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Rodriguez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center

December 30, 2008; as amended January 13, 2009

RENEE RODRIGUEZ; BARBARA KING, IN THE NAME OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PURSUANT TO THE FALSE CLAIMS ACT, 31 U.S.C. SECTION 3730, AND INDIVIDUALLY PURSUANT TO THE NEW JERSEY CONSCIENTIOUS EMPLOYEE PROTECTION ACT APPELLANTS
v.
OUR LADY OF LOURDES MEDICAL CENTER



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civil Action No. 06-cv-00129) District Judge: Honorable Robert B. Kugler.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) December 1, 2008.

Before: AMBRO, WEIS, and VAN ANTWERPEN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Renee Rodriguez and Barbara King filed a qui tam complaint pursuant to the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq., against their former employer, Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center (the "Medical Center"), a New Jersey health care provider. The United States declined to intervene in the action, and the District Court ultimately dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Rodriguez and King then filed a notice of appeal 56 days after the entry of judgment. We decide whether this appeal is subject to the 30-day filing deadline that generally applies to civil suits or the 60-day deadline that applies when the United States is a party.

We hold that, though the United States declined to intervene in the action, the 60-day deadline still applies and that Rodriguez and King's notice of appeal was therefore timely. Nonetheless, we affirm the District Court's dismissal on the merits.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Rodriguez and King are licensed practical nurses who were formerly employed by the Medical Center. In January 2006, they filed a qui tam complaint against the Center in the District of New Jersey, alleging fraud on the Government in violation of the False Claims Act.*fn1 The allegations in the complaint centered on the Bergan Lanning Health Center ("Bergan Lanning") in Camden, New Jersey. According to the complaint, Bergan Lanning is jointly operated by the Medical Center and the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services and receives funding from the federal Government. Rodriguez and King alleged that, while employed by the Medical Center, they were assigned to do work with outreach programs housed by Bergan Lanning that provide medical services to the homeless and the uninsured working poor.*fn2 They asserted that, beginning in June 2004, beneficiaries of those programs could get prescriptions filled by persons who were not licensed pharmacists under the New Jersey Pharmacy Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 45:1-1 et seq.*fn3 This, they contended, amounted to a violation of the False Claims Act insofar as "allowing non-licensed individuals . . . to dispense drugs in violation [of New Jersey law] constitutes a false certification . . . to get a claim paid or approved by the Government." Rodriguez and King's Compl. ¶ 21.

Rodriguez and King filed their complaint under seal and served a copy on the United States Government in accordance with the requirements of the False Claims Act. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(2). In February 2006, the Government declined to intervene in the case and the District Court ordered the complaint unsealed. Rodriguez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Med. Ctr., No. 06-0129, 2006 WL 3193838, at *1 (D.N.J. Nov. 1, 2006). In May 2006, the Medical Center made a motion to dismiss the complaint under either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or 9(b), contending that the complaint neither stated a prima facie case under the False Claims Act nor complied with the heightened pleading requirements that apply to allegations of fraud. On November 1, 2006, the District Court granted the motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Rodriguez, 2006 WL 3193838, at * 2. Rodriguez and King filed a notice of appeal on December 27, 2006, 56 days later.

II. Jurisdiction

Before we can reach the merits, we must determine whether Rodriguez and King's appeal was timely.*fn4 See Benn v. First Judicial Dist. of Pennsylvania, 426 F.3d 233, 237 (3d Cir. 2005) ("Compliance with the Rules of Appellate Procedure for proper filing of a notice of appeal is mandatory and jurisdictional.") (internal quotation marks omitted). The timeliness of a notice of appeal is governed by Rule 4(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. This provides in pertinent part:

(A) In a civil case, except as provided in Rule[] 4(a)(1)(B), . . . the notice of appeal . . . must be filed . . . within 30 days after the judgment or order appealed from is entered.

(B) When the United States . . . is a party, the notice of appeal may be filed by any party within 60 days after the judgment ...


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