W.D. PA. Rules Qui Tam Claims not Tolled by Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act

 

In United States ex rel. Emanuele v. Medicor Assocs., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104650 (W.D. Pa. July 26, 2013), the Western District of Pennsylvania held in a non-intervened case that a private relator cannot rely on the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA) to toll the limitations statute for FCA claims. In so holding, the court decided not to follow an earlier 2-1 decision by the Fourth Circuit on the issue.

Allegations and Procedural History

In October 2010, the relator brought an FCA action against his former employer, a cardiology services provider, alleging that the cardiology practice gave kickbacks in exchange for referrals and billed Medicare for medically unnecessary cardiac procedures. The alleged FCA violations FCA occurred between 2001 and 2005; thus, some of the violations occurred more than six years before the relator filed suit. The United States declined to intervene in his action in 2011. In light of the FCA’s six-year statute of limitations, the court dismissed the claims that were based on events that occurred before October 2004. Citing the tolling provision in the WSLA that applies to the government’s fraud claims when the United States is at war, the relator moved to have those claims reinstated.

The Court’s Holding

Drawing heavily on the dissent in a recent Fourth Circuit case, United States ex rel. Carter v. Haliburton Co., 710 F.3d 171 (4th Cir. 2013), Judge McLaughlin held that the relator could not take advantage of WSLA’s limitations-suspending provision. 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104650, at *22. The judge did not agree with the Carter majority’s interpretation of WSLA, which had reasoned that “whether the suit is brought by the United States or a relator is irrelevant . . . because the suspension of limitations in the WSLA depends upon whether the country is at war and not who brings the case.” See id. at *14 (quoting Carter, 710 F.3d at 180). Instead, Judge McLaughlin held that because the text and purpose of the WSLA “focused entirely upon the government,” it does not suspend the FCA’s statute of limitations for claims brought by a relator in a non-intervened case. Id. at *21–22.