The federal crop insurance program is an often overlooked area of potential liability under the False Claims Act (“FCA”).  The program, which is governed by a substantial body of regulatory law, is subject to intense oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice.  So much so that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency maintains and keeps public a long list of DOJ prosecutions for fraud and violations of the False Claims Act.  See DOJ Prosecutions.  These prosecutions include criminal charges brought against North Carolina tobacco farmers, Texas peanut growers, and California fruit and vegetable producers for fraudulently filing claims against the USDA crop insurance program.
Continue Reading When it Comes to Crop Insurance, the FCA Bears Fruit

On February 12, 2015, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that three U.S.-based importers had agreed to pay more than $3 million to resolve a lawsuit brought by the United States under the False Claims Act (“FCA”).  The Government alleged that the importers had made false declarations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and conspired with other domestic companies to make false declarations to CBP in order to avoid paying “antidumping” and “countervailing” duties.  No Government contracts were involved.  These were “reverse” FCA claims based upon underpayment of duties for private sector import transactions.
Continue Reading Add Importers to Those Facing Expanding Whistleblower Claims Under the False Claims Act

The Federal False Claims Act (“FCA”), 31 U.S.C. § 3729, et seq., has unique procedural aspects that come into play when a private whistleblower (the “relator”) seeks to sue on behalf of the Government.  One of these, the so-called “first-to-file” bar, applies when two “related” whistleblower actions are filed:  “When a person brings an [FCA action], no person other than the Government may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending action.”  31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(5).  The circuits are split as to whether the bar applies only while the first-filed action is “pending,” or applies even if the first-filed action has been dismissed.  For example, the Fourth Circuit held “that once a case is no longer pending the first-to-file bar does not stop a relator from filing a related case.”  U.S. ex rel. Carter v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 710 F.3d 171, 181, 183 (4th Cir. 2013), cert. granted, 134 S. Ct. 2899, 189 L. Ed. 2d 853 (2014).  On the other hand, the D.C. Circuit expressly disagreed with Carter, rejecting the concept that the first-to-file bar is a “temporal limit” to related suits, and concluding that related actions are barred “regardless of the posture of the first-filed action.”  U.S. ex rel. Shea v. Cellco P’ship, 748 F.3d 338, 343-44 (D.C. Cir. 2014), reh’g denied en banc (July 16, 2014).   In finding that the statutory reference to “pending action” means the first-filed action, the D.C. Circuit noted that its interpretation “better suits” the policy of the bar—to prohibit subsequent private actions once the Government is on notice of the fraud.  The Supreme Court’s July 1, 2014 grant of certiorari to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Carter should resolve the circuit split.
Continue Reading You Again?: Application of the First-to-File Bar Where Subsequent Actions Are Brought By the Same Relator

Under the “implied certification” theory of liability, a government contractor can violate the False Claims Act (“FCA”) by submitting a mere invoice for payment.  The theory is that the invoice’s submission impliedly certifies compliance with contract conditions.  If a contractor is not complying with material contract requirements and — despite the contractor’s noncompliance — submits an invoice for payment, then the Government or a relator might argue that the contractor has violated the FCA. 
Continue Reading The Fourth Circuit Strengthens the FCA’s Implied Certification Theory in Triple Canopy

On November 14, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a False Claims Act settlement with Basco Manufacturing Company, a maker of shower enclosures, for $1.1 million related to misstatements on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) entry forms.  The alleged misstatements were intended to allow the company to avoid antidumping duties (ADD) and countervailing duties (CVD) on aluminum extrusions used in its products that were actually from China, but transshipped through Malaysia in an attempt to avoid the duties.  The settlement against Basco does not resolve the entire matter, as Basco was one company of many involved in an alleged conspiracy to conceal the Chinese origin of the aluminum extrusions at issue.  Aspects of the settlement highlight certain risks posed by the False Claims Act that compound general U.S. enforcement of trade laws, and a reminder that diversion for inbound products to the United States may be a significant compliance issue of which companies should  be aware.
Continue Reading A Peek Around the Curtain: A “Reverse” False Claims Act Settlement for Avoiding Customs Charges

The DOJ has released its Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2013 totals for civil settlements and judgments recovered under the federal False Claims Act (“FCA”).  To say that the Department had a successful year in prosecuting fraud against the government would be putting it mildly.  According to the DOJ release, the government recovered $3.8 billion under the FCA in FY 2013.  That total is second only to the approximately $5 billion recovered under the FCA in FY 2012; and it marks the fourth time in as many years that the government’s recoveries under the Act exceeded $3 billion.
Continue Reading False Claims Act Whistleblower Bounties Exceed $345 Million in Fiscal Year 2013

In a recent False Claims Act (“FCA”) opinion that has already been heavily criticized, the Fourth Circuit held that a $24 million penalty was not “excessive” under the Constitution even where damages were not proven at trial and where the government had paid only a total of $3.3 million for the services in question.  United States ex rel. Bunk v. Gosselin World Wide Moving, N.V., No. 12-1369 (4th Cir. Dec. 18, 2013).
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Finds $24 Million False Claims Act Penalty Not Excessive Even Where No Damages Proven at Trial

By David Gallacher

Nearly three years ago, on September 27, 2010, the President signed into law the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 (“Jobs Act”), which directed the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to implement a variety of small business size and integrity requirements. As noted in our prior blog posting discussing many of these requirements, many of these provisions posed a significant threat to government contractors – both large and small businesses alike. On October 7, 2011, the SBA published its blueprint for implementing the statutory requirements. See 76 Fed. Reg. 52313 (the “Proposed Rule”). The Proposed Rule contained language that many industry participants and observers found alarming, particularly the requirements that:

Continue Reading Threats and Vulnerabilities – What Every Contractor Should Know About The SBA’s New “Presumed Loss” and “Deemed Certification” Rules

The First Circuit has added its say on the meaning of the False Claims Act’s “first to file” rule (31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(5)) by holding that a first-filed complaint will preclude a later-filed suit, even when the first complaint is found insufficient under Rule 9(b) particularity requirements. See United States ex rel. Heineman-Guta v. Guidant Corp., 2013 WL 2364172 (1st Cir. May 31, 2013). There is already a circuit split on this issue between the Sixth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit, and the First Circuit’s recent decision further deepens this split. Time will tell if the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately weigh in on the issue.
Continue Reading An FCA Kerfuffle: First Circuit Reaffirms the Intent of the “First to File” Rule and Deepens Circuit Split

By Christopher Loveland and Jonathan Aronie 

While multi-million dollar False Claims Act (FCA) settlements paid by Government contractors get the lion’s share of the press, those with an attentive eye will have noticed a recent steady stream of more “contractor friendly” FCA decisions flying just under the national press’s radar. These cases, all arising in the context of the GSA Multiple Award Schedule program, serve as timely reminders that the FCA is not a blank check for opportunistic relators (plaintiffs/whistleblowers), and that relators must be in possession of facts actually supporting their allegations before walking into court. [1]

Continue Reading Common Sense Prevails Once Again: District Court FCA Ruling Serves As Reminder That Whistleblowers Need to Prove Recklessness Too