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United States of America Ex. Rel. Joyce Ruble v. Troy Skidmore

November 8, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX. REL. JOYCE RUBLE PLAINTIFF,
v.
TROY SKIDMORE, D.O., ET AL.
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Peter C. Economus

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court for consideration of Relator Joyce Ruble's motion (A) to dismiss the case without prejudice, to which the Government consents, and (B) to maintain a seal over the case, or alternatively to make public only a version of the complaint redacted to remove information identifying Relator, which the Government opposes. (Dkt. 11.) For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Relator's motion to dismiss the case without prejudice and DENIES her motion to maintain a seal over the case. The Court hereby ORDERS that this case be dismissed without prejudice. The Court further ORDERS that the Complaint, this Order, and all subsequently filed pleadings shall be unsealed. All other pleadings filed in this action shall remain under seal absent further order of the Court.

I.Background

Relator Joyce Ruble filed this case under the False Claims Act (FCA) on behalf of the United States against Defendant Devola Orthopedic Center of Sports Medicine, Inc. ("Devola") and its owner, Defendant Troy Skidmore, D.O., an orthopedic surgeon. Defendants employed Relator as the office manager of Devola until she resigned in January of 2009. (Compl. ¶ 10.) As office manager, Relator was responsible for billing Defendant Skidmore's reimbursement claims to insurers, including federally funded healthcare programs ("Federal Programs"). (Id.)

In her complaint, Relator alleges that Defendants fraudulently billed Federal Programs. Specifically, she alleges that, on a regular basis, Defendant Skidmore (i) billed for office appointments without proper documentation; (ii) required unqualified personnel to perform services for which he received payment; (iii) billed at a higher coding level than justified for the treatment; and (iv) billed for services that were included within bundled surgical codes. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Relator asserts that each claim for reimbursement submitted to a Federal Program which resulted from an instance of the above conduct constitutes a false claim. (Id. at ¶ 3.)

As the FCA requires, see 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(2), Relator's complaint was filed under seal and served on the Government. The FCA provides that a complaint shall remain sealed for at least 60 days, and the Government may request extensions while it investigates the matter and determines whether to intervene. Id.

Following an investigation, the Government represented to the Court that it believes this action was filed in good faith, but informed Relator of its decision not to intervene at this time. (Resp. 7, Mot. 2.) Relator states that she has considered the substantial cost and risk of proceeding alone and has decided against it. With the Government's consent, Relator therefore moves to voluntarily dismiss the case without prejudice.

Relator also moves to maintain a seal over the case, or alternatively to make public only a version of the complaint redacted to remove information identifying her. While the Government opposes maintaining the seal over the complaint,*fn1 Relator states that lifting the seal could compromise her ability to earn an income, lead to potential physical retaliation, and harm her family. Relator is an experienced medical transcriptionist, coder, and biller; and has since her resignation from Devola worked as a medical transcriptionist, transcribing the records of Defendant Skidmore and several area physicians who know Defendant Skidmore professionally and socially. (Compl. ¶ 11, Mot. 6, Ruble Decl. ¶ 5.) Relator states in her Declaration:

10. While I no longer work for Dr. Skidmore and cannot be fired by him, I am very concerned about other forms of professional retaliation. If my role in this case becomes public, I will forever be viewed with suspicion and distrust in the local medical community. The medical community in Marietta, Ohio is quite small and tightknit. Dr. Skidmore knows and associates with most of the physicians I do transcriptions for or could do medical administration for in the future. I believe my job prospects for doing transcription would be substantially curtailed, especially because the work I do as a transcriptionist and did perform as an office administrator is confidential and doctors who know I reported one of their colleagues to the Government will be leery of trusting me.

11. . . . [O]ne of my employers . . . will no longer be doing transcriptions after March. Because my other transcriptionist work only covers 2 days a week, I will have to seek additional employment immediately.

12. I have no other professional training besides for office administration and medical transcribing. It is imperative that I be able to continue working at this time in this medical community. Within the past few months, my husband recently underwent multiple heart surgeries as well as a lung surgery. He is elderly and will not be able to return to work in the foreseeable future. I am also his primary caregiver. . . . [A]ny publicity from the case materials being unsealed would be particularly stressful for both of us at this point in time. . . . (Ruble Decl. ¶¶ 10--12.)

Relator also states that she fears physical retaliation from Defendant Skidmore and his wife, Melissa Skidmore, who during the Government's investigation allegedly telephoned Relator and accused her of writing a letter "filled with lies." (Ruble Decl. ¶¶ 13--14.) Relator believes that Defendant and Melissa Skidmore are responsible for a series of distressing hang-up phone calls made to Relator's family. (Id. at ¶ 15.) She also alleges that "[a]round April of 2008, Melissa Skidmore deliberately shoved [Relator] with her hand while [they] were both at the Devola office." (Id. at ¶ 16.)

II.Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice

Because the Government consents to the voluntary dismissal of this action without prejudice, and Defendants have not been served, the Court hereby GRANTS Relator's motion to dismiss without prejudice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2); 31 U.S.C. ยง 3730(b)(1) (allowing dismissal of ...


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