Obama Administration Scores Legal Victory On Health Care

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration won a victory Thursday in the winding legal debate surrounding the president's signature health care law, as a federal judge in Mississippi threw out a suit challenging the constitutionality of the bill.

The judge, Keith Starret, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, ruled that plaintiffs suing over the coming implementation of the individual mandate did not demonstrate sufficient standing for him to take the case. He "granted in part" the administrations motion to dismiss the case, but gave the plaintiffs 30 days to amend their complaint.

"The Court finds that the allegations of Plaintiffs' First Amended Petition, as stated therein, are insufficient to show that they have standing to challenge the minimum essential coverage provision of the PPACA [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act]. Therefore, the Court dismisses Plaintiffs' First Amended Petition without prejudice."

The ruling is welcome news for the president, who earlier this week suffered a legal setback when a federal judge in Florida called the individual mandate unconstitutional and ruled that as such, the entire health care law was void.

Starret didn't weigh into the legal debate surrounding Congress' ability to force individuals to buy health insurance. Rather, he determined that those filing suit had failed to fully demonstrate that their constitutional rights were being violated.

From the filing:

Plaintiffs' First Amended Petition contains insufficient allegations to establish that they will certainly be "applicable individuals" who must comply with the minimum coverage provision.

For example, Plaintiffs did not allege any facts which, if true, would certainly establish that they would not be subject to the provision's religious exemptions. Plaintiffs simply alleged that they will be subject to the minimum essential coverage provision - a bare legal conclusion which the Court may not accept as true.

Furthermore, it is not certain from Plaintiffs' allegations that, in the event they were considered "applicable individuals," they would incur the tax penalty for non-compliance. Their First Amended Petition contains insufficient allegations to establish that they will not be subject to one of the exemptions to the penalty.

For all of the reasons stated above, the Court finds that the ten primary Plaintiffs have not plead sufficient facts to establish that they have standing to challenge the Constitutionality of the minimum essential coverage provision of the PPACA.

It wasn't a complete victory for the president's legal team. Starret seemed to dismiss the argument that a legal debate over whether the individual mandate violated constitutional rights had to be put off until the provision was actually implemented. (The defense argued that it was impossible to determine how the law would impact the plaintiffs until then).

"The Court is not persuaded by this argument for the same reasons stated by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida," he wrote.

But, he added, in moving towards dismissal, that the principle worked both ways. "If the Court may not imagine circumstances that would deprive a plaintiff of standing, it likewise may not imagine circumstances that would confer standing upon a plaintiff."