A wave of new “whistleblower” laws continues, inspired by the successes of the federal False Claims Act. These new laws include (1) state versions of the federal False Claims Act, and (2) the new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program. At the same time, in 2008 Congress is considering legislation to strengthen the False Claims Act.
This article focuses on the new state False Claims Acts, which mirror the federal False Claims Act in important respects, but can differ in some significant ways. For employees who report fraud against the government and who face adverse employment actions, these new whistleblower laws may provide substantial relief.One of the new state whistleblower laws, the Georgia “State False Medical Claims Act,” became law on May 24, 2007. Participating in the signing ceremony with Governor Sonny Perdue were (shown above from left to right) Carrie Downing, Director of Legislative and External Affairs of the Georgia Department of Community Health; Dr. Rhonda Medows, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health; Inspector General Doug Colburn; Governor Perdue; Rep. Edward Lindsey, sponsor of the State False Medicaid Claims Act; whistleblower lawyer blog author Michael A. Sullivan of Finch McCranie, LLP; and Philip Consuegra, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Lindsey.
These new state False Claims Acts and the federal False Claims Act create civil liability for treble damages and potentially huge penalties for fraud and false claims submitted to the government. They authorize “qui tam” or “whistleblower” lawsuits by employees or other persons, who may share in the government’s recovery, as well as allow employees to recover damages for retaliation. These state False Claims Acts, like the federal Act, have unique procedural requirements that are foreign to most lawyers.
This article explains how the state False Claims Acts work, which itself requires an explanation of the unique and sometimes perplexing federal False Claims Act on which these state Acts are based. This article summarizes the background of the federal False Claims Act, outlines how it operates, and discusses the Act’s increasing use to combat fraud directed at public funds. This article also highlights the important differences between state False Claims Acts and the federal False Claims Act by focusing especially on one example, the new Georgia State False Medicaid Claims Act. Finally, this article also compares other states’ False Claims Acts, their retaliation provisions, and some of the recoveries that states have obtained to date.
I. Why A “False Claims Act”?
“Fraud is perhaps so pervasive and, therefore, costly to the Government due to a lack of deterrence. GAO concluded in its 1981 study that most fraud goes undetected due to the failure of Governmental agencies to effectively ensure accountability on the part of program recipients and Government contractors. The study states:
‘For those who are caught committing fraud, the chances of being prosecuted and eventually going to jail are slim. . . . The sad truth is that crime against the Government often does pay.’ ”
Fraud-and allegations of fraud-plague government spending at every level. Today, as the federal and state governments struggle to fund the billions of dollars spent annually on health care through Medicare and Medicaid; national security and local security efforts; Hurricane Katrina and other disaster relief; and government grants and programs of every description, there is no shortage of opportunities for fraud against the public fisc.
The federal False Claims Act has been the federal government’s “primary” weapon to recover losses from those who defraud it. The Act not only authorizes the government to pursue actions for treble damages and penalties, but also empowers and provides incentives to private citizens to file suit on the government’s behalf as “qui tam relators.”
Over the past 20 years, recoveries for the federal government have grown dramatically since Congress amended the Act in 1986 to encourage greater use of the qui tam provisions, as part of a “coordinated effort of both the [g]overnment and the citizenry [to] decrease this wave of defrauding public funds.”
The federal False Claims Act has been successful in recovering billions of dollars, increasingly through qui tam lawsuits brought by private citizens. In light of the federal Act’s successes, Congress in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 created a large financial “carrot” for states that adopt state versions of the False Claims Act. Any state that passes its own “False Claims” statute with qui tam or whistleblower provisions that are at least as effective as those of the federal Act becomes eligible for a 10% increase in its share of Medicaid fraud recoveries.
Thus, the impetus for states to enact a False Claims Act is this incentive of more dollars. In 2007 and 2008 to date, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin have joined the 16 other states that have enacted some version of a “False Claims” statute. Many other states are considering enacting similar statutes of their own so that they, too, qualify for increased funds under the Deficit Reduction Act.
II. Background of the Federal False Claims Act
Although the False Claims Act may be the best known qui tam statute, it is far from being the first. Qui tam actions date back to English law in the 13th and 14th Centuries. This tradition took root in the American colonies and, by 1789, states and the new federal government had authorized qui tam actions in various contexts.
According to one writer:
“In the early years of the Nation, the qui tam mechanism served a need at a time when federal and state governments were fairly small and unable to devote significant resources to law enforcement. As the role of the Government expanded, the utility of private assistance in law enforcement did not diminish. If anything, changes in the role and size of Government created a greater role for this method of law enforcement. “
Birth of the False Claims Act: The Civil War prompted Congress to enact the original False Claims Act in 1863. As government spending on war materials increased, dishonest government contractors took advantage of opportunities to defraud the United States government. “Through haste, carelessness, or criminal collusion, the state and federal officers accepted almost every offer and paid almost any price for the commodities, regardless of character, quality, or quantity.”
One senator explained how the qui tam provisions of the Act were intended to work:
“The effect of the [qui tam provisions] is simply to hold out to a confederate a strong temptation to betray his co-conspirator, and bring him to justice. The bill offers, in short, a reward to the informer who comes into court and betrays his co-conspirator, if he be such; but it is not confined to that class. . . . In short, sir, I have based the [qui tam provision] upon the old fashioned idea of holding out a temptation and setting a rogue to catch a rogue, which is the safest and most expeditious way I have ever discovered of bringing rogues to justice.”
The original Act provided for double damages, plus a $2,000 forfeiture for each claim submitted. If a private citizen or “relator” used the qui tam provision to file suit, the government had no right to intervene or control the litigation. A successful “relator” was entitled to one-half of the government’s recovery.
The Act survived in substantially its original form until World War II. In a classic and oft-quoted 1885 passage, one court rejected the argument that courts should limit the statute’s reach on the grounds that qui tam actions were poor public policy:
“The statute is a remedial one. It is intended to protect the treasury against the hungry and unscrupulous host that encompasses it on every side, and should be construed accordingly. It was passed upon the theory, based on experience as old as modern civilization that one of the least expensive and most effective means of preventing frauds on the treasury is to make the perpetrators of them liable to actions by private persons acting, if you please, under the strong stimulus of personal ill will or the hope of gain. Prosecutions conducted by such means compare with the ordinary methods as the enterprising privateer does to the slow-going public vessel. “
“Over-Correction” of the False Claims Act: Until World War II, perhaps because of the relatively small amount of government spending compared to the modern era, the Act did not attract much attention. World War II then spawned various qui tam actions over defense procurement fraud. Some relators sought to exploit what was effectively an unintended “loophole” in the Act that permitted them to file “parasitic” lawsuits. These relators simply copied the information contained in criminal indictments, when the relator had no information to bring to the government’s attention independently.
In 1943 the Supreme Court in United States ex rel. Marcus v. Hess held that it was up to Congress to make any desired changes in the Act to eliminate “parasitic” lawsuits. Congress amended the Act that same year to do so. The 1943 Amendments eliminated jurisdiction over qui tam actions that were based on evidence or information in the government’s possession, even if the relator had provided the information to the government.
In addition, Congress in 1943 also gave the government the right to intervene and litigate cases filed by qui tam relators. The 1943 amendments also dramatically reduced incentives for qui tam suits to be filed, by reducing to 10% the maximum amount of the recovery that a relator could receive if the government intervened, with a 25% maximum award if the government did not intervene and the private citizen alone obtained a judgment or settlement.
The 1986 Amendments Establish the Modern False Claims Act: By the 1980s, both the Justice Department and congressional leaders realized that the 1943 amendments and “several restrictive court interpretations” had made the False Claims Act ineffective. Congress acted decisively in 1986 to revitalize the False Claims Act.
A representative of a business association testified that the 1986 Amendments were:
“supportive of improved integrity in military contracting. The bill adds no new layers of bureaucracy, new regulations, or new Federal police powers. Instead, the bill takes the sensible approach of increasing penalties for wrongdoing, and rewarding those private individuals who take significant personal risks to bring such wrongdoing to light.”
The 1986 Amendments increased financial and other incentives for qui tam relators to bring suits on behalf of the government. Congress increased the damages recoverable by the government from double damages to treble damages, and increased the monetary penalties to a minimum of $5,000 and a maximum of $10,000 per false claim. The 1986 Amendments also increased the qui tam relator’s share of recovery to a range of 15% to 25% in cases in which the government intervenes, and 25% to 30% in cases in which the government does not intervene, plus attorney’s fees and costs.
The 1986 Amendments also clarified the standard of proof required and made defendants liable for acting with “deliberate ignorance” or “reckless disregard” of the truth. Congress also lengthened the statute of limitations to as much as ten years, modernized jurisdiction and venue provisions, and made other changes as well.
III. Overview of How the Modern False Claims Act Works (with Comparisons to Some State False Claims Acts)
A. Conduct Prohibited
The federal False Claims Act imposes civil liability under several different theories, only four of which are generally used:
First, the Act makes liable any person who knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a “false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval” to the federal government. “Claim” is broadly defined to include not only submissions made directly to the federal government, but also “any request or demand . . . for money or property” made to a “contractor, grantee, or other recipient” if the federal government provides any portion of the money or property in question.
Second, the Act creates liability for using a “false record or statement” to obtain payment of a false claim. It imposes liability on any person who “knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement to get a false or fraudulent claim paid or approved by the government.”
Third, the False Claims Act imposes liability under a “conspiracy” provision. Any person who “conspires to defraud the Government by getting a false or fraudulent claim allowed or paid” is also liable under the Act.
Fourth, since the government also can be defrauded when a private entity underpays or avoids paying an obligation to the government, the modern Act contains what is known as a “reverse false claim” provision. It creates liability for any person who “knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement to conceal, avoid, or decrease an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the Government.” For example, a company that is obligated to pay royalties to the government under an oil lease can be held liable if it uses false records or statements to pay less than what it owes.
State False Claims Acts compared: At least these same four bases of liability are set forth in the state False Claims Acts, including in the new section 49-4-168.1(a) of the new Georgia State False Medicaid Claims Act. In addition, several states-including Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wisconsin- have expanded on the federal Act’s four commonly-used theories of liability listed above. These state laws create a new legal theory for holding liable a person or entity who is the “beneficiary” of the “inadvertent submission” of a false or fraudulent claim, if that person or entity fails to disclose (and presumably correct) the false claim after discovering it.
Moreover, Tennessee’s False Claims Act reaches beyond false or fraudulent “claims” and imposes liability for false or fraudulent “conduct” that apparently does not necessarily involve “claims” submitted to the state. This state law adds a new category of liability for “any false or fraudulent conduct, representation, or practice in order to procure anything of value directly or indirectly from the state or any political subdivision.”
“Claim” is also broadly defined in the state Acts. In fact, the Georgia statute’s definition of “claim” eliminates a point of dispute about the federal statute by making clear that it applies to “claims” submitted not only to the government, but also to other persons or entities, as long as the Medicaid program provides any portion of the money or property at issue.
B. Retaliation Protection for Employees
The federal False Claims Act also creates a cause of action for damages for retaliation against employees who assist in the investigation and prosecution of False Claims Act cases. This cause of action belongs to the employee alone, and the government does not share in any recovery for retaliation. The federal retaliation provision is as follows:
“Any employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment by his or her employer because of lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in furtherance of an action under this section, including investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this section, shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole. Such relief shall include reinstatement with the same seniority status such employee would have had but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. An employee may bring an action in the appropriate district court of the United States for the relief provided in this subsection.” 31 U.S.C.A. § 3730(h).
State False Claims Acts compared: The state False Claims Acts also contain a “retaliation” provision that provides at least the rights and protections of the federal Act. The New Jersey False Claims Act goes further. It authorizes, “where appropriate, punitive damages,” and affirmatively prohibits employers from attempting to restrict employees’ abilities to report evidence of fraud to the government.
C. Broad Definition of “Knowing” and “Knowingly”
The federal Act’s “scienter” requirement of “knowingly” presenting false claims, or “knowingly” using false records or statements, is broadly defined as well. A person is liable not only when acting with “actual knowledge,” but also when acting in “deliberate ignorance” or “reckless disregard” of the truth or falsity of the information in question. The Act also makes explicit that no “specific intent to defraud” need be shown to impose liability, and thus rejects this traditional “fraud” standard.
State False Claims Acts compared: The state False Claims Acts typically incorporate the same broad definitions of “knowing” and “knowingly,” and likewise makes clear that “[n]o proof of specific intent to defraud is required.” States have no leeway in this regard if they wish to qualify for the additional funds under the Deficit Reduction Act. In fact, when the Georgia bill was under consideration in 2007, Indiana’s statute had already been determined not to qualify that state for additional funds under the Deficit Reduction Act, precisely because the Indiana statute did not define “knowing” and “knowingly” as broadly as does the federal Act.
D. Damages and Penalties Under the False Claims Act
Liability to defendants in False Claims Act cases can be enormous. First, the Act provides for treble damages-“3 times the amount of damages which the Government sustains because of the act of that person.”
Second, the Act now provides for a civil penalty of $5,000 to $10,000 for each false claim submitted, an amount that has been adjusted for inflation for more recent claims to $5,500 to $11,000 per violation.
State False Claims Acts: The state Acts likewise provide for treble damages and penalties that are typically $5,500 to $11,000 for each false claim submitted, as set forth in Georgia’s Act in section 49-4-168.1(a).
E. Some of the Peculiar Jurisdictional and Procedural Requirements
In Qui Tam Cases
The False Claims Act establishes a wholly different process for qui tam actions from the usual one encountered in civil litigation. The Act has unique jurisdictional and procedural requirements.
The qui tam relator brings the lawsuit for the relator and for the United States, in the name of the United States. The Complaint must be filed “in camera and under seal,” and must remain under seal for at least 60 days. The relator must serve the government under Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure with a “copy of the complaint and written disclosure of substantially all material evidence and information the person possesses.”
In reality, courts regularly extend the seal for many months (or even years) at the government’s request. The purpose is to permit the government to evaluate and investigate the case and make its decision as to whether to intervene. Thus, it is not uncommon for the defendant to receive no notice for more than a year that it has been sued in a qui tam action, even as the government meets with the relator and relator’s counsel to develop the case against the defendant. Nonetheless, defense counsel may infer the existence of a qui tam action when the client or its employees are contacted by government agents.
If the government elects to intervene, it assumes primary responsibility for prosecuting the case, although the relator remains a party with certain rights to participate. The defendant is served once the complaint is unsealed, and has 20 days after service to respond.
If the government intervenes, it is not “bound by an act of the person bringing the action.” The government can file its own complaint and can expand or amend the allegations made. Once it has intervened, the government also has the right to dismiss the case notwithstanding the relator’s objections, but the relator has a right to be heard on the issue.
The government may petition the court before intervention for a partial lifting of the seal in order to disclose the complaint to the defendant and discuss resolution of the case, even before it decides whether to intervene.
If the government elects not to intervene, the relator has the right to “conduct the action.” Although the relator must prosecute the case without the government, as stated the relator is entitled to a larger share of any recovery, 25-30%, in non-intervened cases.
After intervention, the government is authorized to settle the case even if the relator objects, but the relator has a right to a “fairness” hearing on any such settlement. In actuality, a relator’s objections are highly unlikely to stop a settlement that the government, after intervention, seeks to make.
The Act states that, when there is an action “based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions” in one of three specified categories of places where disclosures can occur, the court shall lack jurisdiction over the action, unless “the person bringing the action is an original source of the information.” The three specified places of “public disclosure” are “ in a criminal, civil, or administrative hearing,  in a congressional, administrative, or Government Accounting Office report, hearing, audit, or investigation, or  from the news media.” (Much litigation has occurred over this provision, and a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this article.)
State False Claims Acts compared: The state False Claims Acts establish essentially the same procedures. The Georgia Act directs that the complaint and “written disclosure of substantially all material evidence and information shall be served on the Attorney General.” The complaint must be filed in camera and shall remain under seal for at least 60 days, and it is not served on the defendant while it remains under seal. The Attorney General may move to extend the time under seal in order to investigate the allegations of the complaint, all pursuant to section 49-4-168.1(c).
The Georgia Act arguably goes further than the federal Act in expressly recognizing in section 49-4-168.2(d)(2) that the Attorney General “may dismiss the civil action, notwithstanding the objections of the person initiating the civil action, if the person has been notified by the Attorney General of the filing of the motion and the court has provided the person with an opportunity for a hearing on the motion.” In the legislative hearings attended by this writer, the bill’s sponsor discussed how this provision permits the Attorney General to have a desired degree of control over actions by private citizens under the new Act, and to perform a “screening” function.
In addition, section 49-4-168.2(f) of the Georgia law expressly recognizes that the Attorney General may decline to intervene, but later reconsider and be permitted by the court to intervene for any purpose, including to seek dismissal of the action. Some other state Acts have similar provisions.
A substantive change from the federal Act is that, in Georgia’s new section 49-4-168.2(j), the Georgia Act prohibits “public employees” and “public officials” from bringing on action based on either “(A) [a]llegations of wrongdoing or misconduct which such person had a duty or obligation to report or investigate within the scope of his or her public employment or office; or (B) [i]nformation or records to which such person had access as a result of his or her public employment or office.” Under current federal case law, public employees may bring whistleblower actions under the federal Act.
IV. The Trend of Recent Recoveries Under the False Claims Act
Over the past two decades since the modern False Claims Act was established through the 1986 Amendments, the federal government’s recoveries of dollars have grown astronomically, especially in health care cases. The Department of Justice statistics tell the story:
In 1987, the government’s recoveries in qui tam cases totaled zero, presumably because the 1986 Amendments had just taken effect; and total recoveries under the False Claims Act were just $86 million. The following year, qui tam and other False Claims Act settlements and judgments began a steady climb upward, exceeding $200 million by 1989, and $300 million by 1991. By 1994, the government’s recoveries broke the $1 billion mark for the first time, with $380 million of that amount attributable to qui tam case recoveries alone.
In 2000, the government recovered more than $1.5 billion, of which $1.2 billion was derived from qui tam actions. In 2001, the government recovered more than $1.7 billion, with almost $1.2 billion of that amount from qui tam cases. With the exception of 2004, in each year since 2000 the government has recovered more than a billion dollars per year under the False Claims Act, and qui tam actions were responsible for the lion’s share of those recoveries. For example, in 2003, government recoveries exceeded $2.2 billion, of which $1.4 billion came from qui tam cases. Similarly, in 2005, of the government’s total recovery of $1.4 billion, $1.1 billion of that amount came from qui tam cases.
In 2006, the Justice Department recovered a record of more than $3.1 billion in settlements and judgments for fraud and false claims. Of this record $3.1 billion in recoveries, 72% came from the health care field; 20% from defense; and 8% from other sources. Health care alone accounted for $2.2 billion in settlements and judgments, which included a $920 million settlement with Tenet Healthcare Corporation, the country’s second-largest hospital chain. Defense procurement fraud amounted to $609 million in recoveries, which included a $565 million settlement with the Boeing Company.
It is interesting that, while defense procurement fraud both inspired the Act and was the largest source of recoveries at the time of the 1986 Amendments, health care cases now lead in recoveries, as health care costs have grown as a percentage of the federal budget. By industry, in 1987 the defense industry was the largest source of cases under the False Claims Act. The health care industry accounted for only 12% of cases under the False Claims Act in 1987; that percentage grew to 54% by 1997.
Many health care fraud cases have addressed over-billing or up-coding, fraudulent cost reporting, billing for services not provided, and failure to furnish the required “quality of care.” The breakdown of the Department of Justice statistics shows that government recoveries in the health care field have grown from less than $2 million in 1988 to more than $1.8 billion in 2003. Although the amounts recovered rise and fall each year, from 2001–2006 government recoveries from the health care field exceeded $1 billion in five out of six years.
The trend continued in 2007, as the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it expected $2.9 billion in recoveries for Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health and human services programs for the first half of fiscal year 2007.
In short, the health care industry now consistently accounts for the vast majority of settlements and judgments obtained by the federal government for fraud and false claims.
V. Other States’ Experiences With Their Own False Claims Acts
As noted, in 2007 and 2008 to date, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wisconsin joined the 16 other states that have a False Claims statute, and many other states are considering similar laws. The financial incentives of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 have not only prompted states that had lacked False Claims statutes to enact them, but also have caused many states wishing to qualify for the additional funds to amend their existing False Claims statutes.
In essence, while states may enact “tougher” or more comprehensive laws than the federal False Claims Act, states with “weaker” or less effective laws-as judged by the standards of the Deficit Reduction Act-will not qualify for the additional funds.
Seven of the first ten states whose statutes were scrutinized by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) quickly learned this lesson when OIG disapproved their state statutes. These included California (which lacked a minimum penalty), Florida (which omitted “fraudulent” from its definition of claims), Indiana (which did not make defendants liable for “deliberate ignorance” and “reckless disregard”), Louisiana (which did not permit the state to intervene in cases, set too low a percentage for whistleblowers to recover, and set no minimum penalty), Michigan (which omitted penalties and liability for decreasing or avoiding an obligation to pay the government, i.e., a “reverse false claim”), Nevada (which had a statute of limitations too short and a minimum penalty too low), and Texas (which did not permit the whistleblower to litigate the case if the state did not, and which provided for lower percentage shares to whistleblowers and lower penalties). Most of these states have gone back to the drawing board to correct these deficiencies.
In sum, the Deficit Reduction Act has set minimum standards for state False Claims Acts for states wishing to receive these additional funds. In plain English, the state laws must protect at least Medicaid funds, and they must be at least as effective as the federal False Claims Act, especially in rewarding and facilitating qui tam actions for false or fraudulent claims, with damages and penalties no less than those under the federal Act.
A. How the State False Claims Acts Compare
Many state False Claims laws have been in transition in 2007 and 2008. States whose laws have been “disapproved” by OIG have begun to amend their statutes to meet the requirements for obtaining the additional funds under the Deficit Reduction Act, as Florida and Texas already have accomplished in 2007. While these laws are in flux, some significant differences from the “Medicaid-only” laws such as Georgia’s new State False Medicaid Claims Act are likely to remain.
First, the majority of state False Claims statutes protect the state’s funds generally, rather than protecting only state Medicaid funds, as Georgia’s new State False Medicaid Claims Act is limited. Just as the federal False Claims Act is not limited to health care fraud, but encompasses fraud against the government generally (except for Internal Revenue violations, which are now covered by the new IRS Whistleblower program), many states have used these statutes to protect public funds in general from fraud. Those states include California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Tennessee.
Because states have this leeway under the Deficit Reduction Act to pass laws that may be “tougher” or more “effective” than the federal Act, some states have set the statutory penalties higher than the federal level of $5,500 to $11,000 per claim. For instance, under the New York law enacted in 2007, penalties range from $6,000 to $12,000 for each false or fraudulent claim.
Some other states authorize a higher percentage of the state’s recovery that a relator (whistleblower) may receive, instead of the percentages that the federal False Claims Act authorizes (which the Georgia statute also uses): 15-25% of the recovery in cases in which the government intervenes, and 25-30% in cases in which the government does not intervene. For example, Nevada’s percentages are 15-33% in intervened cases, and 25-50% in non-intervened cases; Tennessee’s are 25-33% in intervened cases and 35-50% in non-intervened cases; and Montana’s range from 15-50%.
B. Notable Results Obtained by Other States Under Their False Claim Statutes
Most qui tam cases filed under the state False Claims statutes have related to health care. Many are “global” Medicaid cases that were first developed in federal courts as Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases and that concerned a nationwide fraud which had been investigated by multiple federal and state jurisdictions.
Most of the state settlements have come from “piggy backing” on federal law enforcement efforts and from joining in global settlements. Experience with some of the newer state statutes is too recent to evaluate, but many states have reported the desire for more resources to develop such cases.
Texas’s experience is worth special mention because the Texas Attorney General’s Office has been especially effective in pursuing cases involving false claims in health care. Texas’s statute has allowed it to recover more than $216 million in health care fraud cases since 1999.
Because the Texas Attorney General’s Office has been a leader in recovering damages for health care fraud by using the Texas statute, it was perhaps ironic that OIG initially “disapproved” the highly successful Texas law before it was amended in 2007 to comply with the Deficit Reduction Act standards.
California, whose statute is not limited to health care, recovered $43.1 million in 2005 in a state False Claims action alleging fraud in the installation and monitoring of heating and cooling equipment in San Francisco schools. In 2001, California recovered $31.9 million in an action alleging fraudulent billing during construction of the Los Angeles subway system. Similarly, California recovered $30 million in 2000 in a matter alleging the knowing sale of defective computers to the state and political subdivisions. In 1998, California recovered $187 million in an action alleging the improper retention of unclaimed municipal bonds.
We do not know with any precision the dollar amount of fraud that affects state government spending, or how much of that fraud can be prevented through effective use of a state False Claims Act. For now, the states that have passed False Claims Acts will see how much of their fraud losses can be recovered through these new laws.
This trend of new state False Claims Acts is immediately important-and challenging-to any lawyer, especially those who practice in employment law or in the industries that receive government funds. Because these new laws are based on the federal False Claims Act, lawyers should gain at least a basic understanding of the federal False Claims Act on these state laws are based. Considering the results obtained under the federal Act and the Texas law, the new state False Claims Acts should be significant in recovering damages for fraud and false claims, as well as in protecting employees who become whistleblowers or relators through the retaliation provisions of these laws.