On August 20, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a whistleblower claim by a former employee of Cardinal Health, Inc., affirming dismissal of the former employee’s complaint, which alleged that Cardinal Health sold hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defective medical equipment, in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA).

Before her termination from Cardinal Health, the plaintiff marketed Cardinal Health’s “Signature pump”—an electronic device that regulates the rate at which intravenous fluids flow into patients—to various hospitals, including hospitals run by the VA.  The plaintiff alleged that the Signature pump had a dangerous defect, causing air bubbles to accumulate and be released into a patient’s intravenous fluids flow, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

The plaintiff claimed that she became aware of the defect in late 2000 and discussed it with a Cardinal Health area manager in early 2001.  In mid-2001, Cardinal Health suspended shipment of the Signature pump for three months and undertook a review of the possible defect.  Cardinal Health terminated the plaintiff at the end of the three-month review period.  Cardinal Health suspended production and sale of the Signature pump for independent reasons in 2006.

“Implied False Certification” Theory of FCA Product Liability

The crux of the plaintiff’s FCA claim was that Cardinal Health falsely certified to the VA that the Signature pump was in compliance with the warranty of merchantability in the parties’ contract each time it requested payment from the VA for the pumps—a so-called “implied false certification” theory.
Continue Reading Federal Appeals Court Rejects Whistleblower’s Medical Device Defect Claim

The jury in the Tuomey case (U.S. ex rel. Drakeford v. Tuomey Healthcare Systems, Inc.) returned a verdict in favor of the government yesterday, May 8, 2013.  As is well known, this is the re-trial of a case centered on a series of employment agreements that Tuomey Healthcare entered to allegedly capture referrals

The Sixth Circuit recently made some interesting findings related to the knowledge standard in the False Claims Act (“FCA”) and whether maximizing profits is evidence of fraud.

The knowledge standard in the FCA may create a disincentive for defendants to litigate cases brought by the government, especially considering the standard for liability can be met by the government demonstrating that the defendant acted with reckless disregard or in deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of the claim.   See 31 U.S.C. § 3729.  In light of this fairly low standard, it is no secret that some defendants decide it is less costly to settle a case, rather than engaging in protracted litigation with the government.  However, in one recent case the defendant, Renal Care Group, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, decided to fight back against allegations it defrauded the government of millions of dollars while providing dialysis treatments to Medicare beneficiaries suffering from end-stage renal disease.  Renal Care lost the first battle when the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States and awarded the government $82.6 million in damages and penalties.  On appeal, however, Renal Care secured a major victory when the court of appeals reversed the district court’s judgments on grounds that Renal Care did not act in reckless disregard under the FCA.

Without going into the specific facts alleged by the government, there are two important findings from this Sixth Circuit decision worth noting.  First, the Sixth Circuit determined that Renal Care did not act recklessly.  Per the Sixth Circuit, a defendant can be held liable under the FCA by showing that it acted with actual knowledge or constructive knowledge.  United States v. Renal Care Group, et al., No. 11-5779, slip op. at 17 (6th Cir. Oct. 5, 2012).  Constructive knowledge can be proven by demonstrating that the defendant acted in deliberate ignorance of, or with reckless disregard to, the truth or falsity.  One of the facts relied on by the court in reaching its decision on the knowledge requirement is that Renal Care sought legal counsel, who in turn sought clarification from CMS on what appears to be fairly ambiguous regulations.  The court focused on this fact, in addition to some others, in reaching its conclusion that Renal Care did not act recklessly. 
Continue Reading Guess What? Making Money is Not Inherently Unlawful Under the False Claims Act