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Florida False Claims Act

By Jonathan DeSantis

In 1994, the Florida Legislature adopted the Florida False Claims Act (“FFCA”),[1] which, generally speaking, “authorizes a private person or the State to initiate a civil action against a person or company who knowingly presents a false claim to the State for payment.”[2]

Like the federal False Claims Act, the FFCA authorizes a private person, known as a relator, to bring qui tam claims on the State’s behalf.If successful, the relator receives between 15-30% of any recovery.[3] Thus, anyone who knows about potential fraud involving state money in Florida should evaluate whether such knowledge can provide the basis for claims under the FFCA.

The Basics of the Florida False Claims Act

As various state and federal courts have noted, the FFCA largely mirrors the federal False Claims Act, and courts applying the FFCA frequently look to cases interpreting the federal statute for guidance.[4] While the federal statute prohibits the presentation of false claims to the federal government or false claims involving federal funds, the FFCA “affords a general ability to avail the judicial process for false claims presented to the State.”[5]

Specifically, anyone who “[k]nowingly presents or causes to be presented a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval” commits a violation of the FFCA.[6] “Claim” means:

[A]ny request or demand, whether under a contract or otherwise, for money or property, regardless of whether the state has title to the money or property, that:

Is presented to any employee, officer, or agent of the state; or

Is made to a contractor, grantee, or other recipient if the state provides or has provided any portion of the money or property requested or demanded, or if the state will reimburse the contractor, grantee, or other recipient for any portion of the money or property that is requested or demanded.[7]

“State” is broadly defined as “the government of the state or any department, division, bureau, commission, regional planning agency, board, district, authority, agency, or other instrumentality of the state.”[8] However, it is not necessary that a false claim be presented directly to a state agency to be actionable under the FFCA. A claim that is presented to an entity that utilizes state funds to pay the claim is also a false claim under the FFCA.[9]

FFCA claims are often brought in the same lawsuit as claims under the federal False Claims Act.[10] For example, a relator may allege that a doctor presented false claims to Medicaid. Because Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal and state governments, the relator would likely pursue claims under both statutes.[11]

Differences Between the FFCA and the Federal False Claims Act

As discussed above, the FFCA contains provisions that correspond to the federal statute with a few differences.[12]

One interesting procedural provision of the FFCA is that it requires all FFCA-only lawsuits (those without companion claims under the federal False Claims Act) to be filed in state court in Leon County.[13] This is unusual given that lawsuits, including those under the federal False Claims Act, must generally be filed in a geographic jurisdiction that has some relationship to the case or the defendant.[14]

For example, even if a relator living in Key West pursues FFCA claims based on conduct that exclusively occurred in Key West by a business that is only located in Key West, the relator still must file the FFCA lawsuit in Leon County. On the other hand, lawsuits pursuing claims under both the FFCA and the federal False Claims Act are filed in federal court.[15]

Another unique provision in the FFCA is that it specifically provides that it “shall be liberally construed to effectuate its remedial and deterrent purposes.”[16] As one court explains, this means that courts “must interpret the statute in a manner that implements the plain meaning of the law, while ensuring that contextual boundaries honor the Legislature’s intent to assure that false claims are vigorously pursued and that the courts do not unduly interfere with the State’s statutory prerogatives to obtain restitution for its losses and to punish those persons and entities which seek to wrongfully defraud the State through double and triple recoveries.”[17]

[1] 1994 Fla. ALS 316, 1994 Fla. Laws ch. 316, 1994 Fla. HB 551 (May 31, 1994).

[2] State v. Barati, 150 So. 3d 810, 811 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014); see also Myers v. State, 866 So. 2d 103, 103 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004) (explaining that the FFCA “authorizes civil actions by individuals and the state against persons who file false claims for payment or approval with a state agency”).

[3] Fla. Stat. § 68.085.

[4] See e.g. Barati v. State, 198 So. 3d 69, 78 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016), review denied, No. SC16-834, 2016 WL 4429843 (Fla. Aug. 22, 2016), and cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 1085, 197 L. Ed. 2d 198 (2017), reh’g denied, 137 S. Ct. 1618, 197 L. Ed. 2d 741 (2017) (“Federal case law interpreting the Federal FCA is persuasive here, as the Florida Legislature patterned the State’s qui tam statute after the federal law.”);  U.S. ex rel. Heater v. Holy Cross Hosp., Inc., 510 F. Supp. 2d 1027, 1034 n. 5 (S.D. Fla. 2007) (“The Florida FCA, is modeled after and tracks the language of, the federal False Claims Act. The parties do not dispute that the same standard is applied to the evaluation of the claims under both statutes.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); United States v. All Children’s Health Sys., Inc., 2013 WL 6054803, at *7 n. 8 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 15, 2013) (“Conclusions as to the federal False Claims Act apply equally to the Florida False Claims Act because the Florida version mirrors the federal False Claims Act.”).

[5] Stevens v. State, 127 So. 3d 668, 669 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).

[6] Fla. Stat. § 68.082(2)(a).

[7] Fla. Stat. § 68.082(1)(a).

[8] Fla. Stat. § 68.082(1)(f).

[9] See Fla. Stat. § 68.082(1)(a) (defining claim in relevant part as a claim “made to a contractor, grantee, or other recipient if the state provides or has provided any portion of the money or property requested or demanded, or if the state will reimburse the contractor, grantee, or other recipient for any portion of the money or property that is requested or demanded”).

[10] See e.g. Barys ex rel. U.S. v. Vitas Healthcare Corp., 298 F. App’x 893, 897 n. 1 (11th Cir. 2008); McShea v. Sch. Bd. of Collier Cty., 58 F. Supp. 3d 1325 (M.D. Fla. 2014); United States v. Educ. Mgmt. Corp., 871 F. Supp. 2d 433 (W.D. Pa. 2012).

[11] See  Fla. Office of the Attorney General, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, available at http://www.myfloridalegal.com/pages.nsf/Main/EBC480598BBF32D885256CC6005B54D1 (“Under Florida’s False Claims Act, people who blow the whistle on Medicaid Fraud are entitled to share in any funds recovered by the state.”).

[12] See Barati v. State, 198 So. 3d at 78 (“Federal case law interpreting the Federal FCA is persuasive here, as the Florida Legislature patterned the State’s qui tam statute after the federal law, with some notable and significant differences…”).

[13] Fla. Stat. § 68.083(3).

[14] 31 U.S.C. § 3732 (providing that actions under the federal False Claims Act “may be brought in any judicial district in which the defendant or, in the case of multiple defendants, any one defendant can be found, resides, transacts business, or in which any act proscribed by section 3729 occurred”).

[15] 31 U.S.C. § 3732 (granting jurisdiction to federal courts to hear claims under the federal False Claims Act and related claims under corresponding state false claims acts).

[16] Fla. Stat. § 68.091(1).

[17] Barati, 198 So. 3d at 77.

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