Monday, February 3, 2014
As readers of this blog will recognize, whistleblower-triggered suits alleging fraud in Medicare and Medicaid are big business.
The February 2014 issue of The Washington Lawyer, published by the D.C. Bar, has a fascinating article written by Joshua Berman, Glen Donath, and Christopher Jackson, two of whom are former federal prosecutors. In "A Casualty of War: Reasonable Statute of Limitation Periods in Fraud Cases," they outline modern use -- perhaps misuse -- of the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA), originally enacted in the 1940s.
Beginning in 2008, the statute, and a more recent tweak under the Wartime Enforcement of Fraud Act (WEFA), has become a key tool of the Department of Justice in pursuing arguably "stale" claims of fraud. The original provision "tolls" the statute of limitation for such claims until three years after the termination of hostilities for "virtually any kind of fraud in which the United States has been the victim." The 2008 provision, changing the three-year extension to five-years, also "simultaneously broadened the circumstances in which the WSLA's tolling provision is triggered and narrowed the circumstances in which the 'war' can be said to have ended." The result is potentially unlimited periods within which to file suit. The authors explain:
"Now, under the post-amendment WSLA, virtually any congressional authorization for the use of military force -- such as that which was approved by Congress prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and also recently contemplated with regard to Syria -- will trigger the statute. But only a formal proclamation by the president, with notice to Congress, or a concurrent resolution of Congress will suffice to end the 'war' and resume the running of the five-year clock under the original limitations period."
The authors point out that during World War II, it was "understandable and desirable that the government be given flexibility to bring cases that would otherwise become stale." But the effect of the WLSA is not limited to fraud claims against war-related industries such as defense contractors. The authors critique application beyond the original justification of wartime, to Social Security fraud or False Claims Act violations, the latter the basis for most qui tam claims in senior care and health care industries.