Government contractors and health care companies have become increasingly concerned about the application of the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (“WSLA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3287, and the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) and False Claims Act (“FCA”) relators’ arguments that the statute extends indefinitely the limitation period applicable to civil FCA cases. 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733.
On May 27, 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the unwarranted extension of the WSLA and properly limited the reach of that statute (and suspension of limitations periods) to the context of criminal law. The decision in Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Carter (“KBR”) is an important victory for Government contractors, health care companies and other recipients of federal funding. It provides protection against stale claims, which should be barred by the statute of limitations. It is particularly noteworthy because it removes the risk of stale FCA claims that would otherwise be time barred and that have no connection to wartime activities, such as health care claims, or lawsuits related to other civilian agency programs, e.g., the Department of Agriculture program discussed in United States v. BNP Paribas SA.
The WSLA was enacted shortly after World War I and was reenacted during World War II. Until 2008, it permitted the period of limitations to be suspended during wartime and for three years after the end of hostilities. Prior to 2008, it was not clear whether the WSLA was triggered by the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as there had been no declaration of war. Congress expanded the WSLA in 2008 to apply when Congress enacts a “specific authorization for the use of the Armed Forces” and increased the suspension period to five years after the termination of hostilities. Given the ongoing conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved during the past decade, questions have arisen about whether the suspension of the limitations period has become indefinite and is being used for matters that have no connection to wartime.
In KBR, the Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit and held that the WSLA does not toll the statute of limitations in civil fraud cases. In KBR, a former employee who had worked for the company in Iraq, brought a civil False Claims action as a relator, claiming that the contractor had billed the Government for work that was never performed. The Government did not intervene in the case. Before the Supreme Court, Carter and the Government (as amicus) argued that, even though the WSLA is part of Title 18, it applied to civil fraud matters. The Government noted that until 1944, the WSLA applied to offenses that were “now indictable under existing law”—and that the “now indictable” language was removed in 1944. (The district court’s decision BNP Paribasprovides a detailed history of the WSLA.) The Government’s amicus brief also defended application of the WSLA to civil cases based on policy considerations, such as asserting that its time and resources are overtaxed during wartime and that fraud often requires a substantial amount of time to uncover and pursue.
Keep reading this article at: http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=400298