Judges toss lawsuits by CrossFit gym claiming fraud in $273 million in grants

court caseFederal judges in Ohio have dismissed two lawsuits claiming that university researchers used false results to secure more than $250 million in federal grants.

Both lawsuits, which objected to a study examining the effects of CrossFit-based training, were filed by Mitchell Potterf, the owner of a gym affiliated with CrossFit in Columbus, Ohio. Potterf took issue with a 2013 study by researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) that was conducted at his gym.

Potterf filed one suit against the OSU researchers and a second against the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA). The NSCA publishes the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, where a paper about the study appeared. The article, “Crossfit-based high-intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition,” has been cited 15 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

The study followed 43 men and women as they completed 10 weeks of CrossFit-based training. In addition to those 43 participants, 11 dropped out before completing the regimen. According to the original paper:

2 cited time concerns with the remaining 9 subjects (16% of total recruited subjects) citing overuse or injury for failing to complete the program and finish follow-up testing

Potterf alleged in both lawsuits that this statement was untrue, and that the OSU researchers and NSCA published the study knowing it was false.

Because OSU receives federal grant money for its research, Potterf filed the suits under the False Claims Act, on the ground that the false statement allowed the university to win $273 million in federal grant money over the next two years.

In the first lawsuit, against OSU, a District Court judge granted the university’s motion to dismiss on three grounds. The January 19, 2016 ruling stated that, contrary to Potterf’s allegation, the school did not use the statement in question to secure funding, that the United States did not suffer as a result of the false statement and that Potterf’s amended complaint was too similar to an initial, unsatisfactory one.

Potterf’s suit against the NSCA was dismissed on November 11, 2015, for the same reasons. We’re reporting these developments now because we only recently became aware of the dismissals.

The OSU researchers published a correction to their study in October 2015, in which they address the issue of the 11 candidates who dropped out of the study:

In reference to Smith, MM, Sommer, AJ, Starkoff, BE, and Devor, ST. Crossfit-based high-intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. J Strength Cond Res 27(11): 3159–3172, 2013, the authors have stated that the reasons for participants not completing follow-up testing, as reported in the article, were provided to the authors by the club owner. The club owner has denied that he provided this information.

After the article was published, 10 of the 11 participants who did not complete the study have provided their reasons for not finishing, with only 2 mentioning injury or health conditions that prevented them from completing follow-up testing.

In light of this information, injury rate should not be considered a factor in this study. This change does not affect the overall conclusion of the article.

The study concluded on an overall positive note for CrossFit, saying:

we can infer from our data that a crossfit-based HIPT training program can yield meaningful improvements of maximal aerobic capacity and body composition in men and women of all levels of fitness.

Kenneth Donchatz, Potterf’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment. His website says he has been “practicing, publishing, teaching and blogging in the field of legal ethics since 1998” but in November 2014 he was accused of professional misconduct.

CrossFit has also filed a lawsuit against the NSCA. This lawsuit is ongoing; we’ve covered it here.

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