United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ex rel. MICHELE YATES, Plaintiff,
PINELLAS HEMATOLOGY & ONCOLOGY, P.A., Defendant.
ORDER ON POST-TRIAL MOTION
WILLIAM F. JUNG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court turns to the Defendant Pinellas Hematology &
Oncology, P.A.'s (“PHO”) renewed motion for
judgment, or alternatively, motion for remitter (Dkt. 212).
Defendant seeks relief under Rules 50(b) and 59(e), Fed. R.
50(b) governs the disposition of motions for judgment as a
matter of law, which includes motions for remittitur. The
general test to resolve a renewed motion for judgment as a
matter of law rests on the sufficiency of an evidentiary
basis to support a reasonable jury's verdict. Chaney
v. City of Orlando, 483 F.3d 1221, 1227 (11th Cir.
2007). The specific standard for remittitur under Rule 50 is
whether the judgment is constitutionally excessive and must
be reduced -whether the law permits the award. Johansen
v. Combustion Engineering, Inc., 170 F.3d 1320, 1331
(11th Cir. 1999) (noting that a constitutionally reduced
verdict is “really not a remittitur at all”).
Rule 59(e) applies to amend or alter a judgment, including a
request for remittitur. The standard to remit an award of
damages using Rule 59 is whether the court in its discretion
“believes the jury's award is unreasonable on the
facts.” Id. (noting that this
“traditional” remittitur must afford plaintiff an
option to elect a new trial). The Court denies this motion.
Court believes there was an evidentiary basis (primarily via
Plaintiff and Dr. David Dredsner and several emails,
e.g., Joint Exhs. 4, 7 at Dkts. 201-3, 201-4) for
the 214 false claims and $755.54 in damages found by the
jury. Dkt. 200 at 7- 8. In effect, as to almost all of these,
unpaid lab submissions from the CLIA-uncertified Bayfront lab
were relabeled falsely to be from the CLIA-certified Park
Place lab. Dkt. 208 at 47-51, 57-58. The Bayfront lab was
later shut down by the State of Florida because it was
uncertified. Id. at 224-25.
said there was an evidentiary basis, the Court notes the
evidentiary basis was contested. However, the jury's
factfinding and resolution of this dispute was rational.
Whether the Court might have found other facts if it were the
factfinder is an irrelevant question-there was a competent
basis in evidence for this verdict. Defendant argues that
Plaintiff's testimony was not credible, but witnesses
contrary to Plaintiff were credible. Dkt. 212 at 2-3. This
was a classic jury issue. The verdict shows a careful jury.
The jury rejected Plaintiff's claims in significant part,
including her retaliation claim.
the 214 relabeled claims were not paid by Medicare. That does
not render them nil. The Act proscribes the presentation of
false claims, not false claims that are paid.
argues that of the 214 claims, a number were not truly false.
Plaintiff responds (Dkt. 222), arguing to the contrary. The
Court finds that the evidence at trial would permit a
rational jury to find 214 false claims. And the Court did not
limit Defendant's rebuttal, cross-examination, or
contrary proofs properly presented before the jury.
Defendant argues that lab certification compliance “is
not a condition of payment.” Dkt. 212 at 6. This
concept focuses on materiality, and materiality was squarely
put to the jury.
Defendant argues that applying the penalty range of $5,
500.00 to $11, 000.00 to each claim (per 28 C.F.R. §
85.3(a)(9)) would constitute an excessive fine prohibited by
the Eighth Amendment. Dkt. 212 at 23. This equitable argument
has support where, as here, many of the false claims were not
paid by the government, and the sum total of actual damages
is very small. See United States ex rel. Bunk v. Birkart
Globalistics GMBH & Co., No. 1:02cv1168, 2012 WL
488256 (E.D. Va. Feb. 14, 2012); United States ex rel.
Smith v. Gilbert Realty Co., 840 F.Supp. 71 (E.D. Mich.
1993). This equitable argument also has support because the
claims did not involve fake tests or fake patients. Instead,
the tests came from a lab that had no proper license and
Medicare would not pay for lab reports from a non-licensed
lab. Providing this level of penalty on such a small amount
of actual damages is quite harsh.
this is a legislative-mandated penalty. The Court believes it
is bound by Eleventh Circuit precedent to impose this very
harsh penalty per claim. United States v. Killough,
848 F.2d 1523, 1533-34 (11th Cir. 1988). Accordingly,
judgment shall enter in Plaintiff's favor against
Defendant PHO for: $755.54 times three; plus 214 times $5,
500.00. Plaintiff's counsel is directed to confer with
the United States as to the nature of the judgment and to
provide a suggested text of same.