Saturday, December 7, 2013

United States of America ex rel. Cornelius Harris et al. v. Dialysis Corporation of America (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed:  October 2, 2013
Opinion by Judge James K. Bredar

Held:  Relators brought four claims alleging Defendant violated the False Claims Act (“FCA”).  The Court held that Relators stated one viable claim for relief for Defendant’s alteration of Body Mass Index (“BMI”) numbers  in relation to Defendant’s billing the U.S. government for medical claims because BMI information was material to the Government’s payment approval decisions.  Relators’ three other claims were dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted or lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Facts:  Relators Harris and Boonie worked for Defendant Dialysis Corporation of America ("DCA") for approximately one year and both former employees’ responsibilities related to billing. 

In their suit against DCA Relators alleged Defendant violated four provisions of the FCA, 31 U.S.C. §3729 et seq. by knowingly presenting false or fraudulent claims for payment or approval to the Government, knowingly making false records or statements to get false or fraudulent claims paid or approved by the Government, conspiring to defraud the Government by getting false or fraudulent claims paid, and knowingly making false records or statements to conceal, avoid, or decrease obligations to pay the Government.  Specifically, Relators alleged Defendant altered Social Security numbers on medical claims, changed patients’ BMI numbers on medical claims, overbilled for Epogen, and overbilled D.C. and Ohio Medicaid.

Defendant moved to dismiss the Relators' complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.  Defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted in part and denied in part.

Analysis:  The Court first analyzed Relators’ allegation that Defendant altered Social Security numbers on Medicare claims.  The Court examined whether the alleged inaccuracy of the Social Security numbers was material to the Government’s decision to pay for or approve the claims, because the governing standard in the Fourth Circuit at the time this case was filed required a false statement to be material to the Government’s payment approval decision.  UnitedStates ex rel. Berge v. Bd. Trs., Univ. of Ala., 104 F.3d 1453, 1459-60 (4th Cir. 1997).  A false statement is “material” in the context of FCA claims if it “has a natural tendency to influence agency action or is capable of influencing agency action.”  Id. at 1460.  Since the Government relies on information other than just Social Security numbers to process Medicare claims, the Court found no plausible inference that inaccurate Social Security numbers were capable of influencing agency action.  The Court could not infer that Defendant made false, material statements to the Government in violation of the FCA, and therefore Relators’ allegations as to Social Security numbers failed to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).

The Court then investigated Relators’ claim that Defendant changed patients’ BMI numbers on medical claims in order that patients would qualify for Medicare reimbursement for excess dialysis treatments.  Relators stated that on multiple occasions, they personally observed Defendant enter the billing system and alter BMI numbers without the proper physician authentication.  Because a patient’s BMI number must be above a certain threshold for excess dialysis treatments to qualify for Medicare reimbursement, the Court found that these false statements were material and Relators stated a valid claim upon which relief could be granted.

Next, the Court analyzed Relators’ claim that Defendant overbilled for Epogen.  The Court found that this claim failed under both Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Rule 12(b)(6).  The claim failed under Rule 12(b)(1) because the first-to-file bar contained in the False Claims Act prevents bringing false claims actions related to civil actions for false claims already filed.  31 U.S.C.A. 3730(b)(5).  The Fourth Circuit follows a “same material elements” test when considering whether a fraud claim is barred under the first-to-file bar.  United States ex rel. Carter v. HalliburtonCo., 710 F.3d 171, 181-82 (4th Cir. 2013).  This claim failed because when Relators’ claim was filed, another case against Defendant was before the Court alleging the same material elements for overbilling of Epogen.

Finally, the Court considered the claim that Defendant overbilled D.C. and Ohio Medicaid.  Because Relators did not allege this fraud claim with particularity, the claim failed to meet the pleading standards of Rule 9 (b) and was dismissed.

The full opinion is available in PDF here.

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