Thursday, December 9, 2010

District court dismisses complaint in New Jersey Physicians v. Obama

Judge Susan D. Wigenton (United States District Court for the District of New Jersey) today issued her judgment dismissing the plaintiffs' complaint in New Jersey Physicians v. Obama on the ground that none of the plaintiffs have standing. You can find the opinion here.

Judge Wigenton concluded that, with respect to the private individual Doe--who claimed to be injured by the minimum coverage provision--it was purely speculative as to whether he would either lack health insurance or be liable for the penalty come January 2014. The judge distinguished the other district court opinions concluding that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge 1501(b) on the ground that, in those cases, the plaintiffs had alleged they were experiencing a current financial impact (in the form of advance planning). Here, the plaintiff made no such factual allegation. (Honestly, this seems like a rather trivial basis for distinction; the plaintiff could presumably now amend his complaint to include such an allegation.)

The court also concluded that a plaintiff doctor and the New Jersey Physicians Group (of which he is a member) also failed to demonstrate any injury stemming from the individual mandate, as (a) it was unclear how the individual mandate would harm the doctor in how he was paid (which he had alleged), and (b) he had made no factual allegations showing that he would be covered by the employer mandates.

Two district courts--this one and that for the Southern District of California in Baldwin v. Sebelius--have now concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the minimum coverage provision. This ruling is narrower than that in Baldwin, though, as it seems to turn on the precise facts alleged in the complaint, leaving open the possibility that, with a slight tweak, the outcome could have been different.

The plaintiffs have already filed their notice of appeal.