The FCA continues to be the federal government's primary civil enforcement tool for investigating allegations that healthcare providers or government contractors defrauded the federal government. In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine the FCA's public disclosure bar and recent cases considering whether disclosures are sufficient to bar FCA claims.
The FCA's public disclosure bar prevents a relator from filing a qui tam complaint based on information previously disclosed to the public, thereby dissuading parasitic lawsuits based on publicly available information. In cases considering the scope of the public disclosure bar, courts have continued to examine the issue of how or to whom information must be disseminated in order to constitute a "public disclosure," which often has resulted in a narrowing of the public disclosure bar's scope in a given case. Such cases marked a shift away from decisions favorable to FCA defendants toward a more nuanced and specific application of the public disclosure bar.
Determining what disclosures are sufficient to bar FCA allegations most often has arisen in the context of analyzing disclosures made to government or regulatory entities. U.S. ex rel. Wilson v. Graham County Soil & Water Conservation Dist., 777 F.3d 691 (4th Cir. 2015), involved allegations of fraud against the government with respect to an Emergency Watershed Protection Program. The district court found that the relator's allegations were previously publicly disclosed in an audit report prepared by county auditors and in an investigation report prepared by the USDA and dismissed the relator's complaint. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court on the grounds that the reports at issue were not "publicly" disclosed because they were disclosed only to governmental agencies. The Fourth Circuit held that "a 'public disclosure' requires that there be some act of disclosure outside the government." The Fourth Circuit noted that "the Government is not the equivalent of the public domain" and that "nothing in the record suggests that either report actually reached the public domain. Notably, the Fourth Circuit clarified that the fact that the reports were accessible to the public through public information laws did not affect its analysis because the reports were never actually requested by or disclosed to the public.
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Bass, Berry & Sims' Inside the FCA blog features news, commentary and thought leadership covering FCA, healthcare fraud and procurement fraud.