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On October 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied a petition for a panel rehearing en banc in a False Claims Act (FCA) suit that was dismissed in 2020. The whistleblower suit, filed in 2019, alleged violations of the U.S.’s sanctions on Iran by exchanging foreign currency for U.S. dollars on behalf of Iranian and related terrorist entities. In July 2020, the whistleblower suit was dismissed after the court agreed with U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York’s motion to dismiss because the compliant was “legally deficient as it is premised on an incorrect legal theory of liability that is inconsistent with both the FCA and the law regarding civil forfeiture.” The plaintiff appealed to the 2nd Circuit arguing that the district court needed to hold a hearing; however, the 2nd Circuit found the suit had been properly dismissed and that the judge considered extensive briefing before making the determination of the dismissal.
On August 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of a whistleblower False Claims Act (FCA) case, holding that FCA qui tam relator complaints may be dismissed upon the government’s motion without a hearing, provided the district court consider the parties’ arguments. The plaintiff qui tam here alleged that a bank (defendant) failed to pay penalties to the government for violating economic sanctions. Plaintiff’s complaint specifically alleged that defendant facilitated illegal transactions violating economic sanctions and defrauded the government by concealing the extent of its illegal activities during negotiation of a deferred prosecution agreement. In a summary order without precedential effect, the 2nd Circuit upheld the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint.
Plaintiff’s complaint was initially dismissed by the district court following a motion to dismiss by the government, which intervened in the action to argue that the complaint should be dismissed because it lacked merit and would waste government resources. Consideration of plaintiff’s appeal of the dismissal was delayed until after the Supreme Court issued a decision in Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc., a different FCA case raising applicable issues regarding when the government has the authority to force the dismissal of an FCA case brought by a whistleblower.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Polansky, the 2nd Circuit upheld the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint, reasoning that district court properly dismissed the qui tam relator claim after the government’s intervention seeking dismissal, since the defendant bank had not yet answered the complaint or moved for summary judgment. The 2nd Circuit held that “the district met the hearing requirement” established by Polansky for dismissing qui tam relator cases through its careful consideration of the briefs and materials submitted by the parties. In reaching this conclusion, the 2nd Circuit noted that Polansky does “not mandate universal requirements” for an FCA hearing in every case. The 2nd Circuit also rejected plaintiff’s due process arguments, plaintiff’s claim that the court failed to evaluate defendant’s settlement with the government resolving related criminal and administrative violations, and plaintiff’s claim that the district court erred in denying its motion for an indicative ruling, based on new evidence published while the appeal was pending.
On September 13, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas announced an agreement with a bank to pay approximately $18,600 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act (FCA). This “is believed to be the nation’s first settlement with a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lender pursuant to the [FCA],” the announcement said. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in March 2020, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which provided a host of relief measures for small businesses, including $349 billion for Small Business Administration loan forgiveness, guarantees, and subsidies. According to the announcement, the bank approved and processed a $213,400 PPP loan for a clinic, despite knowing that the sole owner of the clinic was facing criminal charges arising from his practice of prescribing opioids and was therefore ineligible to apply for the PPP loan. The announcement noted that “the bank processed the application anyway and falsely granted the money to [the sole owner].” The bank received a 5 percent processing fee from the government, including $10,670 to which it was not entitled. The owner of the clinic entered a $523,000 settlement in November 2021, resolving allegations that he used false statements on his PPP application and allegedly submitted false claims for the placement of electroacupuncture devices. In 2022, the owner also repaid the PPP loan in full. According to the announcement, the settlement reflects the bank’s “efforts to cooperate with the government’s investigation and provide relevant facts along with its implementation of additional compliance measures.”
On March 16, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas denied a motion for summary judgment by a mortgage servicer relating to False Claims Act (FCA) claims alleging false certifications of compliance to obtain payment under three different government programs: Treasury’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), FHA HAMP, and VA HAMP. According to the memorandum opinion and order, the relator, a former loss-mitigation specialist at the mortgage servicer, alleged that the mortgage servicer engaged in widespread dual tracking, continuously moving homeowners’ mortgages through the foreclosure process even as the defendants were supposed to be evaluating the mortgages for loss mitigation options and HAMP. The plaintiff further alleged that “the dual tracking led many homeowners to lose their homes in foreclosure when foreclosure should have been suspended during the resolution of modification and other workout processes,” and that the defendants “knowingly lacked adequate HAMP systems, processes, staffing, and training.”
The defendants argued that, “notwithstanding industrywide difficulties, publicly available service assessments and third-party reviews show that [the mortgage servicer was] one of the highest-rated servicers participating in HAMP . Further, though Treasury had the power to withhold incentives for HAMP non-compliance, Treasury never did so and consistently paid HAMP incentive payments to [the mortgage servicer] until the program expired.” The mortgage servicer also argued that summary judgment was appropriate for several reasons; (i) the court lacks jurisdiction to consider any of the relator’s claims under the FCA’s first-to-file bar; (ii) the relator’s claims fail because he cannot establish one or more of the required elements as to each claim; and (iii) the relator’s VA claim fails because the he cannot cite to any evidence of a certification by the mortgage servicer to the VA, and thus cannot demonstrate a false statement or fraudulent conduct. The court held that, pursuant to Fifth Circuit precedent, the first-to-file rule is inapplicable here because this case was filed by the same relator in a New York district court. With respect to the remaining claims, the court held that summary judgment is inappropriate where, as here, there exist genuine issues of material fact.