The Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida appears to have rejected recent direction from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal to deny a motion to dismiss in a False Claims Act case.
In United States ex rel. Napoli et al. v. Premier Hospitalists PL, et al. the whistle-blowers alleged a hospitalist company and its owner violated the False Claims Act through the submission of fraudulent claims to government payers. The qui tam relators described the scheme in great detail, but failed to identify with particularity any claims submitted to the government. The trial court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to plead fraud with particularity, ruling
In 2002 the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that False Claims Act cases must be plead with specificity pursuant to Rule 9(b), saying that in a FCA complaint, " some indicia of reliability must be given in the complaint to support the allegation of an actual false claim for payment being made to the Government." The court went on to say that a False Claims Act complaint must support the allegation of "an actual false claim for payment being made to the Government."
The next year, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its unpublished opinion in United States ex rel. Hill v. Morehouse Medical Associates, Inc. In Hill the court allowed a relaxed pleading standard where the whistle-blower was a corporate insider without access to detailed information. It ruled that a qui tam whistleblower who showed sufficient indicia of reliability, even in the absence of specific claims, could meet the Rule 9(b) fraud with particularity standard.
In 2006, in United States ex rel. Atkins v. McInteer, and again in 2010 in United States ex rel. Sanchez v. Lymphatx Inc., the Court of Appeals stated that Clausen, a published opinion, supersede Hill, and that the Clausen specificity requirements must be followed.
In 2012, in a reported case, United States ex rel. Matheny v. Medco Health Solutions Inc., the same court said:
In order to plead the submission of a false claim with particularity, a relator must identify the particular document and statement alleged to be false, who made or used it, when the statement was made, how the statement was false, and what the defendants obtained as a result.
This seemed to be a clear return to the Clausen standard, requiring pleading of a specific false claim submitted to a government payer.
In 2014, in United States ex rel. Mastej v. Health Management Associates, Inc., et al., the court appeared to flip-flop, ruling a relator:
with direct, first-hand knowledge of the defendant's submission of false claims gained through her employment with the defendants may have a sufficient basis for asserting that the defendants actually submitted false claims.
Then, in 2016, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling in United States ex rel. Jallali v. Sun Healthcare Group, et al. In Jallali, the qui tam relator asked the Court of Appeals to evaluate its pleading based upon the Mastej standard for Rule 9(b), rather than the standard found in Clausen. The court affirmed quite clearly that its rules state "(u)npublished opinions are not considered binding precedent, but they may be cited as persuasive authority." Clausen was the standard to be followed, not Mastej. The court stated:
Absent an allegation, stated with particularity, that the Defendants presented a false claim for payment to the Government, Jallali has failed to state claim for relief under the FCA.
The court in Napoli attempted to thread the needle between Clausen and Hill by stating it did not find them to be inconsistent. Unfortunately, it relied upon the unpublished Mastej opinion to support that conclusion. Defendants' counsel did provide a copy of the Jallali decision in a supplemental filing.
There seems little doubt that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will continue to hew to its rule that unpublished opinion do not supersede the pleading standard it enunciated in Clausen. It remains to be seen what will ultimately happen in the Napoli case.