A lawyer who acknowledged to the court that he did not check a public database to determine the status of a nursing director’s license must pay attorneys’ fees after losing a whistleblower case, a federal judge has ruled.
Mississippi attorney Cameron Jehl originally filed a whistleblower lawsuit against GGNSC Southaven LLC — also known as Golden Living Center — in April 2019, seeking more than $30 million in damages. The allegations centered on the alleged lack of a multistate nursing license by the facility’s former director of nursing, Lionelle Trofort, who worked at the facility from April 23, 2013, to March 4, 2014, according to court documents. Jehl alleged that Golden Living, a 140-bed nursing home in Southaven, MS, near the Tennessee border, filed approximately 1,393 Medicare and Medicaid claims during that period that were fraudulently submitted.
Under the False Claim Act, the civil penalty for each alleged violation is between $5,000 and $10,000.
Court documents show that Trofort worked as a travel nurse beginning in 2010 in Arizona, Arkansas and Mississippi while holding a multistate nursing license issued by Virginia, which court records indicate she considered her place of residence. Virginia, though, revoked Trofort’s license on Feb. 28, 2013, but reinstated it on March 20, 2013, after submitting a declaration to the state’s nursing board declaring Virginia as her permanent residence.
Documents from the case adjudicated in the US District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi show that she began working at Golden Living on April 23, 2013, and the facility confirmed on April 24, 2013, that she held a valid, multi-state nursing license.
Jehl, while pursuing an unrelated wrongful death case, discovered notice of the revocation of Trofort’s license. However, US District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr., wrote in his ruling awarding fees to Golden Living, that Jehl filed his whistleblower suit against Golden Living without checking whether Trofort’s license had been reinstated.
“This court finds that because the relator’s allegation was ‘bereft of any objective factual support,’ the action ‘clearly had no chance of success,’ and therefore the claim is frivolous under the [False Claim’s Act] fee-shifting provision,” Biggers wrote in his March 28 ruling.
Biggers’ original ruling in favor of Golden Living was issued in March 2022. Jehl appealed that ruling to the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld that decision in December 2022. The fight then moved back to the Mississippi court over attorneys’ fees.
Neither Golden Living nor Jehl responded to requests for comment on Friday by McKnights Long-Term Care News.
Court documents do not show what amount of attorneys’ fees Jehl will be responsible for paying to Golden Living.