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Posts Tagged ‘Fourth Circuit’

The Fourth Circuit yesterday granted the motion of Ronald Evans to filed a successive habeas application based on Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010), in which the Supreme Court held that the Constitution forbids the imposition of a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile not convicted of homicide. The panel’s unpublished opinion explains that Evans is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment without parole after being convicted of six narcotics crimes and a criminal conspiracy that extended some time beyond his eighteenth birthday.

The government agreed that Graham could support a successive petition in an appropriate case. But the government disputed that this was such a case. The panel’s one-paragraph unpublished per curiam opinion explains neither the basis of the government’s position nor the panel’s reasons for rejecting it. The opinion states simply that the motion is granted “[b]ecause Evans has made a ‘prima facie showing’ that his ‘claim relies on a new rule of constitutional law made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable'” (quoting 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(2)(A)).

The panel consisted of Judge Wilkinson, Judge Motz, and Judge Davis.

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The Senate cannot agree on much these days, it seems, but the Senate did unanimously agree today that Judge Henry Floyd of South Carolina should be confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. James Rosen of McClatchy Newspapers has the story here. The Fourth Circuit now has 14 active judges (out of a possible 15). (HT: How Appealing)

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One of the top stories currently running at The American Spectator is “Obamacare’s Last Best Hope”, by David Catron. The bio describes Mr. Catron as a “health care revenue cycle expert” who blogs at Health Care BS (which is devoted to “cleaning the Augean stables of the health care debate”). Mr. Catron may know much more about health care finance than I do, but he is confused about the federal tax Anti-Injunction Act (“AIA”) and why one might be willing to conclude that it blocks pre-enforcement challenges to the individual mandate.

Let’s begin with the paragraph that drew my attention:

Some left-leaning legal scholars see a ray of hope in the Liberty v. Geithner ruling because Judge Diana Motz, the Clinton appointee who resurrected the tax issue, invoked the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA). AIA forbids legal challenges to taxes before they go into effect and the IRS has tried to collect them. Because the mandate doesn’t take effect until 2014, experts sympathetic to “reform” hope this new perspective will cause the Supreme Court to put off its encounter with ObamaCare. According to Kevin C. Walsh, who teaches law at the University of Richmond, “[T]he Supreme Court could conclude that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on any of the challenges to the individual mandate.” And, considering the denunciations to which the Court was subjected pursuant to Bush v. Gore, the justices may indeed be reluctant to join the judicial fray in 2012.

It’s peculiar that I am the only “legal scholar” mentioned in this paragraph about “left-leaning legal scholars” who are “sympathetic to ‘reform'” and hope that the AIA “will cause the Supreme Court to put off its encounter with ObamaCare.” I will leave to others to judge whether I am “a left-leaning legal scholar.” I think it’s safe to say, however, that Mr. Catron’s sole reason for tagging me as such is because I think the Fourth Circuit got the AIA question right in Liberty University v. Geithner. For better or worse, Mr. Catron can infer whatever he likes from my view on this jurisdictional question. But he should at least get that view right. The post of mine that he links in his piece advocates congressional action to lift the AIA bar for these challenges. That’s not the kind of move one advocates while simultaneously hoping that the Supreme Court will “put off its encounter with ObamaCare.” As I explained in that same post (which Mr. Catron apparently has not read): “A legislative fix to the Tax Anti-Injunction Act can eliminate a jurisdictional barrier that presents a serious possibility of causing extensive delay. Congress can and should get rid of that barrier and clear the way to prompt Supreme Court resolution of the constitutional challenges to the individual mandate.”

Mr. Catron concludes by observing that the Department of Justice ” must make the case that, the President’s prevarications notwithstanding, the mandate is indeed a tax. If they can get over that bar, plus make the sale on Judge Motz’ AIA theory, there is a chance that ObamaCare and its mandate will survive — until November 6, 2012.” This analysis confuses two issues: (1) whether the mandate is a tax under the Constitution; and (2) whether a challenge to the mandate is barred by the federal tax Anti-Injunction Act. It may be counter-intuitive to treat these as two different issues, but sometimes the law is counter-intuitive. And on this point, the law is clear. The AIA can bar a pre-enforcement challenge to the mandate even if the monetary exaction for non-compliance is a “penalty” rather than a “tax” under the Constitution.

Rather than speculating about political or ideological leanings, Mr. Catron may wish to get straight on the law and consider the possibility that some of us who think that the Fourth Circuit was right about the AIA hold that view because a close look at the relevant legal authorities suggests as much. An analysis along those lines wouldn’t make for good copy or allow one to suggest that the President is a liar, but it may actually be true and help people understand the issues.

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As explained in a prior post, the jurisdictional infirmities exposed by the Fourth Circuit’s rulings in Virginia v. Sebelius and Liberty University v. Geithner should bring renewed attention to the alternative state standing theories in Florida v. HHS not yet addressed by any court. There are two such theories.  This post discusses the first, and a later post will examine the second.

The states’ lead theory is one of indirect injury from the incremental Medicaid expenditures each state will have to make when presently uninsured individuals comply with the mandate by enrolling in Medicaid. See States’ 11th Cir. Br. at 67-69.

The federal government has argued that this allegation of indirect injury is insufficient as a matter of law, that the claimed injury rests on speculation, and that any potential injury from individuals’ compliance with the mandate is neither actual nor imminent. Additionally, relying on Pennsylvania v. New Jersey, 426 U.S. 660 (1976), the federal government has argued that “it is difficult to see how a State can claim injury on the ground that its citizens choose to accept benefits the State offers them under State law. Reply to Mot. to Dismiss at 13.

The distinction between direct and indirect injuries in the state standing context is traceable to Florida v. Mellon, in which Florida sought to challenge a federal tax on the ground that it would “have the result of inducing potential taxpayers to withdraw property from the state, thereby diminishing the subjects upon which the state power of taxation may operate.” 273 U.S. 12, 17-18 (1927). The Court held that Florida could not go forward with the suit because the State was not in immediate danger of sustaining “any direct injury as the result of the enforcement of the act in question.” Id. at 18. In short, the Court drew a line between direct and indirect injury, and held that it lacked jurisdiction because the claimed fiscal injury arising by virtue of the actions of private citizens in response to the federal law was indirect.

While the line between indirect and direct may be hard to identify in certain cases, the distinction seems administrable enough to foreclose the claimed injury to states resulting from individuals’ compliance with the individual mandate. Recall, also, that states are not permitted to sue the federal government as parens patriae. Allowing states to rely on indirect fiscal injury could provide for easy circumvention of that limitation.

In attacking the states’ indirect injury argument as speculative, the federal government has argued that (i) the pre-mandate status quo already imposes costs on the states in the form of uncompensated care; and (ii), moving more people into insurance may result in a net reduction of costs borne by the states even though some of that insurance is state-provided insurance through Medicaid. The federal government has also pointed to circuit court cases denying standing to states on the ground that the complained-of fiscal effects were too attenuated. See Pennsylvania v. Kleppe, 533 F.2d 668, 672 (D.C. Cir. 1976); Iowa v. Block, 771 F.2d 347, 352-54 (8th Cir. 1985).

If the Supreme Court were to consider this speculation argument, it is unclear (from the filings I have reviewed, anyway) whether the factual record would be sufficiently developed to ground a prediction about the effects of the mandate on state fiscs (which are likely to vary from state to state). If the record were to be found insufficiently developed, that would cut against the states because it is their burden to establish standing.

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Regardless of what one thinks about the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, there appears to be an emerging bipartisan consensus that (1) its constitutionality should be resolved by the Supreme Court, and (2) the Supreme Court should act sooner rather than later (i.e., by the end of the October 2011 Term rather than in some later term). For example, the news coverage here in Virginia after yesterday’s rulings dismissing Virginia’s challenge and dismissing Liberty University’s challenge included statements urging Supreme Court review by both Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and Democrat Senator Mark Warner (relevant statements quoted below if you don’t want to click through).

In light of yesterday’s rulings, however, there is a real possibility that the Supreme Court could conclude that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on any of the challenges to the individual mandate. Challenges by the states have been dogged by questions about jurisdiction from the outset. The Fourth Circuit’s answer to some of those questions knocked out Virginia’s case. The 26-state mandate challenge in Florida v. HHS has so far dodged jurisdictional bullets because of the presence in that case of private parties, whose standing to challenge the mandate has generally been accepted by the federal courts. But yesterday’s Fourth Circuit ruling in Liberty University v. Geithner has breathed new life into a private-plaintiff jurisdictional problem that the parties to the mandate challenges had left for dead. Specifically, the Fourth Circuit held that the Tax Anti-Injunction Act prohibited individuals subject to the mandate from bringing a pre-enforcement challenge because such a suit was one to restrain the assessment or collection of a tax.

If there is a jurisdictional problem preventing both the private plaintiffs (who are subject to the individual mandate) and the State plaintiffs (who are not subject to the individual mandate) from having a federal court hear their constitutional challenges, then the Supreme Court cannot get to the merits of the mandate challenges any time soon.

One response may be to hope that the Supreme Court reads the Tax Anti-Injunction Act differently from the Fourth Circuit. That response may rest on wishful thinking. I need to study the relevant precedents more closely than I have previously, but Judge Motz’s opinion strikes me as persuasive. (See also the amicus brief filed by two former Commissioners of the IRS, Mortimer Caplin and Sheldon Cohen.)

In any event, there is no need to take a chance and rest the possibility of a mandate-challenge merits decision on speculation about how the Supreme Court will resolve the legal uncertainty about application of the Tax Anti-Injunction Act. The Act sets forth a statutory limitation that Congress can and should change to allow a pre-enforcement challenge to the individual mandate. Importantly, it appears that Congress can make this change effective immediately and can make clear that the change preserves jurisdiction over private-party challenges to the individual mandate that have already been filed. See Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 576 (2006) (“We have in the past ‘applied intervening statutes conferring or ousting jurisdiction, whether or not jurisdiction lay when the underlying conduct occurred or when the suit was filed.'”), quoting Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244, 274 (1994); see also Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244, 274 (1994) (“[I]n Andrus v. Charlestone Stone Products Co.436 U.S. 604, 607-608, n. 6 (1978), we held that, because a statute passed while the case was pending on appeal had eliminated the amount in controversy requirement for federal question cases, the fact that respondent had failed to allege $10,000 in controversy at the commencement of the action was ‘now of no moment.'”). (My assessment of the legal soundness of a “retroactive” jurisdictional cure is based on just a little bit of digging around thus far, and I have not yet vetted the assessment with others, but the foregoing authorities appear to support it. Critical commentary is, of course, welcome on this or any other aspect of the post.)

In sum: The constitutional merits of the challenges to the individual mandate have divided largely (though not cleanly) along party lines, but there appears to be bipartisan agreement that the merits should be decided soon. A legislative fix to the Tax Anti-Injunction Act can eliminate a jurisdictional barrier that presents a serious possibility of causing extensive delay. Congress can and should get rid of that barrier and clear the way to prompt Supreme Court resolution of the constitutional challenges to the individual mandate.

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Statement by Gov. McDonnell (R-VA) on the need for prompt Supreme Court review of the constitutionality of the individual mandate:

“As federal courts across the country continue to come to differing conclusions on the merits of cases arguing the unconstitutionality of the federal health care law, today’s decision further exemplifies why these cases should be expedited to the nation’s highest court.  It is the Supreme Court that will ultimately determine whether the federal mandate on every citizen to purchase health insurance violates the U.S. Constitution.  States and businesses continue to expend time and money and languish in uncertainty as they try to come into compliance with a law that may ultimately be ruled unconstitutional. It is exasperating that the President and the Justice Department oppose a prompt resolution of this case through an expedited appeal.  America needs finality in this case.”

Statement by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) on the desirability of prompt Supreme Court review of the constitutionality of the individual mandate:

“This is going to end up getting decided by the Supreme Court and candidly, I hope, the sooner the better. I do believe there are a lot of parts of the health care reform law that make sense. I think there are some parts that need to be corrected.”

[Note: The Warner quotation comes directly from the linked video. The accompanying text misquotes Sen. Warner.]

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Hurricane Irene brought peace (eirene) of a sort to Richmond. Without power, there is only so much that one can do. And many in Richmond have been, and remain, without power.

The Fourth Circuit has not done much this week. Until today, there were no opinions in argued cases. The one opinion issued today breaking this week’s argued-case silence is United States v. Martin.The decision affirms an illegal sentence under plain-error review. One suspects there may be more to the case than revealed in the relatively spare unpublished per curiam opinion released today. The case was argued on December 10, 2010, before a panel consisting of Justice O’Connor, Chief Judge Traxler, and Judge Keenan. It is unusual for an opinion to take this long to be issued.

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The Fourth Circuit issued a split decision today in Gray v. Hearst Communications, Inc. affirming the certification of a class of business advertisers. The class members are businesses that purchased advertising in The Talking Telephone Book directories published in various South Carolina markets. The class alleged that they bought this advertising on the basis of the publishers’ representation of its distribution coverage, but that the publisher “knowingly misrepresented its actual distribution, never made a full distribution as promised, and intentionally sought to conceal this deception.” The district court certified a class to pursue three theories: breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unfair and deceptive trade practices. Judge Shedd authored the Fourth Circuit’s majority opinion affirming certification, an unpublished opinion that was joined in by Judge Moon (senior judge from WDVA sitting by designation). Judge Wilkinson dissented.

The case was argued in December 2010. Eight months between argument and decision is a long time even for a split decision, particularly when the resulting opinions are not lengthy. The wait may have been due to a desire to wait until the Supreme Court decided Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a case discussed by both majority and dissent.

The decision may be of interest to students of appellate practice, inasmuch as the majority opinion attributes dispositive significance to a concession made by counsel for appellant at the oral argument.

For students of class action law, however, the majority opinion should be of less interest. The unpublished opinion contains only a cursory discussion of the predominance requirement of 23(b)(3). Moreover, the analysis examines only certification of the breach of contract claim, disposing of class certification questions surrounding the other two claims in a brief footnote. Also disposed of in another brief footnote at the end of the opinion are appellant’s arguments “that the district court abused its discretion by (a) certifying Gray’s class on a conditional basis, (b) failing to conduct a rigorous analysis of the record, and (c) finding the class satisfied the superiority, typicality, and adequacy requirements of Rule 23(b)(3).”

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