Wash. judge denies injunction in health care lawsuit

Jessica M. Karmasek May 30, 2012, 8:35am


OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) - A King County judge has ruled in favor of Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna in a case brought by dozens of women and a progressive group, who sought to have the attorney general alter his filings in the multistate lawsuit against the federal health care law.

Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong, in a ruling dated Friday but released Tuesday, denied a motion by the groups to force McKenna to file amended briefings with the U.S. Supreme Court.

A total of 14 states, later joined by 12 others, filed a challenge to the law in 2010. The 26 states contend that its individual mandate requiring that all Americans purchase health insurance or face a $695 penalty every year is unconstitutional.

McKenna, a Republican now running for governor, objects to the mandate and the law's Medicaid expansion, but supports other parts of President Barack Obama's law.

The lawsuit at issue, filed by nearly 90 female residents and Fuse Washington earlier this month, alleges McKenna's participation in the multistate suit threatens women's access to comprehensive coverage and that the attorney general isn't representing them, or the people of Washington.

Armstrong, in her four-page order, said it isn't the court's role to evaluate the "wisdom" of the attorney general's decision to make the state a party to the suit.

The judge noted that McKenna has maintained a "consistent legal position" throughout the health care reform litigation.

"Had Attorney General McKenna taken the formal legal position that only severability could protect the interests of the State of Washington and its citizens, and then filed contrary briefing in the federal courts, he would have violated his ethical duty to faithfully represent the interests of the State of Washington and its residents, would have improperly relinquished control over his role in the litigation to other attorneys general, and filed an erroneous brief to the U.S. Supreme Court," Armstrong wrote.

Simply put, the judge said the court lacks the authority to "second-guess" McKenna's legal strategy.

"Plaintiffs do not establish that Attorney General McKenna's litigation strategy is arbitrary or capricious," she wrote. "For this reason, the court does not have the legal basis to grant the requested relief, under a claim for writ of mandamus or under the Declaratory Judgment Act."

The groups had asked the court to force McKenna to file amended briefings in the nation's highest court six weeks after oral arguments were held and other briefs were filed in the case.

Armstrong's order denied their motion for a preliminary injunction forcing the attorney general to file the briefings within three days.

"We appreciate the court's careful deliberation in this matter," McKenna spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said Tuesday.

The Attorney General's Office has since filed a motion to dismiss this case in its entirety.

That motion was not before the court at this time. The next hearing is set for June 22, according to McKenna's office.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the four issues involved in the challenge to the health care law in March, is expected to issue a ruling next month.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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State of Washington
215 Sid Snyder Ave SW
Olympia, WA 98501

King County
500 4th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121

U.S. Supreme Court
1 First St NE
Washington, DC 20543

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