Virginia Federal Court Dismisses Liberty University Lawsuit Claiming Health Care Reform-Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act is Unconstitutional

Virginia Federal Court Dismisses Liberty University Lawsuit Claiming Health Care Reform-Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act is Unconstitutional

LYNCHBURG, Va. - (Mealey's) A Virginia federal judge on Nov. 30 dismissed a lawsuit brought by group of plaintiffs in Virginia, including a private Christian university, challenging the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (PPACA), saying that the new law is constitutional.  On Dec. 1, plaintiffs filed a notice, saying they intended to appeal to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (Liberty University Inc., et al. v. Timothy Geithner, et al., No. 10-15, W.D. Va.).

Health Care Reform

The PPACA, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, was signed on March 23.  The same day, Liberty University Inc., Martha A. Neal, Michele G. Wadell, Dr. David Stein, Pausanias Alexander, Mary T. Bendorf, Joanne V. Merrill, Kathy Byron and Jeff Helgeson sued U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

The plaintiffs contend that the PPACA violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution, including their rights to free exercise of religion and association, their right to equal protection, their right to be free from governmental violation of the establishment clause, their right to a republican form of government, their right to be free from unapportioned direct or capitation taxes and their right to be free from government-mandated health insurance coverage as established by the Virginia Code.

On Aug. 13, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, saying that the minimum coverage provision that the plaintiffs challenge does not take place until 2014 and that when it does take effect, the plaintiffs cannot show that it will affect them.  All of the plaintiffs' challenges to the act are not ripe and are barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, the defendants argued.

Even if the court does have jurisdiction, the defendants said that the plaintiffs' claims still fail because Congress, in adopting the minimum coverage provision, acted within its authority under the commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

Judge Norman K. Moons held that the plaintiffs' allegations of injury in fact and causation are sufficient to establish standing, that the claims are ripe for adjudication and that the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar the suit.

However, "Congress acted in accordance with its constitutionally delegated powers under the Commerce Clause when it passed the employer and individual coverage provisions of the Act," Judge Moons said in dismissing a claim challenging the provisions.

The judge agreed with the defendants that a rational basis exists for Congress to conclude that individuals' decisions about how and when to pay for health care are activities that in the aggregate substantially affect the interstate health care market.

As for the employer coverage provision, Judge Moons said it is well established in Supreme Court precedent that Congress has the power to regulate the terms and conditions of employment.

The judge also rejected arguments that the act infringes on the plaintiffs' rights to free exercise of religion and association, saying that the act's provisions falls within the bounds for permissible religious accommodations.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the Dec. 15 issue of Mealey's Managed Care Liability Report.  In the meantime, the opinion is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844.  Document #31-101215-001Z.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.] 

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