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  • HUD Secretary Carson Testifies at House Financial Services Committee Hearing, Discusses Use of FCA Against FHA Lenders

    Federal Issues

    On October 12, Secretary of HUD, Ben Carson, testified at a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee. The hearing entitled “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” provided an update on HUD’s vision for federal housing policy and touched upon topics such as the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the agency’s role in hurricane disaster relief, and regulatory reform efforts. In his written testimony, Carson reaffirmed his personal interest, and that of the President Trump’s Administration, in working with the Committee on housing finance reform, specifically referencing the FHA mortgage insurance program and Ginnie Mae mortgage-backed security guaranty as “vital components” of the housing finance system. Towards the end of the three-hour-long hearing, Carson was asked by Representative Dave Trott (R-MI) about the federal government’s “unprecedented” use of the False Claims Act (FCA) as a means to “impose outrageous penalties against lenders for immaterial defects” in HFA loan originations, which, according to Rep. Trott, is turning lenders away from FHA lending and is resulting in increased costs to borrowers. Carson stated that his staff is already engaged in discussions with the DOJ staff and is “committed to getting that resolved, because it’s ridiculous, quite frankly.” Carson added, “I’m not exactly sure why there had been such an escalation previously, but the long-term effects of that escalation is obviously providing fewer appropriate choices for consumers, and that’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”

    Federal Issues HUD House Financial Services Committee DOJ False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgages FHA

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  • District Court Fines Mortgage Brokers More Than $298 Million for Alleged FCA/FIRREA Violations

    Courts

    On September 14, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled after a five-week jury trial that defendants, who allegedly submitted fraudulent insurance claims after acquiring risky loans, were liable for treble damages and the maximum civil penalties allowed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). According to the court, the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the damages suffered by the U.S. were a “foreseeable consequence” of the defendants’ misconduct and that such misconduct was part of an “prolonged, consistent enterprise of defrauding the [U.S.],” warranting a higher level of penalties. The jury found that one of the defendants along with its CEO “submitted or caused to be submitted 103 insurance claims” while misrepresenting that its branches were registered by HUD, causing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to sustain damages in excess of $7 million. A separate mortgage broker defendant was found to have submitted or caused to be submitted 1,192 insurance claims causing over $256 million in damages to the FHA due to the “reckless” underwriting of loan applications, in violation of FCA. The court rejected the defendants’ request for lenient civil penalties, finding the defendants’ behavior to be “custom-designed to flout the very program that relied upon [defendants’] diligence and compliance” and demonstrating “a patent unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.” The FIRREA penalties resulted from defendants submitting false annual certifications to HUD that were intended “to serve as a separate and independent quality check on the [defendant’s] branches,” but instead led to injury in the form of borrowers entering into default or foreclosures, as well as elevated mortgage insurance premiums.

    The judge imposed over $291 million in FCA treble damages and penalties against the three defendants. Additionally, each defendant was fined $2.2 million in FIRREA penalties for actions that “were neither isolated or relatively benign . . . [but] were reckless, egregious, and widely injurious.”

    Courts Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Litigation Insurance FHA HUD

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  • Second Circuit Cites Escobar, Vacates and Remands FCA Suit

    Courts

    On September 7, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order concerning a False Claims Act (FCA) case on remand from the United States Supreme Court. In its order, the three-judge panel determined that the FCA complaint should be reviewed under the higher court’s Escobar standard, which “set out a materiality standard for FCA claims that has not been applied in the present case.” See Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016). As previously discussed in InfoBytes, Escobar holds that a misrepresentation must be material to the government’s payment decision to be actionable under the FCA and that the implied false certification theory can be a basis for liability under the FCA.

    In issuing the order, the appellate court vacated the district court’s dismissal of the relators’ complaint (which it had affirmed the first time around) and remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the bank’s certification was materially false. At issue is a qui tam suit filed against a national bank, in which plaintiffs claimed the bank violated the FCA when it certified to the Federal Reserve that the bank and its predecessors were obeying the law in order to “borrow money at favorable rates” during the financial crisis. The decision originally relied upon two requirements cited in a case overturned by Escobar—“the express-designation requirement for implied false certification claims and the particularity requirement for express false certification claims.”

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Second Circuit Federal Reserve U.S. Supreme Court

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  • DOJ Announces Settlements with Non-Bank Mortgage Lender to Resolve Alleged False Claims Act Violations

    Lending

    On August 8, the DOJ announced a $74.5 million settlement with a non-bank mortgage lender and certain affiliates to resolve potential claims that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration (VA), and by selling certain loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that did not meet applicable requirements. According to the terms of the two settlement agreements, $65 million of the settlement will be paid to resolve allegations relating to FHA loans, and $9.45 million will be paid to resolve potential civil claims relating to certain specified VA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac loans. The settlements also fully resolved a False Claims Act qui tam lawsuit that had been pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

    The settlement included no admission of liability by the lender. The lender issued a statement responding to the settlements: “We have agreed to resolve these matters, which cover certain legacy origination and underwriting activities, without admitting liability, in order to avoid the distraction and expense of potential litigation. While we cooperated fully in these investigations since receiving subpoenas in 2013, we concluded that settling these matters is in the best interest of [the company] and its constituents.”

    Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgage Origination HUD Fannie Mae Freddie Mac FHA Settlement DOJ Nonbank Supervision

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  • D.C. Circuit Court Affirms Dismissal of Suit, FCA First-to-File Bar Applies

    Courts

    In an opinion handed down on July 25, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a False Claims Act (FCA) suit because it violated the first-to-file bar, ruling that a relator must re-file a qui tam action and cannot merely amend a complaint where the relator’s complaint was filed when a related qui tam case was still pending. The first-to-file bar provides that if an individual brings an action under the FCA, “no person other than the Government may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts underlying the pending action.”

    The case concerned a qui tam relator who claimed that a telecommunications company overbilled on government contracts, thereby violating the FCA, which “penalizes the knowing submission of a false or fraudulent claim for payment to the federal government.” While the first suit was still pending, the relator filed a second suit alleging that the fraud was more widespread. The related suit was then resolved, but a district court dismissed the second suit based on the FCA’s first-to-file bar, which the D.C. Circuit affirmed. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the relator’s petition for certiorari, and vacated the D.C. Circuit’s decision, citing a holding in Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc., et al v. Carter, 135 S. Ct. 1970 (2015), in which the Court claimed that the first-to-file bar only applies when a previous suit is pending—not once it has been resolved. Therefore, once the first-filed suit has been resolved, the first-to-file bar “no longer prohibits bringing a new action.” Because the statute of limitations period had run while the case was being appealed to the Supreme Court, the relator sought to amend his complaint rather than file a new action. The defendant moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the defendant’s motion. The relator appealed the ruling back to the D.C. Circuit, but the appellate court sided with the defendants and dismissed the relator’s action without prejudice. However, the appellate court expressly declined to opine on whether the statute of limitations would be equitably tolled if the relator were to re-file his complaint.

    Courts Litigation Appellate D.C. Circuit False Claims Act / FIRREA

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  • DOJ Intervenes in False Claims Act Litigation Against City of Los Angeles for Alleged Misuse of HUD Funds

    Courts

    On June 7, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that the United States has intervened (see proposed order here) in a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles (City) alleging that the City misused Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds intended for affordable housing that is accessible to people with disabilities. See U.S. ex rel Ling et al v. City of Los Angeles et al, No. 11-00974 (D.C. Cal. 2017).

    The DOJ joins in the lawsuit originally instituted by a disabled Los Angeles resident, who filed the False Claims Act (FCA) suit as a whistleblower. The FCA whistleblower provision allows private citizens to file suit on behalf of the government and likewise permits the government to intervene in the suit. Together, the DOJ and the whistleblower allege that the City and a city agency called the CRA/LA falsely certified compliance with federal accessibility laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as the duty to further fair housing in the City, in order to receive millions of dollars in HUD housing grants.

    As recipients of the HUD funds, the City and the CRA/LA were obligated to ensure that (i) “five percent of all units in certain federally-assisted multifamily housing be accessible for people with mobility impairments”; (ii) “an additional two percent be accessible for people with visual and auditory impairments”; (iii) “the City and the CRA/LA maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features”; (iv) “the City and the CRA/LA have a monitoring program in place to ensure people with disabilities are not excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in, federally-assisted housing programs and activities solely on the basis of a disability.” The false certifications resulted in too few accessible housing units, the suit claims.

    The City denies the allegations.

    Courts HUD Litigation Fraud False Claims Act / FIRREA Whistleblower Fair Housing DOJ

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  • Government Settles False Claims Act Suit for $23 Million

    Courts

    On May 26, the DOJ ended a False Claims Act case with a $23 million settlement. The case, brought by whistleblowers against a pharmacy goods provider (company), involved alleged fraudulent Medicaid claims and kickbacks to pharmacies that prescribed one of the company’s drugs. The qui tam action, originally filed in 2007, resulted in the company agreeing to pay nearly $13 million to the U.S. within seven business days of the settlement, of which the government will pay the whistleblowers $3.7 million. Additionally, the company will pay over $10 million toward state Medicaid settlements.

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Fraud Whistleblower DOJ

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  • DOJ Enters $89 Million Settlement with Texas-Based Bank in False Claims Act Matter

    Lending

    On May 16, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that a Texas-based bank (Bank) agreed to settle the DOJ’s allegations that it violated the False Claims Act and FIRREA by wrongfully seeking payments from a federally insured reverse mortgage program. To protect lenders, HUD provides mortgage insurance through a program administered by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) on reverse mortgage loans, in which seniors borrow money against the equity they have in their homes. The DOJ alleged that the Bank sought to obtain insurance payments for interest from the FHA despite failing to properly disclose on the filed insurance claim forms that the mortgagee was not eligible for such interest payments because it had failed to meet various deadlines relating to appraisal of the property, submission of claims to HUD, and pursuit of foreclosure proceedings. As a result, from approximately 2011 to 2016, the mortgagees on the relevant reverse mortgage loans serviced by Bank “allegedly obtained additional interest that they were not entitled to receive.” The Bank agreed to pay more than $89 million to resolve the allegations, of which $1.6 million will be paid to the individual who filed the lawsuit under the whistleblower provisions of FIRREA.

    Lending Reverse Mortgages Enforcement False Claims Act / FIRREA Whistleblower

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  • DOJ Enters $18 Million Settlement with Healthcare Providers Following False Claims Act Whistleblower Action

    State Issues

    On April 27, the Department of Justice announced that two Indiana-based healthcare providers agreed to settle allegations that financial arrangements between the two entities violated the federal and state False Claims Act and the federal Anti-Kickback Statute. DOJ alleged that one of the providers made available to the other an interest-free line of credit consistently in excess of $10 million, the balance of which such other provider “was allegedly not expected to substantially repay” as a means of inducing referrals for obstetrics and gynecology patients to seek medical attention at a particular hospital. The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits “the knowing and willful payment of any remuneration to induce the referral of services or items that are paid for by a federal health care program, such as Medicaid,” and claims that are submitted to federal health care programs in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute can also constitute false claims under the False Claims Act. The settlement resolves a qui tam case filed by an individual under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the terms of the settlement, the providers agreed to pay a total of $18 million, with each of them paying $5.1 million to the United States and $3.9 million to the State of Indiana.

    State Issues State AG False Claims Act / FIRREA Whistleblower DOJ

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  • Fourth Circuit Permits DOJ to Reject FCA Settlement After Government Declined to Intervene; Declines to Reach Issue of Statistical Sampling

    Courts

    In an opinion handed down on February 22, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided that the DOJ retains an unreviewable right to object to a proposed settlement agreement between a relator and a defendant even after the Government has declined to intervene in the case. See United States ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Community, Inc., No. 15-2147 (4th Cir. Feb 14, 2017). The case concerned a qui tam relator who had alleged that Agape Senior Community and associated entities violated the FCA by submitting false claims to federal health care programs for nursing home related services that were not provided or provided to patients that were not eligible for them. After the Government declined to intervene in the case, the relator agreed to settle with defendants. However, the DOJ objected to the proposed settlement under 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(1)—which provides that an FCA lawsuit “may be dismissed only if the court and the Attorney General give written consent to the dismissal and their reasons for consenting”—arguing, among other things, that “the settlement amount was “appreciably less than . . . the Government’s estimate of total damages.”

    The Fourth Circuit concluded that, while a relator has the right to pursue his or her FCA claim after the United States declines to intervene, “the Attorney General possesses an absolute veto power over voluntary settlements in FCA qui tam actions.” In reaching this conclusion, the appellate panel emphasized the fact that, in an FCA case, the United States Government is a real party in interest, and, as such, it suffered damages as a result of the fraudulent conduct at issue. The holding largely aligns with existing Fifth and Sixth Circuit precedent, establishing an absolute veto power for the United States over settlements in declined FCA cases. However, the ruling stands at odds with the Ninth Circuit standard set forth in U.S. ex rel. Killingsworth v. Northrop Corp., 25 F.3d 715 (9th Cir. 1994), which ruled that, once it has declined to intervene, the Government can object to a proposed settlement only for “good cause,” and a settlement agreement may be invalidated only following a hearing to determine if the settlement is fair and reasonable.

    On the issue of statistical sampling, the district court had determined that the use of statistical sampling evidence would be improper when a case turns on the medical necessity for individual patients. Though the issue was certified for interlocutory review, the Appellate panel declined to decide this issue because, among other reasons, the use of statistical sampling is not a pure question of law and, as such, interlocutory review had been “improvidently granted.”

    Additional information and materials covering the FCA, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), and the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act (PFCRA) can also be found in BuckleySandler’s False Claims Act and FIRREA Resource Center.

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA DOJ Appellate

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