BAILEY v. VETERANS MEDICAL TRANSCRIPTION SERVICES, INC. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION regarding defendants Stone Network, Inc. and Sinnappan Mani's 22 Motion to Dismiss; and defendants Veterans Medical Transcription Services, Inc., Steven Rose, Michael Dortch, and David Bradford's 23 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Beryl A. Howell on November 13, 2023. (lcbah1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel.
Civil Action No. 20-2312 (BAH)
Judge Beryl A. Howell
VETERANS MEDICAL TRANSCRIPTION
SERVICES, INC. et al.,
Thomas Bailey brought this action, as a relator, pursuant to the qui tam provision of the
False Claims Act (“FCA”), 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(1), against Veterans Medical Transcription
Services, Inc. (“VMTS”) and its owners and officers, Steven Rose, Michael Dortch, and David
Bradford (“Individual VMTS Defendants,” and with VMTS, “VMTS Defendants”); and Stone
Network, Inc. (“Stone”) and its president, Sinnappan Mani (jointly, “Stone Defendants”),
alleging that defendants misrepresented VMTS as a service-disabled veteran-owned small
business (“SDVOSB”) and fraudulently obtained SDVOSB certification from the U.S.
government. See generally Am. Compl., ECF No. 11. Such certification allegedly made
defendants eligible for procurement contracts specially set aside for SDVOSBs or that prioritized
the engagement of SDVOSBs, by government agencies such as the Department of Veterans
Affairs (“VA”), as encouraged by the Small Business Act, see 15 U.S.C. ch. 14A. Relying on
this certification of SDVOSB status, VMTS was allegedly able to obtain numerous contracts that
“resulted in millions of dollars of improper payments by federal agencies.” Am. Compl. ¶ 89.
The United States has declined to intervene in this matter. See Notice of Election to
Decline Intervention, ECF No. 7. Both the VMTS Defendants and the Stone Defendants have
now moved to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b), for
failure to plead fraud with the requisite particularity and, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. See Stone Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Stone Defs.’
Mot.”), ECF No. 22; VMTS Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“VMTS Defs.’ Mot.”), ECF No. 23. For
the reasons below, both motions are granted.
The U.S. government, “the world’s largest buyer of goods and services,” Am. Compl.
¶ 28, has adopted the “policy,” as codified in the Small Business Act, as amended, that the
government “should aid, counsel, assist, and protect, insofar as is possible, the interests of smallbusiness concerns . . . to insure that a fair proportion of the total purchases and contracts or
subcontracts for property and services for the Government . . . be placed with small-business
enterprises,” 15 U.S.C. § 631(a). To effectuate this goal, “small business concerns owned and
controlled by service-disabled veterans . . . shall have the maximum practicable opportunity to
participate in the performance of contracts let by any Federal agency.” 15 U.S.C. § 637(d)(1).
The President is required to establish government-wide goals for procurement contracts awarded
to SDVOSBs, and such goal may not be “less than 3 percent of the total value of all prime
contract and subcontract awards for each fiscal year.” Id. § 644(g)(1)(A)(ii).
Relevant here are two programs authorizing federal agencies to prioritize SDVOSBs: the
Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program (“SDVOSB Program”), and the VA’s
Veterans First Contracting Program (“VFCP”). See Am. Compl. ¶ 36. Both programs adopt the
definition of SDVOSB provided in the Small Business Act, see 38 U.S.C. § 8127(m)(3); 13
C.F.R. § 125.3(a), which defines SDVOSB to include a small business concern “not less than 51
percent of which is owned by one or more service-disabled veterans” and “the management and
daily business operations of which are controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans,” 15
U.S.C. § 632(q)(2)(A). The SDVOSB Program and the VA’s VFCP have similar eligibility
requirement but differing certification requirements. Am. Compl. ¶ 38. The SDVOSB Program
requires businesses to self-certify every year as an SDVOSB in the government’s System for
Award Management (“SAM”), a system used, inter alia, for private contractors to register to
conduct business with the federal government. Id. ¶ 41. An entity must have an active
registration in SAM to conduct business with the federal government. The VA’s VFCP, in
contrast, requires businesses to apply to the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation
(“CVE”) for certification of SDVOSB status. Id. ¶ 38. Only if SDVOSB status is granted by the
CVE may a business bid on a VA SDVOSB contract. Id. ¶ 39.
VMTS is a medical transcription service company that has “pursued contracts with the
United States, including contracts set aside for [SDVOSBs].” Id. ¶ 68. VMTS allegedly sought
certification as an SDVOSB contractor “to compete for VA contracts set aside for SDVOSB
companies,” id. ¶ 69, and as of February 27, 2018, had been verified as an SDVOSB by CVE
and listed as an eligible SDVOSB on the VA’s Vendor Information Page, id. ¶ 70. VMTS also
allegedly self-certified in SAM as an SDVOSB “to compete for contracts set aside for
[SDVOSBs] by other federal agencies.” Id. ¶ 69. On February 24, 2017, VMTS represented in
SAM that it was not an SDVOSB and had an “inactive” status, meaning that its registration had
expired and had not been renewed, but subsequently, on September 12, 2017, VMTS represented
in SAM that it was an SDVOSB, still with an “inactive” status, which status continued until as
late as May 23, 2019. Id. ¶ 14. As of November 15, 2022, VMTS, continuing to represent itself
as an SDVOSB, had an “active” status. Id.
According to relator, VMTS’s seeking of certification through CVE and its selfcertification in SAM was fraudulent and in violation of the FCA because VMTS “is not
unconditionally owned and controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans.” Id. ¶ 72.
Specifically, he alleges that, on June 8, 2015, VMTS was purchased by Digital Transcription
Services Inc., owned by Defendant Mani and Timothy Nicholls. Id. ¶ 65. At some point before
November 2017, the ownership again changed, and by November 2017, Defendants Rose,
Dortch, and Bradford owned VMTS. Id. ¶ 66. Dortch and Rose are service-disabled veterans,
id., and the amended complaint contains no allegations about whether Bradford is also a servicedisabled veteran. Despite this formal ownership change, relator alleges that VMTS remains
“effectively managed and controlled” by Mani, who is not a service-disabled veteran, and
Bradford, and thus that VMTS does not meet the SDVOSB criteria. Id. ¶¶ 73–74.1 Put
differently, relator alleges that Mani and Bradford—rather than Dortch and Rose, who are
service-disabled veterans—own VMTS, and thus that VMTS is not an SDVOSB. Nonetheless,
VMTS allegedly sought certification and self-certified as an SDVOSB to gain priority for
government contracts and “to target and financially injure government programs.” Id. ¶ 93; see
also id. ¶¶ 76–77.2
On August 13, 2020, relator commenced this FCA action against defendants. Compl.,
ECF No. 1. Over two years later, the United States declined to intervene, and the case was
unsealed. On November 15, 2022, relator filed the operative amended complaint, alleging that
all defendants violated three provisions of the False Claims Act, namely: (1) in Count 1,
Relator alleges that VMTS and Stone are affiliated because both are “effectively managed and controlled”
by Mani, have “substantially identical business interests,” and “share an address,” staff, utilities, “intellectual,
physical, and information resources,” and two common entrances and because “VMTS leases office space from a
company owned” by Mani. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 67, 73 (citation omitted).
Attached to the original complaint is Exhibit 2, a 300-page, 3518-line table, purporting to list all the
contracts that VMTS fraudulently obtained by presenting itself as an SDVOSB. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 68, 79, 82; see
also Compl., Ex. 2, Part 1 (“Ex. 2 Pt. 1”), ECF No. 1-2; Compl., Ex. 2, Part 2 (“Ex. 2 Pt. 2”), ECF No. 1-3; Compl.,
Ex. 2, Part 3 (“Ex. 2 Pt. 3”), ECF No. 1-4; Compl. Ex. 2, Part 4 (“Ex. 2 Pt. 4”), ECF No. 1-5; Compl., Ex. 2, Part 5
(“Ex. 2 Pt. 5”), ECF No. 1-6; Compl., Ex. 2, Part 6 (“Ex. 2 Pt. 6”), ECF No. 1-7; Compl., Ex. 2, Part 7 (“Ex. 2 Pt.
7”), ECF No. 1-8. None of the exhibits attached to his original complaint were refiled with the amended complaint
but are incorporated by reference.
“knowingly present[ed], or caus[ed] to be presented, false and fraudulent claims for payment or
approval to the Government for goods and services relating to the provision of transcription
services,” in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A); (2) in Count 2, “knowingly made false
representations to the United States,” in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(B); and (3) in Count
3, “knowingly conspired—and are still conspiring—to commit acts in violation of the FCA,” in
violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(C). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 99, 105, 109. Relator seeks a multitude
of relief, including orders that defendants “cease and desist” from violating the FCA and
“disgorge all sums by which they have been unjustly enriched by their wrongful conduct,” three
times the amount of damages that the government sustained as a result of defendants’ acts, “a
civil penalty of not less than $5,500 or more than $11,000 per claim,” and all costs incurred by
relator in this action. Id. (Prayer for Relief). Defendants, in turn, have moved to dismiss the
complaint pursuant to Rule 9(b) for failure to plead fraud with the requisite particularity and
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “the complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wood v.
Moss, 572 U.S. 744, 757–58 (2014) (citation omitted). A claim is facially plausible when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that is more than “‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability”
and “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)); see also Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d
1119, 1129 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“Plausibility requires more than a sheer possibility that a defendant
has acted unlawfully.” (citation omitted)).
In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must consider the whole complaint,
accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, and construing
all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Atchley v.
AstraZeneca UK Ltd., 22 F.4th 204, 210 (D.C. Cir. 2022). A court, however, does not “accept
inferences drawn by a plaintiff if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the
complaint.” Nurriddin v. Bolden, 818 F.3d 751, 756 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (alterations in original
accepted and citation omitted). “[N]aked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” are
not sufficient to support a complaint. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in original accepted and
citation omitted). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the
mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has not shown—that the
pleader is entitled to relief,” and the case can be dismissed. Id. at 679 (alteration in original
accepted and citation omitted).
In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, a court may consider only the
facts alleged in the complaint and “any documents either attached to or incorporated in the
complaint and matters of which the court may take judicial notice.” N. Am. Butterfly Ass’n v.
Wolf, 977 F.3d 1244, 1249 (D.C. Cir. 2020) (alterations in original accepted and citation
omitted). Additionally, a court “may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to reasonable
dispute because it . . . can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy
cannot reasonably be questioned” and may do so “at any stage of the proceeding.” Fed. R. Evid.
201(b)(2), (d). A court may thus take judicial notice of “public records.” Kaempe v. Myers, 367
F.3d 958, 965 (D.C. Cir. 2004); see, e.g., Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508 F.3d 1052, 1059
(D.C. Cir. 2007) (taking judicial notice of Department of Labor’s wage determinations); Grant v.
Dep’t of Treasury, 194 F. Supp. 3d 25, 28 n.2 (D.D.C. 2016) (taking judicial notice of agency
decisions, which are “official, public documents subject to judicial notice”).3
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 9(b)
Rule 8(a) provides that a pleading shall contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(d) further counsels
that “[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1). When a
plaintiff alleges fraud, including when stating a claim under the FCA, a plaintiff must meet the
pleading standard set out in Rule 9(b), which provides that “a party must state with particularity
the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b); see also Universal Health
Servs., Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 579 U.S. 176, 195 n.6 (2016) (“False Claims Act
plaintiffs must also plead their claims with plausibility and particularity under Federal Rules of
The Stone Defendants attach five exhibits to their motion to dismiss, which relator argues are “extrinsic
materials” that are not “documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint.” Pl.’s Opp’n
Stone Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Stone Opp’n”) at 5–6, ECF No. 24 (citation omitted). Relator, however, makes
no mention of Federal Rule of Evidence 201, which allows a court to “take judicial notice on its own” of “a fact that
is not subject to reasonable dispute.” Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)–(c). As explained above, courts, applying this principle,
often take notice of agency decisions. See, e.g., New York v. Meta Platforms, Inc., 66 F.4th 288, 303 (D.C. Cir.
2023) (taking judicial notice of FTC complaint, which comprises of “facts on the public record” (citation omitted)).
For this reason, the Court may take judicial notice of Exhibits 1 through 3 to the Stone Defendants’ motion
to dismiss. See Stone Defs.’ Reply Supp. Mot. to Dismiss (“Stone Defs.’ Reply”) at 4, ECF No. 25. Exhibit 1 is the
CVE’s determination, upon consideration of a challenge brought by Transcriptions, Inc., dba Alpha Transcription
(“Alpha”), that “VMTS does meet the eligibility requirements” to “qualif[y] as a SDVOSB.” Stone Defs.’ Mot., Ex.
1 at 1, ECF No. 22-1; see also id. at 2–3 (rejecting Alpha’s argument that “VMTS does not qualify as an eligible
SDVOSB due to the concern’s reliance and association with Stone Network, a non-SDVOSB entity”). Exhibit 2 is
the VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization’s decision, affirming the CVE’s conclusion that
VMTS qualifies as an SDVOSB. Stone Defs.’ Mot., Ex. 2 at 1, ECF No. 22-2; see also id. at 2–3 (finding “no
merit” to the argument that VMTS is not an SDVOSB because of its relationship with Stone). Exhibit 3 is a U.S.
Small Business Administration Office of Hearings and Appeals decision concluding that “VMTS is unconditionally
owned by service-disabled veterans.” Stone Defs.’ Mot., Ex. 3 at 17, ECF No. 22-3. Relying on these three
exhibits, the Stone Defendants argue that “Alpha has a long history of protesting decisions contracts awarded” to
VMTS. Stone Defs.’ Mot. at 1. While this may be true, the relevance of this “long history,” exemplified by
Exhibits 1 through 3, to this action are unclear since nothing in record suggests relator has any relation to Alpha.
In contrast, Exhibits 4 and 5, which are declarations by Michael Dortch and Steven Rose, respectively, see
Stone Defs.’ Mot., Ex. 4, ECF No. 22-4; Stone Defs.’ Mot., Ex. 5, ECF No. 22-5, are neither documents attached to
the complaint or otherwise incorporated by reference, nor matters of which the Court may take judicial notice and
thus may not be considered on a motion to dismiss. See United States ex rel. Shea v. Cellco P’ship, 863 F.3d 923,
936 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) forbids considering facts beyond the complaint in
connection with a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim.”).
Civil Procedure 8 and 9(b).”); United States ex rel. Totten v. Bombardier Corp., 286 F.3d 542,
551–52 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (“[B]ecause the False Claims Act is self-evidently an anti-fraud statute,
complaints brought under it must comply with Rule 9(b).”). This heightened pleading standard
is designed to “discourage the initiation of suits brought solely for their nuisance value, and
safeguard potential defendants from frivolous accusations of moral turpitude,” as well as
“guarantee all defendants sufficient information to allow for preparation of a response.” United
States ex rel. Heath v. AT&T, Inc., 791 F.3d 112, 123 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (alteration in original
accepted and citation omitted).
Rule 9(b)’s “requirement of particularity does not abrogate Rule 8.” United States ex rel.
Williams v. Martin-Baker Aircraft Co., 389 F.3d 1251, 1256 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting United
States ex rel. Joseph v. Cannon, 642 F.2d 1373, 1386 (D.C. Cir. 1981)). Rather, read together,
“Rules 8 and 9(b) require a plaintiff to plead the time, place, and content of the fraud and to
identify the individuals allegedly involved.” United States ex rel. Shea v. Cellco P’ship, 863
F.3d 923, 936 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). In other words, a plaintiff must provide the
“who,” “what,” “when,” and “where” with respect to the circumstances of the fraud, so that the
defendant is put on “fair notice of the fraud of which it is accused.” Heath, 791 F.3d at 124.
Relator alleges that defendants violated the FCA by presenting false claims for payment
or approval to a government agency, by making materially false statements in such claims for
payment or approval, and conspiring to do both, in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A)
(Count 1), (B) (Count 2), and (C) (Count 3). In its opposition to the Stone Defendants’ motion to
dismiss, relator abandons Counts 1 and 2 as to the Stone Defendants, leaving only the conspiracy
claim against them. See Pl.’s Opp’n Stone Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Stone Opp’n”) at 5,
ECF No. 24 (“While it may be true that the Complaint does not allege that either Stone Network
nor Mr. Mani specifically submitted a false claim for payment, they conspired, either
individually or together with VMTS and its principals, to submit false pay claims on behalf of
VMTS, a company controlled by Mr. Mani, for the financial benefit of all the Defendants.”).
While the Stone Defendants’ motion to dismiss may thus be granted, in part, as conceded as to
Counts 1 and 2, all defendants’ motions are granted in full for the reasons set out below. Since
an underlying violation of the FCA is a prerequisite for a claim of conspiracy to violate the FCA,
Counts 1 and 2 are addressed first, before turning to Count 3.
Counts 1 and 2
Counts 1 and 2 do not satisfy Rule 9(b)’s particularity requirement. The amended
complaint alleges that Exhibit 2, a 300-page, 3518-line table, lists the contracts that VMTS
fraudulently obtained by presenting itself as an SDVOSB. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 68, 79, 82; see
also Pl.’s Opp’n VMTS Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.’s VMTS Opp’n”) at 4, ECF No. 26 (“The
specific contracts involved, through which all Defendants improperly benefited from the fraud
and conspiracy, are specifically identified in Exhibit 2.”); Pl.’s Stone Opp’n at 5 (same). Exhibit
2, however, raises more questions than it answers and certainly does not provide defendants with
“sufficient information to allow for preparation of a response” to the complaint. Joseph, 642
F.2d at 1385.
Most of the contracts listed in Exhibit 2, for example, do not list VMTS as a vendor and
appear to have nothing to do with VMTS. See, e.g., Ex. 2 Pt. 1 at 36–50; Ex. 2 Pt. 2 at 1–50; Ex.
2 Pt. 3 at 1–51; Ex. 2 Pt. 4 at 1–49; Ex. 2 Pt. 5 at 1–50; Ex. 2 Pt. 6 at 1–50; Ex. 2 Pt. 7 at 1–50.
In fact, only approximately 344 of the 3517 contracts listed in Exhibit 2 seem to involve VMTS
at all. See Ex. 2 Pt. 1 at 2–36.4 Even considering only these 344 contracts, plaintiff has not
“state[d] with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b).
Specifically, the allegations regarding the “time . . . of the false misrepresentations” are entirely
inadequate. Kowal v. MCI Commc’n Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1278 (D.C. Cir. 1994). In a vacuum,
Exhibit 2 suggests that the time for the alleged fraud is approximately 2010 to 2020, since the
344 contracts that, on their face, involve VMTS date from approximately 2010 to 2020. See Ex.
2 Pt. 1 at 2–36.5
Comparing the date range for the 344 contracts in Exhibit 2 that appear to involve
VMTS, with the allegations in the amended complaint, however, a period of 2010 to 2020 for the
alleged fraud does not make sense. Relator alleges that VMTS did not represent itself in SAM as
an SDVOSB until September 2017, Am. Compl. ¶ 14, and that VMTS was not verified as an
SDVOSB by the CVE until February 2018, id. ¶ 70. The amended complaint, however, does not
provide a date on which VMTS certified, in its application to be certified by the CVE, that it was
an SDVOSB, or a date on which VMTS, relying on this allegedly fraudulent misrepresentation,
entered a government contract and submitted claims for payment under this contract. See United
States ex rel. Cimino v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., 3 F.4th 412, 417 (D.C. Cir. 2021) (explaining
that “[u]nder longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” a violation of Section 3729(a)(1)(A)
“occurs when a person fraudulently induces the government to enter a contract and later submits
claims for payment under that contract”). Put differently, given the allegations in the amended
Approximately 16 contracts reflected in Exhibit 2 involve Stone, see Ex. 2 Pt. 5 at 49 (Lines 2569–71); Ex.
2 Pt. 6 at 26, 33, 40, 46 (Lines 2825–27, 2893–98, 2966–68, 3035), but the amended complaint does not allege that
Stone falsely presented itself as an SDVOSB, see Pl.’s VMTS Opp’n at 3.
Exhibit 2 includes contracts that date all the way back to the 1980s, see, e.g., Ex. 2 Pt. 1 at 37–38, 43, 48,
and, consequently, allegations of fraud related to many of these contracts are likely time-barred, see Cochise
Consultancy, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Hunt, 139 S. Ct. 1507, 1510 (2019); see also VMTS Defs.’ Mot. at 7. As
further evidence of the inadequacy of relator’s allegations, defendants, based on the information available, cannot
know whether to prepare a defense based on the FCA’s statute of limitations.
complaint, the earliest date that VMTS presented a material false statement in violation of
Section 3729(a)(1)(B) (Count 2) or that VMTS could have presented a false claim for payment
or approval in violation of Section 3729(a)(1)(A) (Count 1) was September 2017.
The amended complaint further alleges that VMTS was owned by “Stan and Rebecca
Robinson,” who are not parties to this action, until June 8, 2015, when Defendant Mani
purchased VMTS. Id. ¶ 65. Then, defendants Rose, Dortch, and Bradford allegedly purchased
VMTS at some point between June 2015 and November 2017. Id. ¶ 66. Yet, because the alleged
violation of the FCA is that VMTS, when it was owned by Defendants Rose, Dortch, and
Bradford, was “effectively managed and controlled” by Mani and Bradford, id. ¶¶ 73–74, the
alleged fraud cannot have commenced until Defendants Rose, Dortch, and Bradford purchased
VMTS. In short, Exhibit 2 suggests that the time for the alleged fraud is approximately 2010 to
2020, whereas the amended complaint, though failing to identify a start date, suggests that the
alleged fraud began at some point in 2017 or 2018. Read together, Exhibit 2 and the amended
complaint thus provide confusing and insufficient allegations regarding the time of any alleged
In opposition to the VMTS Defendants’ motion to dismiss, relator, citing paragraph 95 of
the amended complaint, argues that “the Amended Complaint is clear that the alleged acts of
fraud and conspiracy took place from 2017 to the present and involved the contracts identified in
Exhibit 2.” Pl.’s VMTS Opp’n at 4. Paragraph 95, however, states only that the period for the
alleged conspiracy (Count 3) is “from at least 2017 to the present” and says nothing about the
period for Counts 1 and 2. Am. Compl. ¶ 95. Even if paragraph 95 could be read to impose a
period “from at least 2017 to the present” for Counts 1 and 2, such allegation would be in tension
with relator’s statement that the “alleged acts of fraud . . . involved the contracts identified in
Exhibit 2,” since the contracts identified in Exhibit 2 date back to the 1980s and those
specifically involving VMTS date back to 2010. See Williams, 389 F.3d at 1257 (concluding
that relator’s attempt to cabin the time period for the allegedly fraudulent activities in his briefing
“comes too late”); see also VMTS Defs.’ Mot. at 8 (“Plaintiff appears to be trying to place over
twenty-five years’ worth of contracts at issue—exactly the type of ‘fishing expedition’ that Rule
9(b) seeks to avoid.”). In sum, the amended complaint provides for an “open-ended time span”
for the alleged fraud that fails to give defendants “sufficient information to allow preparation of a
response,” in violation of Rule 9. Williams, 389 F.3d at 1257 (citation omitted).6
Equally obscured is the Individual VMTS Defendants’ role in the alleged fraudulent
activity. See id. (explaining that “who precisely was involved in the fraudulent activity” must be
pled with particularity). “In the context of a fraud suit involving multiple defendants,” Rule 9(b)
requires a plaintiff to, “at a minimum, identify the role of each defendant in the alleged
fraudulent scheme.” Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 765 (9th Cir. 2007) (alteration in
original accepted and citation omitted); see also Vicom, Inc. v. Harbridge Merchs. Servs., Inc.,
20 F.3d 771, 777–78 (7th Cir. 1994) (similar). The only allegations in the amended complaint
with respect to the Individual VMTS Defendants, however, are the following: (1) the Individual
VMTS Defendants are the current “owner[s] of VMTS” and took ownership at some point
between June 2015 and November 2017; (2) “Dortch and Rose represent themselves to be
The “fact misrepresented” is also arguably ambiguous. Kowal, 16 F.3d at 1278. On the one hand, the
amended complaint alleges that “VMTS is not unconditionally owned and controlled by one or more servicedisabled veterans,” suggesting that VMTS’s claim that it is “unconditionally owned and controlled by one or more
service-disabled veterans” is the fact misrepresented. Am. Compl. ¶ 72; see also Pl.’s Stone Opp’n at 4 (arguing
that “[a]lthough VMTS alleges that it is controlled by Defendant Rose and Dortch as the qualifying service disabled
veterans, actual control and management of the firm is in the hands of” Mani, who is not a service-disabled veteran,
and Stone, which is not an SDVOSB). On the other hand, the amended complaint contends that VMTS and Stone
are “affiliated” and explains that “[w]hen two companies are affiliated, the SBA combines the revenue or number of
employees of both companies when making a size determination,” suggesting that VMTS’s claim that it is a “small
business” is the fact misrepresented. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 50, 73; see also Pl.’s Stone Opp’n at 4 (arguing that VMTS
and Stone are affiliated).
service-disabled veterans”; and (3) “Bradford has made conflicting representations at various
times that he is, and that he is not, an officer of Stone.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16–18, 65–66, 73.
The amended complaint thus lacks any specific facts about any of the Individual VMTS
Defendants, their conduct, or their involvement in the alleged fraud. None of the Individual
VMTS Defendants are alleged to have directly presented false claims or made false statements to
the government; rather, all claims or statements were made by VMTS. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 69–90.
Relator does not allege, for example, that the Individual VMTS Defendants prepared the false
claims themselves or falsely identified themselves as the owners of VMTS for the purpose of
fraudulently obtaining SDVOSB status. See, e.g., United States ex rel. Scollick v. Narula, 215 F.
Supp. 3d 26, 47 (D.D.C. 2016). None of the allegations with respect to the Individual VMTS
Defendants indicate that they were involved in the scheme of submitting false claims and
statements to the government, much less that they took on roles that were substantial factors in
causing the submission of false claims or statements. See Cimino, 3 F.4th at 420 (explaining that
to establish causation, relator must “plead actual causation under a but-for standard”).7 Relator
does not allege, for example, that the Individual VMTS Defendants took “advantage of an
unwitting intermediary, thereby causing that party to submit a false claim” or “agreed to take
certain critical actions in furtherance of the fraud.” United States ex rel. Tran v. Comput. Scis.
Corp., 53 F. Supp. 3d 104, 126–27 (D.D.C. 2014) (Brown Jackson, J.). Rather, the amended
complaint alleges no facts about the acts of any of the Individual VMTS Defendants, much less
sufficient “factual content [to] allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
Relator has arguably abandoned Counts 1 and 2 as to the Individual VMTS Defendants by focusing on only
the conspiracy alleged against these individuals in Count 3. See Pl.’s VMTS Opp’n at 5 (“With regard to the
submission of a false claim for payment, it is irrelevant which, if any, of the three individual Defendants actually
submitted or caused to be submitted, claims for payment as they all conspired to submit false pay claims on behalf
of VMTS.”). As the VMTS Defendants correctly point out, “whether the defendant presented a cla[i]m for payment
or approval to the government is an element of a proper False Claims Act claim. How could the question of which
Defendant actually submitted the claim be irrelevant?” VMTS Defs.’ Reply Supp. Mot. to Dismiss (“VMTS Defs.’
Reply”) at 3, ECF No. 27 (citation omitted).
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged,” as Rules 8 and 9(b) require. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678; see also United States v. Bornstein, 423 U.S. 303, 312 (1976) (explaining that the FCA
“penalizes a person for his own acts, not for the acts of someone else”); Antoine v. U.S. Bank
Nat’l Ass’n, 547 F. Supp. 2d 30, 37 (D.D.C. 2008) (explaining that “even if the plaintiffs’
complaint sufficiently states a fraud claim against [the corporate defendant], they must plead
specific and separate allegations of fraud against [the individual defendant] to succeed against
her as an individual defendant” and dismissing the FCA claim against the individual defendant
because the complaint failed to “provide specific details about the circumstances constituting
her allegedly fraudulent behavior”).8 “This imprecision not only fail[s] to give the companies
sufficient information to answer the complaint, but it also subject[s] the named individuals to
vague, potentially damaging accusations of fraud.” Williams, 389 F.3d at 1257 (finding a
complaint lacked specificity where it “repeatedly refer[red] generally to ‘management’ and
provide[d] a long list of names without ever explaining the role these individuals played in the
alleged fraud”); see also United States ex rel. Lee v. SmithKline Beecham, Inc., 245 F.3d 1048,
1051–52 (9th Cir. 2001) (concluding that an FCA claim lacked the requisite particularity under
Rule 9(b) where, inter alia, plaintiff failed to identify the employees involved in the fraud).9
Counts 1 and 2 are thus dismissed for failure to plead fraud with particularity as required by Rule
In opposition to the VMTS Defendants’ motion to dismiss, relator contends, for the first time, that “Mani,
not a service-disabled veteran, required Rose, who was a service-disabled veteran, to front the business. In
exchange for the business opportunity, Rose agreed that VMTS would assume an approximate $400,000 loan of
VMTS and obligated himself and subsequent owners, Dortch and Bradford, to make the $10,000 monthly payments
going forward all without the benefit of any paper documenting the debt assumption.” Pl.’s VMTS Opp’n at 4–5.
Setting aside the fact that relator fails to explain why this contention supports its allegations of fraud, these facts are
not alleged in the complaint and thus may not be considered on a motion to dismiss. See Schuler v. United States,
617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979); Shea, 863 F.3d at 936.
Defendants also argue that relator has not stated any facts sufficient to pierce the corporate veil and hold
the Individual VMTS Defendants or Mani liable. See VMTS Defs.’ Mot. at 4–5; Stone Defs.’ Mot. at 8–9. These
arguments about veil piercing need not be addressed because the claims against both VMTS and Stone are dismissed
on other grounds.
Relator’s claim against defendants for conspiracy, in violation of FCA’s section
3729(a)(1)(C), also fails because “there can be no liability for conspiracy where there is no
underlying violation of the FCA.” Pencheng Si v. Laogai Rsch. Found., 71 F. Supp. 3d 73, 89
(D.D.C. 2014) (Brown Jackson, J.); see also Halberstam v. Welch, 705 F.2d 472, 479 (D.C. Cir.
1983) (“Since liability for civil conspiracy depends on performance of some underlying tortious
at, the conspiracy is not independently actionable.”). Several of the problems raised by
defendants on the merits of relator’s conspiracy claims are worth briefly addressing for
To state a claim for an FCA conspiracy violation, a plaintiff must show that (1) “an
agreement existed” to make false or fraudulent claims or “to have false or fraudulent claims
allowed or paid by the United States”; (2) the defendant “willfully joined that agreement”; and
(3) “one or more conspirators knowingly committed one or more overt acts in furtherance of the
object of the conspiracy.” United States ex rel. Miller v. Bill Harbert Int’l Const., Inc., 608 F.3d
871, 899 (D.C. Cir. 2010). “[A]llegations of conspiracy do not excuse the plaintiffs from
offering detailed and particularized allegations regarding each defendant’s role in the fraud.”
Puri v. Khalsa, 674 F. App’x 679, 687 n.2 (9th Cir. 2017); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The
allegations in the amended complaint as to conspiracy, however, are nothing more than “labels
and conclusions,” “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of [the] cause of action,” and “naked
assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” and thus are insufficient to satisfy the
strictures of Rules 8 and 9(b). Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in original accepted and citation
As discussed above, the allegations with respect to the Individual VMTS Defendants do
not explain what role—if any—they had in the alleged fraud or that they “willfully joined th[e]
agreement.” The amended complaint is similarly devoid of any facts from which any inference
could be drawn that Stone or Mani played any role in the alleged fraud or that they agreed to join
any conspiracy to defraud the government. The only allegations pertaining to Stone are that
VMTS and Stone are affiliated because (1) “VMTS and Stone are effectively managed and
controlled by Mr. Mani”; (2) “the firms’ owners have substantially identical business or
economic interests”; (3) they share an address, staff, utilities, “two common entrances,” and
“intellectual, physical, and information resources”; and (4) “VMTS leases office space from a
company owned by Mr. Mani, who remains a part owner of Stone.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 67, 73
(citations omitted).10 The only allegations involving Mani are that he is the president of Stone,
purchased VMTS in June 2015, and sold it at some point before November 2017. Id. ¶¶ 19, 65.
The amended complaint further contends that Mani “effectively manage[s] and control[s]” both
VMTS and Stone but offers no factual allegations to support this legal conclusion. Id. ¶¶ 73–74.
Relator’s only argument in response is that “[t]he Amended Complaint alleges that the
‘Defendants,’ defined as Veteran’s Medical Transcription Services, Inc., Steven Rose, Michael
Dortch, David Bradford, Stone Network, Inc. and Sinnappan Mani, conspired to defraud the
government by claiming that VMTS was a [SDVOSB], owned and managed by Rose, Dortch
and Bradford when in fact VMTS was under the express control and management of either Stone
Network or Mani, in his individual capacity.” Pl.’s VMTS Opp’n at 3; see also Pl.’s Stone
Opp’n at 3–4. At the outset, the allegations in the complaint that invoke “Defendants” are
The Stone Defendants further argue, likely correctly, that these allegations are insufficient to establish the
“control” necessary to establish affiliation. See Stone Defs.’ Reply at 2. Setting aside the allegation that “VMTS
and Stone are effectively managed and controlled by Mr. Mani,” which is a legal conclusion that need not be
accepted as true, none of the remaining allegations is sufficient to establish that Stone or Mani either had “control”
or “the power to control” VMTS. 13 C.F.R. § 121.103(a)(1).
entirely conclusory and merely restate the elements of conspiracy under the FCA, with no
supporting factual allegations. See, e.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 91–97. Even setting the conclusory
nature of the allegations aside, relator’s attempts to rely on its definition of “Defendants” to
argue that the amended complaint contains specific, particularized allegations as to each
defendant’s involvement in the alleged conspiracy is insufficient, without more, to satisfy Rule 8,
much less the heightened Rule 9(b) standard. See Puri, 674 F. App’x at 687 n.2 (“Rule 9(b) does
not allow a complaint to merely lump multiple defendants together but requires plaintiffs to
differentiate their allegations when suing more than one defendant and inform each defendant
separately of the allegations surrounding his alleged participation in the fraud.’” (alterations in
original accepted and citation omitted)); Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Aniero Concrete Co., 404 F.3d
566, 579–80 (2d Cir. 2005) (“Sweeping references to the collective fraudulent actions of
multiple defendants will not satisfy the particularity requirements of Rule 9(b).” (citation
Finally, relator requests an opportunity to amend if his complaint is found lacking in
pleading a fraud claim with the particularity that Rule 9 requires. See Pl.’s VMTS Opp’n at 5;
Pl.’s Stone Opp’n at 5. The problem with this request is that he has missed his 21-day window
to amend his complaint as of right. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). To be sure, courts “should
freely give leave when justice so requires,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2), but “Rule 15(a)—even as
liberally construed—applies only when the plaintiff actually has moved for leave to amend the
complaint; absent a motion, there is nothing to be freely given,” Schmidt v. United States, 749
F.3d 1064, 1069 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Belizan v. Hershon, 434 F.3d 579, 582 (D.C. Cir.
2006)); see also Williams, 389 F.3d at 1259 (“While Federal Rule 15(a) provides that leave to
amend shall be freely given when justice so requires, a bare request in an opposition to a motion
to dismiss—without any indication of the particular grounds on which amendment is sought—
does not constitute a motion within the contemplation of Rule 15(a).” (quoting Kowal, 16 F.3d at
1280)). Relator’s amended complaint is thus dismissed.
“In sum, although Rule 9(b) does not require plaintiffs to allege every fact pertaining to
every instance of fraud when a scheme spans several years, defendants must be able to ‘defend
against the charge and not just deny that they have done anything wrong.’” Williams, 389 F.3d
at 1259 (quoting Lee, 245 F.3d at 1052). Here, relator has failed to allege with particularity the
facts upon which the amended complaint’s conclusory allegations of fraud and conspiracy to
commit fraud are based, and the amended complaint thus does not provide defendants with
sufficient information to put them on notice of the claims against them or to allow preparation
for a response.
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the Stone Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, ECF
No. 22, and the VMTS Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 23, are GRANTED, and
relator’s Amended Complaint, ECF No. 11, is DISMISSED.
An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will be filed contemporaneously.
Date: November 13, 2023
BERYL A. HOWELL
United States District Judge
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