Chiding parties, court grants doctor sanctions for manufacturer’s failure to disclose witnesses

In an animated opinion, a judge grants a request for sanctions against Boston Scientific for failure to disclose witnesses after a long history of discovery disputes.

Noting that it was “[c]learly. . . not enamored with the parties’ conduct,” a district court judge in Minnesota found that Boston Scientific Corporation (BSC), a medical device manufacturer, failed to fully disclose certain witnesses and therefore granted, in part, a doctor’s motion for sanctions in a False Claims Act (FCA) (31 U.S.C. §3729 et seq.) action. Although the court found that both parties “share the blame as to certain discovery woes,” it found that the medical device manufacturer engaged in a shell game by failing to disclose four individuals as having specific knowledge of certain relevant information (U.S. ex rel Higgins v. Boston Scientific Corp., October 16, 2019, Rau, S).

Discovery proceedings

Initially, the doctor filed a qui tamaction on behalf of the government, alleging that the manufacturer violated the FCA. The doctor claimed that the manufacturer sold defective medical devices and that it provided kickbacks. Following the outcome of several procedural motions, the doctor filed his Second Amended Complaint. The court began the road of guiding the parties through discovery. Initially, the parties appeared to work cooperatively and productively, parsing out electronically stored information (ESI) search terms and custodians. However, later, the parties reported that they were at an “impasse” regarding certain issues. The court provided a step-by-timeline of discovery, including agreements and disputes. At some point, it became apparent that discovery had broken down. During the course of discovery, the doctor filed several motions to compel. In each instance, the court found in the doctor’s favor.

Later, the doctor raised several issues, including the manufacturer’s last-minute amendment to its initial disclosure. Specifically, on the last day of discovery, the manufacturer disclosed seven new individuals it might use to support its claims or defenses, four of which had information about FDA correspondence and submissions. Those four, along with others, were not disclosed as custodians. The doctor subsequently filed this motion for sanctions.

The court found that the manufacturer left off from its initial disclosure the individual who was a “central witness” regarding the manufacturer’s communications with the FDA about the relevant medical devices, along with several other individuals. The court rejected the manufacturer’s contention that it had no affirmative obligation to amend its disclosure to add the individuals. With respect to one individual, the manufacturer claimed he was referenced in hundreds of documents, but according to the court, those represented only a small number of the total documents produced. In its ruling, the court found the manufacturer’s logic was flawed. Among other things, the court questioned how, if the manufacturer made a truthful and fulsome response to the government’s FCA investigation, it failed to recognize the import of the newly-disclosed individual’s knowledge. Instead, the court said it was convinced that the manufacturer engaged in malfeasance.

According to the court, manufacturer misled the doctor. The initial disclosures were the foundation for all discovery, and the manufacturer’s failure to disclose the newly-disclosed individuals prejudiced the doctor throughout discovery. The court suggested that the manufacturer knew what it was doing. The court claimed that the manufacturer’s failure to disclose was not an oversight, but a strategy that coincided with baseless legal arguments regarding that and other discovery issues, leading to gamesmanship the court said it wound not reward.

Turning to the sanctions to be levied, the court said that rules of procedure makes exclusion of evidence the default, self-executing sanction in the event a party fails to comply disclosure rules. However, the rule permits imposition of alternative sanctions. In this instance, exclusion of the witnesses’ testimony would be detrimental to the doctor and would reward the manufacturer. Accordingly, the court ordered the manufacturer to produce documents from the newly-disclosed witnesses and the doctor was granted leave to depose the four individuals. Additionally, the manufacturer was barred from using documents or testimony that it could not affirmatively show was produced to the doctor during discovery or in light of the ruling at hand. The manufacturer was also ordered to pay the doctor’s costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in filing the motion for sanctions and for the additional discovery.

Fraud perpetrators receive lengthy prison sentences for false claims, kickbacks

Two health care fraud scheme perpetrators in separate cases successfully prosecuted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) have been sentenced for their crimes. A physician who accepted kickbacks and committed tax fraud received a sentence of seven years in prison. A Detroit medical biller received a sentence of 50 months in prison for her role in billing $7.3 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid.

Physician

A Pennsylvania physician was sentenced to 84 months in prison with three years’ supervised release, 60 months of which run concurrently with a sentence imposed by a Florida district court. The DOJ presented information to the court showing that the physician, who practiced anesthesiology and pain management, owned and operated pain management clinics. The physician conspired to receive kickbacks from a drug testing lab in exchange for referring patients to the lab, totaling over $2.3 million. Medicare and Medicaid paid the lab over $4.5 million based on the physician’s referrals. The physician also failed to remit employment taxes for a corporation of which he was a 100-percent shareholder.

Medical biller

At trial, the DOJ showed that the medical biller submitted fraudulent bills on behalf of a physician for services that she knew could not have been rendered or were not rendered as billed as part of a $7.3 million fraud scheme. She received 6 percent of the total billings received from Medicare. She was sentenced to 50 months in prison with one year of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $3.2 million jointly and severally with co-defendants.

8 years of illegal kickbacks costs Hospice Plus $12M

A group of hospices owned by Curo Health Services and operating under the Hospice Plus brand agreed to pay over $12 million to resolve allegations that they paid kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals in violation of the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. §3729). The scheme came to light after several whistleblowers filed qui tam lawsuits on behalf of the United States, consolidated as U.S. ex rel. Capshaw v. White. The United States had previously partially intervened in the lawsuit against the corporate defendants for purpose of settlement; the suit remains pending against two former Curo executives, and the United States requested permission to intervene in the remainder.

Kickbacks were allegedly paid to (1) American Physician Housecalls, a physician house call company in the form of sham loans, free equity interest in another entity, stock dividends, and free rental space; and (2) to medical providers, including doctors and nurses, in the form of cash, gift cards, and other valuable items. According to the consolidated whistleblower complaints, the house call company allegedly received kickbacks from 2007 through 2012, while providers allegedly received payments from 2007 through 2014.

The involved hospices primarily operate in and around Dallas, Texas, and were first known as Hospice Plus, Goodwin Hospice, and Phoenix Hospice. The three companies were purchased by Curo Health Services in 2010 and consolidated under the Hospice Plus brand.

Home health owner/operator pleads guilty to Texas-sized Medicaid fraud

Billed as the largest provider attendant services (PAS) fraud in Texas history, the owner/operator of five Houston-area home health agencies pleaded guilty in a $17 million fraud conspiracy case, the last conspirator in the scheme to plead guilty. The owner/operator pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to defraud Medicare and the Texas Medicaid-funded home and community-based service and primary home care programs and one count of conspiring to launder money. His sentencing is scheduled for June 22, 2017.

The owner/operator, whose co-conspirators included his daughter and other family members, admitted to the following:

1. obtaining patients for the home health agencies by paying illegal kickbacks to patient recruiters and office employees;
2. paying cash, checks, Western Union, and Moneygram funds to Medicare and Medicaid patients for receiving services from the home health agencies in exchange for using their Medicare and Medicaid numbers to bill for home health and PAS services;
3. paying patients for recruiting other Medicaid and Medicaid patients to the home health agencies;
4. paying physicians illegal kickbacks for referring and certifying Medicare and Medicaid patients for home health and PAS services; and
5. using fraudulently-obtained money from Medicare and Medicaid to pay the illegal kickbacks to promote the conspiracies and to ensure that they would continue.

Over $17 million in fraudulent claims were submitted to Medicare and Medicaid and the conspirators received approximately $16 million in payments from the programs.