Judge Who Found Health Reform Law Unconstitutional Issues Stay to Government Pending Appeal

PENSACOLA, Fla. - (Mealey's) A Florida federal judge who declared the federal health care reform law unconstitutional responded March 3 to a federal government motion to clarify by issuing a stay pending an immediate appeal (State of Florida, et al. v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 10-91, N.D. Fla., Pensacola Div.) (lexis.com subscribers may access briefs, pleadings and motions for this case)

Court Challenges to Health Care Reform

Senior U.S. Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida said Jan. 31 that the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that mandates that individuals buy health insurance is an unconstitutional regulation of commerce.  Since the law contains no severance clause, the judge said, the entire law must fail. 

On Feb. 17, the federal government filed a motion asking Judge Vinson to clarify whether his ruling relieves parties, in this case state governments, of their rights and obligations under the law while an appeal is pending. 

While he said his order "was as clear and unambiguous as it could be," Judge Vinson issued a clarification, stating that his opinion was a de facto injunction. 

Since the federal government stated that it intends to file a motion to stay, Judge Vinson said, "I will save time in this time-is-of-the-essence case by treating the motion to clarify as one requesting a stay as well." 

Judge Vinson granted the stay pending appeal because, he said, the federal government has a likelihood of success on appeal, as do the plaintiffs, noting contrary opinions by other federal courts and a likely split among federal appeals courts and justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

While enjoining implementation of health care reform would be "extremely disruptive" to implementation of other provisions of the law, it also would harm the plaintiffs because they are required to spend money to implement the law, the judge said.  "However, after balancing the potential harm to the plaintiffs against the potential harm to the defendants, I find that, on balance, these two factors weigh in favor of granting a stay - particularly in light of several unusual facts present in the case."

Finally, Judge Vinson said that the public interest factor supports a stay pending appeal.  "The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be," he wrote. 

Judge Vinson said it should not be difficult or challenging to fast-track an appeal.  Noting that each side has already briefed the general issues, he said, "With a few additional modifications and edits (to comply with the appellate rules), the parties could probably just change the caption of the case, add colored covers, and be done with their briefing." 

Construing the federal government's motion to clarify as a motion to stay, Judge Vinson granted the stay conditioned on the defendant's filing of an expedited appeal within seven calendar days with either the Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. 

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the March 16 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 #31-110316-004Z.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.] 

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