Monday, December 21, 2009

Independent Living Center v. Maxwell-Jolly (9th Cir. - Dec. 21, 2009)

Judges Reinhardt, Willie Fletcher and Milan Smith are not exactly dummies. In the slightest. So when you say something to them that they know -- or strongly suspect -- is wrong, they're likely to call you out on it. As they do here.

It's a Medi-Cal reimbursement case, and the panel handed down its opinion (which was adverse to the California Attorney General's position) in July. Then, last month, the California AG's Office filed a motion to recall the mandate and vacate the opinion on the ground that the Ninth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to decide the appeal given the passage of a recent statute that allegedly made the case moot.

The panel disagreed, and said so. But then went on to say the following:

"While it is clear that this case was not moot at the time of our decision, we feel constrained to comment on the circumstances surrounding the Director’s bringing this “new” law to our attention. AB 1183 became effective on September 30, 2008, yet the Director waited more than a year to file the instant motion. Though we heard argument in Independent Living on February 18, 2009, just ten days before the new rate reductions were to end, the Director said nothing about the pending termination. The Director now “regrets” the delay in bringing this issue to our attention and asserts that counsel did not become aware of it until preparing a “potential” petition for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. This explanation is belied by the record of proceedings in this case. On June 1, 2009, over a month before we issued our opinion in
this case, the Director filed his reply brief in the Supreme Court seeking a petition for certiorari respecting our earlier decision in Independent Living Center of S. Cal., Inc. v. Shewry, 543 F.3d 1050 (9th Cir. 2008). We are particularly troubled by a footnote contained in that brief. It provides:

'The case is not moot. After the Ninth Circuit’s order on July 11, 2008, the district court enjoined some of the reductions mandated by AB 5. See Independent Living Ctr. of S. Cal. v. Shewry, No. CV 08-3315 CAS, 2008 WL 3891211 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 18, 2008). Petitioner’s appeal of the district court’s order is pending in the Ninth Circuit. As respondents note, a subsequent enactment (AB 1183) amended California Welfare and Institutions Code § 14105.19 to sunset the reductions on February 28, 2009, and enacted a new set of smaller reductions to take their place, see id. § 14105.191. While that makes respondents’ claim for injunctive relief moot, the appeal presents a live controversy because the injunction forced the state to pay providers hundreds of millions of dollars more in Medi-Cal reimbursements than the state would have had to pay had AB 5 remained in full force. The Ninth Circuit’s decision regarding the preliminary injunction will determine whether the state is entitled to recoup those extra payments. And a decision by this Court that respondents lacked a private cause of action would likewise mean that AB 5 was improperly enjoined, thereby entitling the state to recoup those monies the state was wrongly forced to pay.'

(emphasis added). Not only has the Director now taken the exact opposite position regarding mootness, he has feigned ignorance of precisely the facts described in the above footnote. The California Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit members of the bar from misleading the judiciary through any false statement of fact or law. CALIFORNIA RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT R. 5-200 (2009). We find the Director’s representation through the Attorney General that he only recently became aware of, in his words, the “jurisdictional problem” created by AB 1183, to be a clear violation of Rule 5-200, and gives us pause about accepting the veracity of future pleadings filed by the Attorney General on behalf of the Director, if not more generally."

Ouch. Not exactly an early Christmas present for the California Attorney General's Office, eh?