Judge Allows Mississippi Suit Challenging Healthcare Law to Continue

September 2, 2011

A federal judge will allow a lawsuit filed in Mississippi challenging part of the Obama administration’s health care law to continue.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett, in a ruling issued Aug. 29, denied the Obama administration’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit — originally filed in April 2010 — argues the health care reform law’s requirement that every American buy health insurance would injure them.

The law provides tax penalties starting in 2014 for those who don’t have medical insurance.

Starrett’s decision was first reported by the Hattiesburg American.

The plaintiffs include Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant — acting as a private citizen– and 10 others. Bryant has health insurance as a state employee but claimed the law will force state workers to choose from health insurance options they may not want. Starrett’s order dismissed Bryant’s claim on behalf of state employees.

Starrett wrote Bryant is only foreseeably employed by the state until the end of 2011, and that his injury as a state employee in 2014 is not “certainly impending.” Bryant is the Republican nominee for governor in the Nov. 8 general election. He is opposed by Democrat Johnny Dupree, who is the mayor of Hattiesburg.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, told the newspaper that Bryant may ask for that issued to be revisited if elected governor.

Starrett said Bryant remains as plaintiff as an individual.

In February, Starrett had ordered the plaintiffs to resubmit their claims. He said the plaintiffs had not shown how they each would suffer damage from complying with part of the law that says people must have health insurance or face fines.

In his new order, Starrett said each plaintiff had now alleged that “he is making decisions to forego certain spending today, so that he will have the funds to pay for the penalties associated with his noncompliance and the associated legal costs of defending himself for noncompliance” when the law is implemented.

“Therefore, plaintiffs have ‘alleged or demonstrated that they (are) experiencing some current financial harm or pressure arising out of the individual mandate’s looming enforcement in 2014,”‘ Starrett wrote. “These allegations are sufficient to establish a present injury.”

Starrett also refused to dismiss the medical privacy claim. He wrote in his order the government’s argument for dismissal of the privacy claim is not persuasive.

“Defendants essentially argue that although the government may not violate the constitutional rights of its citizens, it may require citizens to give up their constitutional rights to a third party or be penalized for their failure to do so,” Starrett wrote. “The absurdity of this argument is apparent.

“The pertinent government action is not the required disclosure of private information. Rather, it is the threat of a financial penalty for non-disclosure. Regardless of who requires the information _ the government or the private third party _ it would still be disclosed under threat of government action,” he said.

Starrett also reversed part of an earlier decision on the case. Starrett, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, said Bryant may bring a claim that the law “intrudes upon the sovereignty and authority of the states.”

Starrett said anyone can make such a claim with his or her own constitutional interests in mind, and not necessarily as a representative of the state.

McDaniel said he wasn’t sure if the plaintiffs would pursue an argument related to state sovereignty.

“We’re comfortable with the posture the case is in,” he said.

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