The votes are in, and the award for most imaginative whistleblower theory of March goes to Lisa Stratienko of Chattanooga, Tenn. Sadly for Lisa, the False Claims Act doesn’t give points for being imaginative, and the court dismissed her claim under the FCA’s public disclosure bar—the provision that bars qui tam claims when the world already knew about the alleged offense.
By way of background, in 2010 Lisa filed a qui tam action claiming that Erlanger Medical Center made illegal payments to physicians for Medicare patient referrals. In 2013 the court dismissed two of her claims because they sounded suspiciously like accusations of fraud already aired in news reports and outlined in a draft government complaint. And, as the court observed, most of Lisa’s information appeared to have come from her husband, who had been extensively covered by the news media and who had been a party to related litigation.
Now comes the imaginative part. In her third (and only surviving) claim, Lisa cited the same allegedly fraudulent acts as in the two dismissed claims, but this time she pointed out that the fraudulent acts violated the Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) that Erlanger had signed in 2005. Lisa’s theory was that even if the world knew about the acts in question, no one else had pointed out that the acts amounted to a breach of contract under the CIA.
In dismissing her final claim on March 28, the court observed that as the government knew (a) about the acts in question and (b) about the CIA, then (c) it probably also knew that the acts violated the CIA.
The case is U.S. v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority, E.D. Tenn., Case No. 1:10-CV-322.