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2011-2012 Supreme Court Term: Court's Non-Decision in Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California

by Professor Will Huhn on February 24, 2012

in Constitutional Law,Standing,Wilson Huhn

Pffft.  Two days ago the Supreme Court issued its decision in Douglas v. Independent Living Center, a case that promised to answer the undying question whether Article III standing may be premised on the Supremacy Clause – a case only a standing junkie could love.  But nooooo, the Supreme Court found technical reasons not to answer the technical question posed by the case. In 2008 and 2009 the California legislature enacted statutes reducing Medicaid payments to doctors, pharmacies, clinics, and providers of in-home care.  The medical providers sued the state in federal court contending that the cutbacks violated federal law.  The federal law in question does not give "standing" to medical providers to challenge state decisions like this one, but the providers came up with a novel theory; they claimed that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution gave them standing to challenge the state law.  The Ninth Circuit ruled that they did have standing and the California Department of Health Care Services (of which Douglas is the Director) appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, however, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that has the duty to review state reimbursement rates under federal programs, approved the reductions that California had adopted.  Two days ago the Supreme Court decided that the Ninth Circuit would have to try, try again and ask itself whether the doctors and other providers could credibly assert standing under the Supremacy Clause once the federal agency had approved the state action.  In other words, does it make any sense to say that a party has standing to challenge a state law under the Supremacy Clause once a federal agency has said that the state law is consistent with federal law?

Justice Breyer, who wrote the opinion for the majority, helpfully added that the medical care providers might have to start all over in federal court and challenge the decision of CMS … a decision that enjoys the presumption of validity.

Imagine the joy of explaining all that to a client!

Wilson Huhn has been teaching Constitutional Law at the University of Akron School of Law since Reagan's first term.  Pretty soon he's going to get it right!

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