U.S. Supreme Court Orders 4th Circuit To Reconsider Health Care Act Challenge

WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 26 revived a Christian university's challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) when it ordered the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to review the case in light of the high court's ruling in a similar challenge earlier this year (Liberty University, et al. v. Timothy Geithner, et al., No. 11-438, U.S. Sup.). 

Certiorari Denied

The Supreme Court on June 29 denied without comment a petition for writ of certiorari in Liberty University, et al. v. Timothy Geithner, et al. (No 11-438, U.S. Sup.). In Liberty University, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia dismissed a challenge to the PPACA brought by 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 against Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Attorney General Eric Holder, finding that Congress acted within its constitutionally delegated powers under the commerce clause when it passed the employer and individual mandates contained in the PPACA.

In a divided opinion, the majority of a Fourth Circuit panel held that the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) strips the court of jurisdiction to hear Liberty University's challenge to the PPACA and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. The dissenting judge said he would affirm the lower court's decision that Congress acted within its powers in passing the challenged provisions of the act.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied the petition following a finding on June 28, in National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius (No. 11-393) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], that the AIA does not bar challenges to the act, that the individual mandate contained in the act is constitutional and that the federal government can expand Medicaid but cannot withhold existing funding from the states for noncompliance with the expansion.

Reconsideration Ordered

The plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing on July 23, asking the court to enter an order granting, vacating and remanding the petition because the Fourth's Circuit's determination that the AIA deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction was overruled in National Federation.

In dismissing the claims in their entirety, the Fourth Circuit failed to address challenges to the individual mandate and employer insurance mandate based upon the commerce clause, taxing and spending clause and the necessary and proper clause, the plaintiffs say. The Fourth Circuit also did not address the free exercise clause, establishment clause and equal protection clause challenge, the plaintiffs say. The Supreme Court's decision in National Federation abrogated the Fourth Circuit's ruling that the AIA deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiffs say. Consequently, the plaintiffs say that their remaining claims should be subject to adjudication in the lower court.

The plaintiffs say they should have the opportunity to have their claims heard according to the new interpretation of the AIA, the commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause.

The Supreme Court granted the motion without comment and remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit for further consideration in light of National Federation.

Mathew D. Staver, Anita L. Staver and Horatio G.Mihet of Liberty Counsel in Maitland, Fla., and Stephen M. Crampton and Mary E. McAlister of Liberty Counsel in Lynchburg, Va., represent the plaintiffs. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr. of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington represents the government.

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