NM Court of Appeals affirms dismissal due to government’s use of false document

When you’re litigating a case, it sometimes happens that your client will lose, or will not have kept, copies of relevant documents. When that situation arises, what do you do? I guess it would depend on the circumstances, but here’s a protip from the New Mexico Court of Appeals — it’s not okay to fabricate false documents to take their place.

In State ex rel. King v. Advantageous Community Services, LLC, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office sued a home healthcare provider under the Medicaid Fraud Act. The provider allegedly allowed six caregivers to work without first obtaining a “clearance letter” from the Department of Health (DOH) stating that the caregivers had passed a criminal background check.

The clearance letters for each provider were therefore of central importance to the case. The AG’s investigator asked DOH for copies of the letters, but DOH responded that it would not be possible to reprint them, because DOH’s computer system had updated several fields on the template used to create the letters.

The investigator asked DOH to print the letters using the updated data, and turned them over to the Assistant AG prosecuting the case, without telling her that they weren’t copies of the actual clearance letters. The Assistant AG then used the false letters to impeach the provider’s owner at a deposition. When the deceit was brought to the trial judge’s attention, she sanctioned the AG’s office by dismissing the entire case.

The Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Michael Vigil, affirmed the sanction. The Court stressed that where false evidence is offered, trial courts may impose severe sanctions, including dismissal, even where no prejudice to the opposing party is shown, because such conduct undermines the integrity of the judicial process and the due process rights of other litigants. “Such misconduct is so egregious that even a single instance warrants dismissal.”

This result makes sense to me, because in many instances the offering of false testimony or documents probably goes undetected. Parties who contemplate engaging in such conduct may be deterred by the knowledge that if they are caught, severe sanctions will be imposed. In addition, if the State is going to pursue medical providers for Medicaid fraud, it should not engage in fraudulent conduct itself.

Do you agree with this result? Or do you think the sanction in this case was too harsh? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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