Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Attorneys spell out False Claims Act elements

Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free.org via The Blue Diamond Gallery
Two attorneys in April endeavored to articulate the elements of claims under the False Claims Act.

The False Claims Act (FCA) (DOJ, LII) facilitates lawsuits against persons who defraud the government. An important aspect of the statutory scheme is the authorization of qui tam actions, by which individual litigants may apply for government permission to sue on the public's behalf. Qui tam representatives can be entitled to a percentage of the recovery, which can mean a substantial sum of money. (Consider a case I wrote about in May 2021.)

With government subsidies characterizing recovery from the 2008 financial crisis and then, more recently, the pandemic, I added a sliver of False Claims Act content to my survey of tort-like statutory actions in my 1L Torts II class. I feel obliged to give students at least one exposure to the FCA, because I fear that they will otherwise never see a hint of it in law school. And I don't mind fantasizing that one of my alums one day will win a big qui tam award and think to throw a little love my way. Hey, that's more likely than a meaningful pay raise from my employer.

Accordingly, it's my intention to add the FCA to my Tortz textbook as I develop its second-semester coverage. I might be onto something, because, in April, two attorneys wrote articles articulating FCA fundamentals: A.J. Bolan, healthcare litigation associate at Barnes & Thornburg, wrote a piece for JD Supra, and Molly K. Ruberg, litigation partner at Bass, Berry & Sims, wrote a piece (login wall) for Lexology.

Both writers laid out these elements:

1. A false claim.
2. The false claim was made with the requisite scienter (or knowledge that it was false).
3. The false claim is material to payment.
4. The false claim caused the government to pay money.

Falsity may be express or implied, both writers explained, and most courts require objectively verifiable falsity. Scienter may be accomplished by (1) actual knowledge, (2) deliberate ignorance, or (3) reckless disregard, both writers said.

Under the statute, materiality means “having a natural tendency to influence, or be capable of influencing, the payment or receipt of property,” both writers quoted. Courts disagree over whether causation must be but-for or proximate, they agreed.

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