Appeals court: N.J. physicians can't challenge health care law

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 5, 2011, 12:28pm

NEWARK, N.J. (Legal Newsline) -- The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a group of New Jersey doctors do not have standing to challenge the federal health care law.

At issue is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.

The plaintiffs, New Jersey Physicians Inc., Dr. Mario A. Criscito and a patient of Criscito's, object to the mandate.

The mandate, which becomes effective in 2014, requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.

The plaintiffs contend that the health care law is unconstitutional because the mandate exceeds Congress' authority to pass laws.

The U.S. District Court of New Jersey dismissed the complaint without reaching the merits of this challenge. It held that the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead injury and did not meet their burden to demonstrate standing.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Third Circuit. Judge Michael A. Chagares authored the appeals court's 15-page opinion.

In it, the court said Criscito's patient, referred to as Roe, failed to set forth any current, "actual" or "concrete and particularized" injury.

"There are no facts alleged to indicate that Roe is in any way presently impacted by the Act or the mandate," Chagares wrote.

"This case is thus unlike some of the other pending health care challenges, in which the plaintiffs alleged or demonstrated that they were experiencing some current financial harm or pressure arising out of the individual mandate's looming enforcement in 2014."

The plaintiffs also fail to demonstrate how exactly Criscito will be harmed by the health care law, the court said.

"The complaint sets forth no facts to establish that Dr. Criscito is suffering or will suffer an actual or imminent 'concrete and particularized' injury," it wrote.

As to the physicians group, in order to establish associational standing, an organization must "make specific allegations establishing that at least one identified member ha(s) suffered or would suffer harm," the appeals court said.

"Here, the only member of New Jersey Physicians,Inc. identified in the complaint is Dr. Criscito, and for the reasons just stated, the complaint fails to establish that Dr. Criscito has experienced any injury in fact," the court wrote.

Fourteen states, along with 12 others, filed a challenge to Obama's health care law in March 2010.

The 26 states, like the plaintiffs in the present case, contend that the mandate is unconstitutional.

In January, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson sided with the states, ruling that the individual mandate violates the U.S. Constitution and issued an order striking down the federal health care law.

Vinson said he voided the entire legislation in the multistate lawsuit because the mandate is too integral a part to be separated. He called it "a difficult decision to reach."

"If Congress intends to implement health care reform -- and there would appear to be widespread agreement across the political spectrum that reform is needed -- it should do a comprehensive examination of the Act and make a legislative determination as to which of its hundreds of provisions and sections will work as intended without the individual mandate, and which will not," he wrote.

"It is Congress that should consider and decide these quintessentially legislative questions, and not the courts."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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