Attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), representing a whistleblower against Planned Parenthood in California, have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to allow their lawsuit against the organization to go ahead. The suit, in which former chief financial officer of the Los Angeles Planned Parenthood Victor Gonzalez claims that the organization defrauded the federal government of over $200 million by overcharging for medical services, has struggled to survive.
The case, brought under the Federal False Claims Act, was initially thrown out by the district court on the grounds that Gonzalez lacked proper standing as a whistleblower. The Ninth Circuit overturned that ruling, but the district court again tossed out the case on the grounds that Gonzales had not alleged “falsity” by Planned Parenthood. This time, the Ninth Circuit agreed on the curious grounds that state officials had appeared to agree with Planned Parenthood’s overbilling.
Planned Parenthood had argued that the acquiescence of state officials means that the organization could not have been defrauding the government. Fraud requires “scienter,” the knowledge that the victim of the fraud will rely on the false information to take a desired action. Yet if the victim of the fraud is actually a willing participant, Planned Parenthood argued, it could not actually have been defrauded.
The district court and the Ninth Circuit both agreed. In its petition to the Supreme Court, the ACLJ argues that the so-called “government knowledge defense” has limitations that are exceeded in the Planned Parenthood case: “[T]he Ninth Circuit’s ruling..puts it at odds with every other federal appeals court and creates a roadblock to enforcement of the FCA, necessitating the Supreme Court to step in and settle the matter,” the ACLJ says.
Few petitions to the Supreme Court succeed, but this case, Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles et al., could be among them.