to income support payments under the Social Security Act. Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) was created in 1997. Part C, beneficiaries may choose to have the government pay their private insurance premiums rather than pay for their hospital care directly. Part C enrollees tend to be wealthier than Part A enrollees, so counting them makes the fraction smaller and reduces hospitals’ payments. In 2014, the Medicare website indicated that fractions for fiscal year 2012 included Part C patients. Hospitals sued, claiming violation the Medicare Act’s requirement to provide public notice and a 60-day comment period for any “rule, requirement, or other statement of policy . . . that establishes or changes a substantive legal standard governing . . . the payment for services.”The Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit in agreeing with the hospitals. The government has not identified a lawful excuse for neglecting its statutory notice-and-comment obligations. The 2014 announcement established or changed a “substantive legal standard” not an interpretive legal standard. The Medicare Act and the Administrative Procedures Act do not use the word “substantive” in the same way. The Medicare Act contemplates that “statements of policy” can establish or change a “substantive legal standard." Had Congress wanted to follow the APA in the Medicare Act and exempt interpretive rules and policy statements from notice and comment, it could have cross-referenced the APA exemption, 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(A). View "Azar v. Allina Health Services" on Justia Law