Appeals court panel dismisses Virginia health reform suits

Lawsuits by the state's top lawyer and Liberty University are thrown out by appellate judges, who said plaintiffs did not have standing to sue.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Sept. 8, 2011

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A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed two high-profile lawsuits against the Obama administration over the health system reform law, ruling that the legal challenges are invalid.

In a 2-1 opinion issued Sept. 8, the three-judge panel said Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli and Liberty University -- who filed separate challenges against the reform law's constitutionality -- did not have standing to sue. The judges did not review the constitutional issues in dispute.

"We recognize that Congress has imposed a potentially 'harsh regime' on some taxpayers. However ... the question of whether these concerns merit consideration is a matter for Congress to weigh," the majority panel said in its opinion.

The appeals panel sent both cases back to the trial courts with orders to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (link).

In a statement, Cuccinelli said the state was disappointed with the ruling and planned to appeal.

"Our disappointment not only stems from the fact that the court ruled against us, but also that the court did not even reach the merits on the key question of Virginia's lawsuit -- whether Congress has a power never before recognized in American history: the power to force one citizen to purchase a good or service from another citizen," he said.

More than a dozen other legal challenges have been filed against the health reform law, most of which have been dismissed by lower courts.

Most recently, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a tax penalty under the reform law. That decision conflicts with other rulings finding the individual mandate constitutional, including an appellate decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said lawmakers had the power to require individuals to obtain health insurance.

Legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will make the final decision on the matter. Cuccinelli in February attempted to bypass the appeals court and go straight to the high court with his state's lawsuit, but the justices in April declined to review the challenge early.

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