Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Supreme Court Punts in Douglas v. Independent Living Center

A few minutes ago, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Douglas v. Independent Living Center.  The case presented a question of great significance to Medicaid and other litigation:  Whether the Constitution's Supremacy Clause provides a basis for suing a state for injunctive relief to challenge an action that conflicts with a federal statute that Congress did not otherwise provide a private right to enforce.  The federal statutory provision at issue here was the provision of the Medicaid Act that requires states to set rates at a sufficient level to enlist enough providers to ensure that services are generally available.  A number of plaintiffs relied on this statutory provision, as implemented by the Supremacy Clause, to argue that certain rate cuts implemented by California were preempted by federal law and should be enjoined.  The Ninth Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs, and the Supreme Court granted cert.  Just after oral argument, though, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) determined that California's rate cut complied with the Medicaid Act.  In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Breyer, the Court today concluded that CMS's approval of the rate cut changes the posture of the litigation sufficiently that the case should be sent back to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings.  Accordingly, the Court did not decide the question on which it had granted certiorari.  Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, dissented.  They would conclude that, where Congress did not otherwise provide a right of action to enforce a federal statute, the Supremacy Clause could not provide an independent cause of action for injunctive relief.

I would put this in the category of:  Bullet dodged.  For now.

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