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Douglas V. Independent Living Center of Southern California

By: Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi

Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California may not sound like the most interesting case, but its outcome has great impact on the lives of millions of people in California and, indeed, the rest of the country. It is one of only one hundred cases that the Supreme Court is hearing in its 2011-2012 session and the first one to be presented in court. Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California argues whether Medicaid patients and providers have the right to sue the state if it reduces Medicaid reimbursements. On October 3rd, the case was presented to the court with California‘s Deputy State Attorney Karin Schwartz (arguing for the state) and Carter Philips of Sidley Austin LLP (arguing for the Medicaid patients and providers).

The case came about when the state of California decided to make “cuts” in its Medicaid reimbursements. Patients and providers (with the support of the American Pharmacists Association) sued the state, fearing cuts to what they already see as dwindling coverage. They sued the state successfully, as the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in their favor. The court ruled that the state had violated the federal statute that required specific “methods” and “procedures” be implemented with regards to Medicaid coverage. Since the cuts made by the state were across the board and due to budget deficits, it was clear that proper “methods and procedures” were not followed.

Now, at the Supreme Court, the patients and providers argue that, in compliance with the Supremacy Clause, the state cuts on Medicaid are illegal. The Supremacy Clause is the clause that states that federal law is the “supreme law of the land” and no state law may conflict with federal law. Thus, they are asking for an injunction to stop the “anticipatory” violation of the Supremacy Clause.

However, on the other hand, the state argues that the Medicaid patients and providers were not suing to stop the violation of the Supremacy Clause; they were simply suing to retrieve the amount lost in coverage by the cuts. In other words, the people suing were not directly being targeted by these cuts. Also, they were not trying to stop the violation of the conflict of state law and federal law, but rather asking for the enforcement of federal law. Such delicate distinctions are of critical importance in matters relating to cases before the Supreme Court. The state argues that such conflicts between state and federal law are not for the judicial system to decide, but are rather an administrative issue, and that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would result in many more such lawsuits across the nation.

Justices Scalia and Roberts have so far disagreed with the notion that the plaintiffs have the right to sue. The other justices have not directly stated their opinions yet, but if they are persuaded to agree with their colleagues, then the case brought by plaintiffs will have no merit and will be rejected. On the other hand, if they do recognize the plaintiffs‘ rights to sue and determine there is a violation of the Supremacy Clause that requires the injunction be put in place, the state would have to reconsider the cuts it has made to its Medicaid coverage program. The court will most likely rule on the issue in the spring of 2012.

So, what are your opinions on the issue? How do you think the Supreme Court will rule?

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Published by Rho Chi Post
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