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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Supreme Court to Hear Case with Access to Justice Implications

The Supreme Court has granted cert in a trio of consolidated cases that will have significant implications for access to justice. The cases are Maxwell-Jolly v. Independent Living Center, Maxwell-Jolly v. California Pharmacists, and Maxwell-Jolly v. Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

The consolidated case arises from California’s decision to issue ten- and five-percent cuts for Medicaid payments to doctors, dentists, pharmacies, adult day health care centers, and clinics. A group of medical providers and low-income elderly and disabled individuals challenged the cuts, arguing that California’s actions conflicted with Section 1396a(a)(30)(A) of the Medicaid Act, which requires states to set reimbursement rates "sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available… at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population."

The Ninth Circuit held that the claim could proceed and that a preliminary injunction preventing the cuts from going into effect should be granted. The state officials appealing the decision asked the Court to address two issues:
  • Whether Medicaid beneficiaries and providers can sue to enjoin a state's violation of the Medicaid Act by bringing a Supremacy Clause preemption challenge
  • Whether the Medicaid Act requires states to consider the impact on access and quality before reducing rates paid to providers.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the first question only.

What is at stake in this case is the ability of individuals to go to federal court and challenge state actions that are preempted by federal law. Since the statute at issue in this case does not contain an individual right that would allow the plaintiffs to sue for money damages, the plaintiffs' legal challenge instead argues that the state cuts conflict with federal law – the supreme law of the land.

The plaintiffs are seeking only to ensure that California is brought into compliance with federal law – not to recover an award or attorney’s fees. For the Court to cut off this avenue would mean that the citizens in this case would have no recourse or ability to curtail future injury. It is important that people have the ability to challenge state actions as contrary to federal law, otherwise states would be able to violate the Medicaid Act-- or other federal laws -- and citizens who are injured as a result would have no way to stop additional injuries.

This case could have profound implications for one of Alliance for Justice’s cornerstone beliefs: that all Americans have the right to secure justice in the courts and to have our voices heard when government makes decisions that impact our lives.

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