Significant Stark Law Case Overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

In an opinion issued March 30, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned a $45 million judgment against Tuomey Healthcare System, Inc. (“Tuomey”), a private, nonprofit corporation which owns and operates Tuomey Hospital in Sumter County, South Carolina. A former physician brought a qui tam action against Tuomey alleging that certain contracts entered with physicians violated the Stark Law and that billings resulting from referrals from those physicians constituted false claims under the False Claims Act. The United States government intervened in the action, which proceeded to a jury trial, with the False Claims Act violations and other equitable theories pursued by the government, such as unjust enrichment and payment by mistake.

The jury found that the contracts between Tuomey and the physicians violated the Stark Law, but also found that Tuomey did not violate the False Claims Act. After the jury verdict, the District Court set aside the jury verdict and ordered a new trial on the False Claims Act allegations. Additionally, the District Court found that because the jury had found that the contracts in question violated the Stark Law, the government was entitled to judgment against Tuomey on the equitable claims. The District Court then entered judgment against Tuomey for approximately $45 million plus interest on the equitable claims.

The Fourth Circuit vacated the decision of the District Court to enter judgment against Tuomey on the equitable claims, finding that the Judge’s decision to set aside the jury verdict and order a new trial on the False Claims Act allegations precluded his use of the jury’s finding of Stark Law violations to enter judgment against Tuomey on the government’s equitable claims. The Fourth Circuit found that the manner in which the District Court reached his conclusions violated Tuomey’s Seventh Amendment rights. A new trial should take place in the near future.

Going forward, this will be an important case to monitor for further developments as they related to the Stark Law and the physician compensation arrangements.

For more information regarding the Stark Law and its regulations, please contact Adrienne Dresevic, Esq. or Carey F. Kalmowitz, Esq. and for more information on fraud and abuse litigation, please contact Alan G. Gilchrist, Esq.. All attorneys may be contacted at (248) 996-8510 or (212) 734-0128 or by visiting the HLP website.

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