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United States ex rel. Vanderlan v. Jackson HMA LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 14, 2018




         This suit under the False Claims Act is before the Court on Relator W. Blake Vanderlan, M.D.'s motion for a preliminary injunction/temporary restraining order [27] and Defendant Jackson HMA, LLC's motion to dismiss [51]. For the reasons explained, the Court finds the motion for a preliminary injunction/temporary restraining order [27] should be denied. The Court will defer ruling on the motion to dismiss, opting instead to stay the case.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         The parties meticulously set forth the procedural history behind this action, as well as the background and workings of the False Claims Act ("FCA") and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act ("EMTALA") in their filings. In the interest of brevity, the Court will not attempt to recap their overviews.

         In very general terms, Dr. W. Blake Vanderlan ("Vanderlan" or "Relator") formerly worked as a physician at Jackson HMA, LLC d/b/a Central Mississippi Medical Center, a/k/a Merit Health Center-Jackson ("Jackson HMA"). Vanderlan believes that the hospital wrongfully transferred African-American trauma patients without insurance to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in violation of EMTALA. He provided that information to federal investigators, and on May 13, 2015, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS")[1] issued a letter advising Jackson HMA that its Medicare provider agreement would terminate on June 5, 2015, unless it produced evidence that its deficiencies had been corrected. Letter [50-1] at 1-2.

         The following day, CMS sent Vanderlan a copy of its letter to Jackson HMA, thanked him for bringing the matter to its attention, and advised him he "may wish to consider the civil enforcement provisions of § 187 [of the Social Security Act] on an independent basis." Letter [50-2] at 1. On October 23, 2015, Vanderlan filed the instant civil action against Jackson HMA, alleging that it submitted false claims for reimbursement to Medicare and Medicaid, by virtue of its violation of EMTALA. The case remained inactive for almost two years while the Government considered intervention. The Government ultimately declined to intervene, so Vanderlan now pursues this qui tarn action as a private individual (also referred to as a relator), in the name of the Government, to enforce provisions of the FCA. 31 U.S.C. § 3730.

         II. Motion for Preliminary Injunction/Temporary Restraining Order

         Vanderlan is afraid the Government may settle the EMTALA claims against Jackson HMA and in so doing rebrand the EMTALA claims as "non-FCA" claims. According to him, this might extinguish his EMTALA-based FCA claims. Vanderlan therefore seeks an injunction of settlement talks until the Court decides whether he has stated an FCA claim based on the alleged EMTALA violations. Both the Government and Jackson HMA oppose the motion.

         A. Standard

         "A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy." Lakedreams v. Taylor, 932 F.2d 1103, 1107 (5th Cir. 1991) (citing Miss. Power & Light Co. v. United Gas Pipe Line Co., 760 F.2d 618, 621 (5th Cir. 1985)). To obtain a preliminary injunction, Vanderlan must establish four factors: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, (2) a substantial threat that failure to grant the injunction will result in irreparable injury, (3) the threatened injury outweighs any damage that the injunction may cause the opposing party, and (4) the injunction will not disserve the public interest. Neal v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 76 Fed.Appx. 543, 545 (5th Cir. 2003); Lakedreams, 932 F.2d at 1107; Allied Mktg. Grp., Inc. v. CDL Mktg., Inc., 878 F.2d 806, 809 (5th Cir. 1989). Vanderlan "must prove all four elements and failure to prove any one of them will result in denial of the motion." Neal, 76 Fed.Appx. at 545 (citing Enter. Int'l, Inc. v. Corporacion Estatal Petrolera Ecuatoriana, 762 F.2d 464, 472 (5th Cir. 1985)); see also PCI Transp., Inc. v. Fort Worth & W. R.R. Co., 418 F.3d 535, 545 (5th Cir. 2005) (noting that granting preliminary injunction is "extraordinary remedy" to be granted only if party seeking it has "clearly carried the burden of persuasion" on all four elements).

         B. Analysis

         Having considered the applicable factors, the Court finds that an order enjoining Jackson HMA and the Government from pursuing settlement is not appropriate. Specifically, factors two, three, and four weigh against injunctive relief[2]

         1. Irreparable Injury

         "To show irreparable injury if threatened action is not enjoined, it is not necessary to demonstrate that harm is inevitable and irreparable. The plaintiff need show only a significant threat of injury from the impending action, that the injury is imminent, and that money damages would not fully repair the harm." Humana, Inc. v. Avram A. Jacobson, M.D., ...

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