During a November 29, 2018 speech, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced changes to Department of Justice (“DOJ”) policy concerning individual accountability in corporate cases.  The announcement followed the DOJ’s year-long review of its individual accountability policies and the September 2015 memorandum issued by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, commonly known as the “Yates Memo.”

While making clear that pursuing individuals responsible for corporate wrongdoing remains a top priority in every investigation conducted by DOJ, Mr. Rosenstein drew a substantial distinction between the treatment of individuals in criminal investigations and civil investigations.

Criminal Matters

In criminal cases, the revised policy provides that to receive cooperation credit, a company “must identify every individual who was substantially involved in or responsible for the criminal conduct.”  Responding to concerns that it was inefficient to require companies to identify every employee involved irrespective of culpability, Mr. Rosenstein stated that DOJ’s focus will be on those who play “significant roles in setting a company on a course of criminal conduct.” He also noted that “investigations should not be delayed merely to collect information about individuals whose involvement was not substantial, and who are not likely to be prosecuted.”   Importantly, Mr. Rosenstein made clear that if a company fails to work in good faith to identify substantially involved or responsible individuals, it would not receive any cooperation credit.

Civil Matters

According to Mr. Rosenstein, “[c]ivil cases are different.” Recognizing that the primary purpose of civil enforcement is the recovery of money, Mr. Rosenstein noted that the “all or nothing” approach to civil cases espoused in the Yates Memo was simply not practical and, in some circumstances could be counterproductive.  In those matters where criminal culpability is not in question, the revised policy recognizes a need for flexibility.

The most significant aspect of this revision is the focus on senior officials in the company, including members of “senior management or the board of directors.”  In civil matters, entities are expected to  identify all wrongdoing by these individuals.  Indeed, Mr. Rosenstein noted that if companies make any effort to hide misconduct by senior leaders, they “will not be eligible for any [cooperation] credit.”  Companies that want to receive “maximum credit” must “identify every individual person who was substantially involved in or responsible for the misconduct.”

The revised policy also provides DOJ lawyers with the flexibility to provide “partial credit” for companies that seek to cooperate with the government.  For instance, in situations where a company “honestly” and “meaningfully” provides “valuable assistance” to the government, the revised policy envisions the ability to award at least partial credit, even if the company does not agree with the government about every employee’s individual liability.  According to Mr. Rosenstein, when credit is all or nothing, resolution of cases can be delayed without any resultant benefit.

Additionally, in settling civil cases post-Yates, the DOJ has routinely refused to include releases for individuals regardless of culpability.  The revised policy returns to the pre-Yates practice of allowing DOJ’s civil attorneys the discretion to negotiate individual releases in cases where additional investigation of those individuals is not warranted “with appropriate supervisory approval.”

Finally, the Yates Memo stated that DOJ would not consider an individual’s ability to pay a civil settlement or judgment as part of its decision whether or not to pursue that individual.  Going forward, the revised policy permits DOJ attorneys to consider “ability to pay” issues in deciding whether or not to pursue a civil judgment against an individual.  According to Mr. Rosenstein, this commonsense change has been made so that DOJ civil attorneys are not wasting valuable resources pursuing individuals from whom there is no realistic source of recovery.

Key Takeaways

While noting that it is “revising” current policy, DOJ has made clear that the pursuit of individuals, whether in criminal or civil investigations, remains a top priority.  The specific identification in civil cases of the actions of senior management, including members of a company’s board of directors, is significant and should be top of mind for entities operating in the health care arena, where enforcement efforts are so routinely focused—whether by the government directly or through the efforts of qui tam relators.  This development suggests the continued need to focus compliance efforts throughout an organization and to ensure that its most senior leaders appreciate the spotlight that will be put on their activities.

The changes referenced above can be found in the documents identified below:

https://www.justice.gov/jm/jm-1-12000-coordination-parallel-criminal-civil-regulatory-and-administrative-proceedings#1-12.000

https://www.justice.gov/jm/jm-4-3000-compromising-and-closing#4-3.100

https://www.justice.gov/jm/jm-9-28000-principles-federal-prosecution-business-organizations#9-28.210

https://www.justice.gov/jm/jm-9-28000-principles-federal-prosecution-business-organizations#9-28.300

https://www.justice.gov/jm/jm-9-28000-principles-federal-prosecution-business-organizations#9-28.700

 

Both the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General have long urged (and in many cases, mandated through settlements that include Corporate Integrity Agreements and through court judgments) that health care organizations have “top-down” compliance programs with vigorous board of directors implementation and oversight. Governmental reach only increased with the publication by DoJ of the so-called Yates Memorandum, which focused government enforcers on potential individual liability for corporate management and directors in fraud cases. Thus, if it isn’t the case already, compliance officers should assure that senior management and directors are aware of their oversight responsibilities and the possible consequences if they are found not to have fulfilled them.

The OIG’s views regarding board oversight and accountability are discussed in white papers issued by the OIG and also the American Health Lawyers Association. See: “An Integrated Approach to Corporate Compliance: A Resource for Health Care Organization Boards of Directors“; “Corporate Responsibility and Corporate Compliance: A Resource for Health Care Boards of Directors“; and “Practical Guidance for Health Care Governing Boards on Compliance Oversight.”

Directors are not only subject to government actions, but to private ones as well. For example, several months ago, a pension system shareholder in Tenet Healthcare Corp. filed a derivative suit claiming that Tenet’s board members shirked their fiduciary duties by not stopping a kickback scheme that led to a $513 million False Claims Act settlement.  The City of Warren Police and Fire Retirement System is seeking to impose a constructive trust on all salaries, bonuses, fees and insider sales proceeds paid to eight of Tenet’s fourteen board members, along with damages for alleged corporate waste and gross mismanagement of the company. It’s also seeking uncapped punitive damages for what it says was Tenet’s act of securing the execution of documents by deception and the misapplication of fiduciary property.  The Michigan-based pension system says Tenet and its board breached their fiduciary duties by failing to adopt internal policies and controls to detect, deter and prevent illegal kickbacks and bribes. And the board participated in efforts to conceal or disguise those wrongs from Tenet’s shareholders, it said.

Cases like this, both private and public (in the wake of the Yates memorandum), likely will proliferate. Indeed, notwithstanding the transition to a new Presidential administration that many hoped would lessen the intensity of its enforcement actions, the current leaders of the DoJ and various U.S. Attorneys’ offices as well as the OIG have signaled their intention to keep the pressure on.

A significant compliance resource of value to health care organizations’ boards recently was issued by the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program of The National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Baldrige Excellence Framework for health care organizations which sets out seven criteria for performance excellence and the means for success. A copy of the document is available for purchase here.

As many pundits speculate regarding the future of the Yates Memo[1] in a Trump administration, on Wednesday, November 30, 2016, Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Deputy Attorney General, Sally Q. Yates, provided her first comments since the election.  The namesake of the well-known, “Yates Memo,” Yates spoke at the 33rd Annual International Conference on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Washington, D.C. and provided her perspective on the future of DOJ’s current focus on individual misconduct.

Yates, who has served at the DOJ for over twenty-seven years, stated that while the DOJ has endured many transitions in leadership during her tenure, the ideology of the DOJ with respect to general deterrence as well as enforcement of corporate misconduct has remained unchanged. Thus, Yates predicted that the incoming administration under President-elect Donald Trump will maintain the DOJ’s current commitment to pursing potential individuals while combating alleged cases of corporate fraud and wrongdoing, proclaiming:

In 51 days, a new team will be running the department, and it will be up to them to decide whether they want to continue the policies that we’ve implemented in recent years. But I’m optimistic. Holding individuals accountable for corporate wrongdoing isn’t ideological; it’s good law enforcement.[2]

Given the length of time that white collar investigations typically take, Yates noted there are a significant number of corporate investigations that began after the issuance of the Yates Memo in September 2015 that will not resolve until well after the new administration takes control. Yates also stated that she expects that the cases already in the pipeline will continue being pursued, and as a result, she anticipates that “higher percentage of those cases [will be] accompanied by criminal or civil actions against the responsible individuals.”[3]

In recent years, the Department of Justice has accelerated its emphasis on the investigation and prosecution of healthcare-related cases.[4]  In the civil realm, since release of the Yates Memo in September 2015, there has been a significant increase in False Claims Act[5] settlements containing cooperation provisions.[6] In the criminal side of the house, since the release of the Yates Memo, DOJ has brought high-profile indictments alleging violations of federal law including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback statute, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft, and involving a variety of health care-related services such as home health care, psychotherapy, physical and occupational therapy, durable medical equipment, and compounding prescription drugs schemes.  Most recently, on December 1, 2016, an indictment was unsealed in the Northern District of Texas charging 21 people, including the founders and investors of the physician-owned Forest Park Medical Center (“FPMC”) in Dallas, other executives at the hospital, and physicians, surgeons, and others affiliated with the hospital,[7]  with allegedly participating in a $200 million bribery and kick-back scheme focused on inducing surgeons to use the FPMC facilities.

Even before the Yates memorandum explicitly set forth guidance regarding parallel investigations, over the past few years DOJ already was increasing coordination between civil and criminal attorneys running parallel health care-related investigations with the goal of establishing collaboration at the very inception of an investigation. One U.S. Attorney’s Office, the District of New Jersey, even has co-located criminal and civil assistants dedicated to investigating health care fraud, who are supervised by the same AUSA to facilitate civil and criminal investigations, increase coordination and “maximize appropriate deterrence.”[8]

Notably, in June 2016, DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a nationwide sweep of health care fraud civil and criminal cases.  Billed as the largest health care-related take-down in history, and led by DOJ’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force[9] in 36 federal districts, the takedown resulted in criminal and civil charges being filed against 301 individuals, including 61 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $900 million in false billings.[10] [11]

Based on Yates’s comments on November 30, 2016, it can be anticipated that there will be a continued effort by the DOJ to combat corporate misconduct by focusing on individual accountability for alleged wrongdoers. Therefore, health care companies will need to remain diligent in maintaining sufficient compliance and corporate policies, including providing adequate training for executives and employees on the Yates Memorandum, as well as conducting thorough internal investigations, and to identify potential instances of corporate misconduct.[12] Since a centerpiece of the Yates Memo is the disclosure of individual wrongdoing in order to receive credit for cooperating with an investigation, health care-related companies must develop ways to identify individuals involved in potential fraudulent schemes, and the extent of each individual’s potential involvement in wrongdoing, to ensure they receive credit for cooperation. As Yates’s concluded on November 30th, “In the days ahead, this institution – and those who lead it – will continue the hard work of rooting out corruption here and abroad. And we will remain determined to protecting and strengthening our values of justice, fairness, and the rule of law. That has always been, and will always be, at the core of the DOJ.”[13] Thus, there is no indication of a DOJ slow-down any time soon, and based on recent high-profile DOJ enforcement efforts, the health care industry will not be excluded from DOJ’s focus on individual accountability any time soon either.

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[1] Sally Quillian Yates, Deputy Attorney Gen., DOJ, “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing,” (“Yates Memo”), (Sept. 9, 2015) The Yates Memo, released by the DOJ in September 2015, sets forth six specific steps for DOJ attorneys to focus on while assessing potential corporate wrongdoing:  (1) in order to quality for any cooperation credit, corporations must provide to the Department all relevant facts relating to the individuals responsible for the misconduct; (2) criminal and civil corporate investigations should focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation; (3) criminal and civil attorneys handling corporate investigations should be in routine communication with one another; (4) absent extraordinary circumstances or approved departmental policy, the Department will not release culpable individuals from civil or criminal liability when resolving a matter with a corporation; (5) DOJ attorneys should not resolve matters with a corporation without a clear plan to resolve related individual cases, and should memorialize any declinations as to individuals in such cases; and (6) civil attorneys should consistently focus on individuals as well as the company and evaluate whether to bring suit against an individual based on considerations beyond that individual’s ability to pay.

[2] Sally Quillian Yates, Deputy Attorney Gen., DOJ, Remarks at the 33rd Annual Int’l Conference on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (Nov. 30, 2016).

[3] Id.

[4] DOJ, Facts and Statistics¸ (June 9, 2015), https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/facts-statistics.

[5] The False Claims Act, 21 U.S.C. § 3729(2)(B).

[6] Eric Toper, “DOJ Increasingly Demanding Corporate Cooperation in FCA Settlements After Yates Memo,” Bloomberg BNA, (May 25, 2016), https://www.bna.com/doj-increasingly-demanding-n57982072932/.

[7] Shelby Livingston, “Execs, Physicians at Doc-Owned Luxury Hospital Chain Indicted in Alleged Kickback Scheme,” Modern Healthcare (Dec. 6, 2016), http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20161206/NEWS/161209950/execs-physicians-at-doc-owned-luxury-hospital-chain-indicted-in. See https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndtx/pr/executives-surgeons-physicians-and-others-affiliated-forest-park-medical-center-fpmc (press release and indictment).

[8] Gabriel Imperator, Combating Healthcare Fraud in New Jersey: An Interview with Paul J. Fishman, Compliance Today 16-22 (Oct. 2015).

[9] DOJ, June 2016 Takedown, (June 22, 2016), https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/health-care-fraud-unit/june-2016-takedown (The Medicare Fraud Strike Force are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (“HEAT”), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the DOJ and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007 it has charged over 2,900 defendants who have falsely billed the Medicare program over $8.9 billion).

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] For more information please view: EBG’s Individual Accountability in Health Care Fraud Enforcement: Thought Leaders in Health Law.

[13] Yates, supra note 2.