Toumey seeks overturned verdict or new trial in federal case

bbunch@theitem.comJune 7, 2013 

Tuomey Medical Center, Sumter, SC

THE ITEM

Tuomey Healthcare System has requested U.S. District Judge Margaret B. Seymour either overturn a recent jury decision against the hospital or grant a new trial in its case with the federal government.

Not doing so, the local hospital's lawyers argue, "would be a grave injustice."

Last month, after a four-week trial at the Matthew Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia, Tuomey was found guilty of violating both Stark Law and the False Claims Act by collecting more than $39.3 million in fraudulent Medicare claims between 2005 and 2009. After adding fines and penalties that they said were both mandatory and the minimum possible under federal law, the U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a motion with Seymour, seeking $237,454,195 in damages.

Tuomey's request for either a new trial or a rejection of the jury's verdict was filed late Wednesday night, part of several motions filed by the local hospital's lawyers on the same day. As part of the other filings, Tuomey also said the $237 million the federal government is seeking in fines and penalties against the local hospital should be denied because they are unconstitutional, violating both its Fifth Amendment right to due process and its Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Federal prosecutors have seven days to respond to the motion regarding the fines.

As a basis of its request for the judge to either overturn the verdict or grant a new trial, Tuomey's lawyers say federal prosecutors intentionally misled the jury on the actual details of Stark Law and the False Claims Act, confusing the 10-person jury into misinterpreting the law.

During the trial, the Sumter hospital was accused of signing 19 local doctors to lucrative part-time contracts in order to ensure they would continue to receive the referral fees associated with those physicians' procedures. Paying doctors with a portion of the referral fees a hospital receives creates an illegal kickback under Medicare law.

And although the contracts themselves made no mention of referral fees, by signing the doctors to agreements that paid well above fair market value, the government argued Tuomey had done just that. This, Tuomey argues, was part of the intentional misinterpretation.

"The government capitalized on Stark's complexity and invited the jury to use an alternate (and improper) analysis," the motion reads.

Federal prosecutors also misled the jury, Tuomey's lawyers argue, because they repeatedly referenced recorded discussions Tuomey administrators had during which referrals were discussed, and by doing so, along with other arguments, "confused the jury and led it to think, incorrectly, that if Tuomey talked or thought about referrals then it had violated Stark and the FCA (False Claims Act)."

Wednesday's motion by Tuomey, at one point in the brief, goes as far as to call the prosecutors' actions "sinister spin."

"The jury's verdict shows that the jury was in fact misled by the government and was led to render a verdict that contradicts the great weight of the evidence presented during trial. To allow this verdict to stand which is the product of improper and misleading argument to stand (sic) would be a grave injustice," the motion reads.

Federal prosecutors will have several weeks to respond to this motion, as well. There is no forced timetable for Seymour to make her decision.

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