SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – Attorneys for a Chicago-based biopharmaceutical company on Oct. 26 asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to drop a lawsuit over allegations that the company concocted a kickback scheme to help sell its drug Humira.
Attorneys for AbbVie asked the U.S. Northern California District Court to dismiss the case because the claims violated the California Insurance Frauds Prevent Act (IFPA) public disclosure bar and the complaint did not meet the time requirements for filing.
Humira, manufactured by AbbVie, is a Food and Drug Administration-approved biologic medication to treat a variety of diseases including arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Plaintiff Lazaro Suarez originally filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the defendant AbbVie in the Northern District of Illinois on Oct. 8, 2015, alleging violations of the federal False Claims Act (FCA). The complaint alleged that AbbVie provided free support services to health care providers to induce them to prescribe Humira for their patients, amounting to a kickback scheme, according to the plaintiff.
The motion states a similar complaint was filed by two other plaintiffs in a court in the Northern District of Texas a year later in 2016. In November of that year, an attorney for the California Department of Insurance (CDI), on behalf of the state of California, filed a motion for California to intervene in the Suarez case.
In February 2018, Suarez filed an amended complaint dropping the IFPA claim and filed an action in Alameda County Superior Court in California with the IFPA allegation.
The CDI intervened in Suarez’s state court suit in September 2018 and the case was removed to the Northern California District Court in October.
The complaint states AbbVie artificially boosted the number of prescriptions of its drug Humira and the number of insurance reimbursement claims by providing product support services to health care providers under The Ambassador Program. The services allegedly included (computerized software) technology designed to speed up and streamline the process of filling out prescriptions and obtaining insurance reimbursements, and offered alleged kickbacks in the form of cash, meals, drinks, gifts, trips and patient referrals.
The suit states an AbbVie website reportedly told how people could receive training in how to inject themselves properly with Humira and that trained nurses would provide follow up to check with patients in the first few months of treatment.
The defendants countered that an IFPA “disclosure bar” forbade the use of public information to formulate allegations in court cases and the allegations in this case were based solely on public-accessed sources, including AbbVie-created websites and prior legal findings.
“No exception to the disclosure bar applies, because the California Attorney General did not bring this action and Suarez cannot establish himself as the 'original source' of the information alleged,” AbbVie's motion to dismiss states.
The public materials AbbVie made available to health care providers rendered Suarez’s complaint a case of “repeating what the public already knows,” the motion states. In addition, the advantages of the Ambassador Program the defendant publicly disclosed on a federal website titled Open Payments.
The defense added that Suarez filed his complaint more than three years after the discovery of facts as grounds for commencing the action, which IFPA rules also prohibit.
“What matters - and what is clear on the face of the complaint - is that Suarez suspected wrongdoing by October 2014,” the motion states. “...Suarez was obligated to commence the action no later than October 2017."
The motion indicated the plaintiff transfer of claim from one court to another as a kind of “forum shopping” to obtain a better judgment.
“The court should reject such forum shopping,” the motion stated.
A hearing date in the case has been set for Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 9 a.m. in Courtroom E of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.