Implied Certification and the Quest for Fraud that “Counts” Under the False Claims Act

By Joan H. Krause

[Cross-posted from Hamilton and Griffin on Rights]

Sometimes, we lie when we speak; other times, we lie when we don’t. Striking the right balance is the essence of the Universal Health Services (UHS) case recently argued before the Supreme Court, which challenged the applicability of the False Claims Act (FCA) to situations in which a claimant falsely “implies” compliance with underlying regulatory requirements.

UHS was brought by the parents of a young woman who died after receiving Medicaid-covered (MassHealth) mental health treatment from a clinic that did not satisfy state licensing and supervision regulations. The parents alleged that the claims for payment were fraudulent because they implicitly represented that the clinic was in full compliance with relevant state requirements. The district court dismissed the suit, finding that the staffing and supervision regulations were not “conditions of payment” whose violation would render subsequent claims false under the FCA. The First Circuit reversed, focusing instead on whether UHS had “knowingly represented compliance with a material precondition of payment.” Noting that preconditions need not be “expressly designated,” the court identified a set of regulations that, read together, appeared to limit MassHealth payment to properly supervised care. While such a fact-intensive dispute might at first appear an unlikely candidate for certiorari, UHS was one of several such “implied certification” opinions issued by the federal appellate courts in 2015. Perhaps because of its emotionally compelling facts – the other cases involved, inter alia, the recruitment practices of a for-profit college and a military contractor that falsified marksmanship scores – UHS was chosen as the vehicle to resolve a growing circuit split. Continue reading