Ninth Circuit Allows Fraud-on-the-FDA Claim in FCA Whistleblower Suit Against Medtronic, But Affirms Dismissal of Off-Label Promotion Claim

April 8, 2021By McKenzie E. Cato & Anne K. Walsh

On April 2, 2021, the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in a False Claims Act (FCA) case against Medtronic.  The Dan Abrams Co. LLC v. Medtronic Inc., No. 19-56377, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 9637  (9th Cir. Apr. 2, 2021).  Relator appealed the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California’s dismissal of its FCA lawsuit alleging submission of false claims to Medicare due to: (1) alleged unlawful promotion of spinal surgery implants for off-label and contraindicated uses, and (2) alleged fraud-on-the-FDA in obtaining 510(k) clearance for the subject devices.

Regarding off-label and contraindicated use, Relator alleged that Medtronic marketed the devices without FDA clearance or approval for use in the cervical spine.  Such use was both off-label and specifically contraindicated in the device labeling.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of these claims, finding that the off-label and contraindicated use was not material to the government’s decision to provide Medicare reimbursement for Medtronic’s device.  Specifically, the Court noted that “the federal government acknowledges that doctors may use medical devices for off-label and even contraindicated uses if they believe that such use is medically necessary and reasonable.”  This appellate-level decision provides welcome precedent to support a lack of materiality argument in other FCA cases involving devices reimbursed for off-label uses.

Relator’s fraud-on-the-FDA claim was based on an allegation that Medtronic defrauded FDA into granting the subject devices 510(k) clearance by “falsely represent[ing] in its clearance application that they were intended for use in the thoracolumbar spine (the part of the spine below the neck) when in fact they could not be used there and could only be used in the cervical (neck-area) of the spine.”

The Court acknowledged that the Supreme Court held in Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Comm. that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act bars a private party from asserting state law claims that a device manufacturer defrauded FDA during the 510(k) clearance process concerning a device’s intended use.  531 U.S. 341, 348 (2001).  The Court further acknowledged that the First Circuit has extended the Supreme Court’s holding in Buckman to the FCA context (see our blog post on this First Circuit decision here).  However, unlike the First Circuit, because the Ninth Circuit previously allowed fraud-on-the-FDA claims in the FCA context, the Court here reversed the district court’s dismissal of Relator’s claim, allowing the fraud-on-the-FDA theory to go forward.

Categories: Medical Devices