Stupid Lawsuits

April 20, 2015

Stupid lawsuits are sometimes just causes with which some people disagree. So, for example, there was Stella Liebeck v. McDonalds, the hot coffee/third degree burn case from 1992. The mainstream media thought a $2.9 million damage/punitive damage award for spilled coffee was absurd, while others—notably, plaintiffs’ personal injury associations—provided another perspective.

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius and King v. Burwell seemed like marginal cases when they were filed. Both ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court; the first almost destroyed the Affordable Care Act, and the second may do so still. So, with a healthy respect for how cases can turn out, I’m aware of three stupid lawsuits in the federal courts right now, wasting taxpayer dollars and judicial resources.

Up first is U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell, aka Boehner v. Obama. Details about Boehner v. Obama are at Where’s the Suit, Redux? The down and dirty is that Republican House members wanted to vent against the president, but didn’t want to touch impeachment because they remembered the Clinton impeachment and the 1998 midterm elections. Whither, the suit!

According to the court docket the House has seven attorneys listed, while the Administration parties have, collectively, one. (Both sides almost surely have many more attorneys working in the background.) Five red states have sought leave to participate as friends of the court, a rare occurrence at the trial level, but venting opportunities are important! (A motion to dismiss has been filed and briefs, but has not been argued yet; stay tuned.)

Johnson and Ericson v. Office of Personnel Management is the second stupid lawsuit. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sued the government because he objects to Senators, Representatives, and staffers having the right to receive pre-tax employer premium contributions and participate in insurance exchanges. The District Court dismissed the case last year; the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its 24-page opinion affirming the dismissal on April 14. Both courts ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they did not suffer sufficiently specific injuries.

The back story—and what makes this case so absurd—is the fact that Republicans wanted to subject all Congressional employees—themselves included—to the Affordable Care Act. No exemptions, just to prove how terrible the ACA would be! To fix a problem created for no good reason, and insure that Senators, Representatives, and their staffers were not penalized because they work in the legislative branch, OPM followed a rulemaking procedure and adopted a regulation which allows: (a) the government to make employer health insurance payments; and (3) legislative branch employees to use the DC exchange. But for the fact that the system works, it gives the Rs exactly what they wanted.

So where’s the beef? Senator Johnson claimed he has suffered “reputational and electoral injury” because he benefits from the exchange, despite the fact that, as the appellate court noted, he can avoid the alleged injury by “refusing the benefits that he alleges to be illegal.”

Finally, there’s a new stupid lawsuit coming along, involving Governor Rick Scott (R-Fla.). This one is really bizarre!

Governor Scott has been against, for, and against providing Medicaid benefits from the federal government for Florida residents because: Obamacare. The state does get Low Income Pools money, resulting from a federal Medicaid pilot project. Governor Scott likes that money because he gott he money and refused Obamacare money. The federal government is phasing out the LIP project because Obamacare is the vehicle for funding low-income health needs. Federal officials told Governor Scott, a year ago, to prepare for no more LIP money. Governor Scott got re-elected, did the flip after the flip-flop, and now he’s suing the federal government for LIP money.

Governor Scott claims a denial of LIP money illegal coerces the state to participate in the Medicaid program. In making this claim he seems to be following the thinking set forth in the Medicaid portion of the 2012 Obamacare suit; however, there the alleged coercion related to taking away existing statutory Medicaid money, not money from a pilot program which should not exist because the Obamacare made it superfluous.

Best of all, though is Governor Scott’s political justification for not taking the Medicaid money. He asks: “How can you feel comfortable picking up another federal program when they are walking away from an existing program?” “Yo, Guv, can you spell p-i-l-o-t p-r-o-g-r-a-m?”


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