In federal criminal investigations, corporate health care providers have faced a Department of Justice increasingly focused on individuals, one that has limited or foreclosed cooperation credit for corporations not providing complete information on all individual involvement. At a conference in late November, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlined a modification of these stringent guidelines, to some extent for criminal prosecutions cases but more significantly for civil cases.
The 2015 Yates Memorandum established DOJ’s policy on individual accountability for corporate wrongdoing. This policy provided that corporations must provide all relevant facts about individuals to be eligible for any cooperation credit; criminal and civil investigations should focus on individuals from inception; no corporate resolution will provide protection from criminal or civil liability for any individuals; and considerations for civil suits against individuals should go beyond ability to pay, stressing deterrence and accountability.
Rosenstein first highlighted the consistencies of the new approach with the Yates Memorandum, as pursuing individuals responsible for wrongdoing is still a top DOJ priority. Any company seeking cooperation credit must identify all individuals substantially involved in or responsible for the criminal conduct. However, “investigations should not be delayed merely to collect information about individuals whose involvement was not substantial, and who are not likely to be prosecuted.” In criminal cases, this will allow cooperation credit without identifying every person involved, as long as the company discloses individuals who played significant roles or who authorized the misconduct.
Rosenstein said the changes were driven in large part by DOJ’s affirmative civil enforcement cases, where the changes are more substantial. The primary goal of these cases is to recover money, and DOJ found the Yates Memorandum’s “all or nothing” approach to cooperation counterproductive in civil cases. “When criminal liability is not at issue, our attorneys need flexibility to accept settlements that remedy the harm and deter future violations, so they can move on to other cases. … Our civil litigators simply cannot take the time to pursue civil cases against every individual employee who may be liable for misconduct.”
The new policy gives DOJ civil attorneys the discretion to offer some credit even if a company does not qualify for the maximum credit that comes with identifying every individual substantially involved in or responsible for the misconduct, as long as the company meaningfully assists the government’s investigation and does not conceal wrongdoing. DOJ civil lawyers can negotiate civil releases for individuals who do not warrant additional investigation and, importantly, can consider an individual’s ability to pay in deciding whether to pursue a civil judgment. Rosenstein said these “commonsense reforms” would return to DOJ civil attorneys the discretion they previously exercised in civil cases, to “use their resources most efficiently to achieve their enforcement mission.”
The practical implications of this change will play out over time. Rosenstein’s language suggests that a significant dividing line will be whether individual U.S. Attorney’s Offices view the conduct at issue as a joint criminal-civil matter or as a civil matter without a parallel criminal case. In the former, the only change may be an understanding that the company may be able to streamline the number of people that are the focus of investigation and disclosure. In a purely civil investigation or case, however, Rosenstein’s language indicates significant discretion will be given to DOJ civil attorneys to work out practical settlements that aim towards monetary recoveries for the government and victims, as well as an efficient use of resources to maximize recovery across all cases. In at least the purely civil cases, Rosenstein’s comments offer significant arguments to defense counsel to propose and advocate the practical resolution of government investigations and cases.