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United States ex rel. Willette v. University of Massachusetts

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 27, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, EX REL. MICHAEL A. WILLETTE, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, WORCESTER a/k/a UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL SCHOOL, Defendant, Appellee. ESTATE OF LEO VILLANI AND JOHN DOES, Defendants

Page 36

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Timothy S. Hillman, U.S. District Judge.

Allyson H. Cohen, for appellant.

Daniel Meron, Special Assistant Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with whom Latham & Watkins LLP was on brief, for appellee.

Before Barron, Circuit Judge, Souter,[*] Associate Justice, and Selya, Circuit Judge.

OPINION

Page 37

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This appeal raises two distinct but loosely connected issues. The first involves the question of whether the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) is a state agency, not a " person," and therefore exempt from suit by private parties under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. § § 3729-3733, and its Massachusetts counterpart, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, § § 5A-5O. The second involves the operation and effect of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).

With respect to the first question, we settle upon the appropriate test (a matter of first impression in this circuit), conclude that UMMS is an arm of the state, and hold that the district court did not err in dismissing the relator's claims against it. With respect to the second question, we conclude that Rule 54(b) must be construed strictly. As a result, we dismiss the relator's attempt to raise on appeal issues not fairly presented in the district court's Rule 54(b) certificate. The tale follows.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff-appellant Michael A. Willette (the relator) toiled at UMMS for roughly fourteen years beginning in 2000. Specifically, he worked for the Center for Health Care Financing (CHCF). One of CHCF's chief tasks is the recovery of funds from third parties (such as private insurers or the estates of deceased beneficiaries) in order to reimburse Medicaid expenditures previously made by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the federal government.

CHCF is an office within a division of UMMS known as " Commonwealth Medicine."

Page 38

Neither CHCF nor " Commonwealth Medicine" is separately incorporated.

Leo Villani also worked at CHCF. Villani died in 2013, and the relator was appointed as his personal representative. In reviewing estate documents, the relator discovered that Villani had contrived a scheme to divert funds collected by CHCF to his own behoof, siphoning off nearly $4,000,000 before his death. In a series of meetings, the relator shared the details of Villani's fraud with his superiors. The relator claims that UMMS officials thereafter retaliated against him by excluding him from a meeting, denying him access to his work computer and departmental software while the scheme was being investigated, and " verbally demean[ing]" him.

In time, the relator repaired to the federal district court. He sued UMMS and Villani's estate in a qui tam action alleging (as pertinent here) violations of the FCA and its Massachusetts counterpart. The relator's complaint was originally filed under seal, and he amended it twice before the United States and Massachusetts declined to ...


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