Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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In March 2020, New Jersey Governor Murphy responded to the spread of COVID-19; Executive Order 107 prohibited in-person gatherings and ordered New Jersey residents to “remain home or at their place of residence,” except for certain approved purposes, such as an “educational, political, or religious reason.” EO 107 excepted businesses deemed “essential,” including grocery and liquor stores, which could continue to welcome any number of persons (consistent with social distancing guidelines). Violations of EO 107 were subject to criminal prosecution for “disorderly conduct.” The order granted the Superintendent of the State Police, “discretion to make clarifications and issue [related] orders[.]” He exercised that power, declaring (Administrative Order 2020-4) that gatherings of 10 or fewer persons were presumptively permitted. Neither EO 107 nor AO 2020-4 contained an exception for religious worship gatherings or other First Amendment activity.Two New Jersey-based, Christian congregations, believing that the Bible requires them to gather for in-person worship services, violated the Orders and were cited. Less than a week after the filing of their complaint, challenging the Orders, Governor Murphy raised indoor gathering limits to 50 persons or 25 percent of room capacity (whichever was less), allowing outdoor religious gatherings without any gathering limits. The district court denied the congregations’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The Third Circuit dismissed an appeal as moot. View "Clark v. Governor of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Liquid Labs manufactures and sells e-liquids that generally contain nicotine and flavoring for use in e-cigarettes. The e-liquids qualify as “new tobacco product[s]” under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, 21 U.S.C. 387-387u, and may not be introduced into interstate commerce without the FDA’s authorization. The FDA must deny a premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) if the applicant fails to “show[] that permitting such tobacco product to be marketed would be appropriate for the protection of public health,” as determined with respect to the risks and benefits to the population as a whole, including users and non-users of the tobacco product.” FDA Guidelines have highlighted that flavored e-liquids’ had a “disproportionate appeal to children.”Liquid Labs submitted PMTAs covering 20 e-liquid products and submitted a marketing plan setting forth plans to discourage youths from using its products. The FDA denied the PMTAs, concluding that Liquid Labs had not shown that the benefits of the products sufficiently outweighed the risks they posed to youths. The documents indicated that evidence could have been provided through “randomized controlled trial[s] and/or longitudinal cohort stud[ies],” or other evidence that reliably and robustly evaluated the impact of the new flavored vs. tobacco-flavored products on adult smokers’ switching or cigarette reduction over time.” The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. The FDA’s order was within its statutory authorities and the Administrative Procedure Act. View "Liquid Labs LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law

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Englewood, a non-profit corporation with a single community hospital in Bergen County, New Jersey, provides primary, secondary, and some non-complex tertiary services to patients. It lacks the expertise, regulatory approvals, and facilities to provide more complex tertiary and quaternary services. Hackensack, New Jersey's largest hospital system, has multiple academic medical centers, community hospitals, specialty hospitals, a medical school, and a research institution, including two hospitals in Bergen County.The Federal Trade Commission opposes a merger between Englewood and Hackensack and filed an administrative complaint citing the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. 18. To prevent the parties from merging before the administrative adjudication, the FTC filed suit under Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the entry of a preliminary injunction. The FTC established that there is a reasonable probability that the merger will substantially impair competition. The court upheld the district court’s acceptance of the FTC’s proposed relevant geographic market defined by all hospitals used by commercially insured patients residing in Bergen County; price discrimination is not a prerequisite for a patient-based market. The district court did not err in finding that there would be a significant price impact and any benefits that would result from the merger did not offset anticompetitive concerns. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Hackensack Meridian Health Inc" on Justia Law

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Dr. Polansky was an official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) before consulting for EHR, a “physician advisor” company that provides review and billing certification services to hospitals and physicians that bill Medicare. Polansky became concerned that EHR was systematically enabling its client hospitals to over-admit patients by certifying inpatient services that should have been provided on an outpatient basis.In 2012, Polansky filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729, alleging EHR was causing hospitals to bill the government for inpatient stays that were not “reasonable and necessary” for diagnosis or treatment as required by the Medicare program, 42 U.S.C. 1395y(a)(1)(A). His complaint remained under seal for two years while the government conducted its own investigation and ultimately determined it would not participate in the case.In 2019, the government notified the parties that it intended to dismiss the entire action under 31 U.S.C. 3730(c): “[t]he Government may dismiss the action notwithstanding the objections of the [relator]” so long as the relator receives notice and an opportunity to be heard on the Government’s motion. The district court eventually granted the motion. The Third Circuit affirmed. The government is required to intervene before moving to dismiss and its motion must meet the standard of FRCP 41(a). The district court acted within its discretion in granting the government’s motion. View "Polansky v. Executive Health Resources Inc" on Justia Law

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The estates of New Jersey nursing home residents, who died from COVID-19, alleged that the nursing homes acted negligently in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The nursing homes removed the case to federal court. The district court dismissed the cases for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.The Third Circuit affirmed rejecting three arguments for federal jurisdiction: federal-officer removal, complete preemption of state law, and the presence of a substantial federal issue. The 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), 42 U.S.C. 247d-6d, 247d6e, which protects certain individuals—such as pharmacies and drug manufacturers—from lawsuits during a public-health emergency, was invoked in March 2020 but does not apply because the nursing homes did not assist or help carry out the duties of a federal superior. The PREP Act creates an exclusive cause of action for willful misconduct but the estates allege only negligence, not willful misconduct; those claims do not fall within the scope of the exclusive federal cause of action and are not preempted. The PREP Act’s compensation fund is not an exclusive federal cause of action. The estates would properly plead their state-law negligence claims without mentioning the PREP Act, so the PREP Act is not “an essential element" of the state law claim. View "Estate of Joseph Maglioli v. Alliance HC Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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The hospital, located in Philadelphia, received a reclassification into the New York City area, which would sizably increase the hospital’s Medicare reimbursements due to that area’s higher wage index, 42 U.S.C. 1395ww(d). Although a statute makes such reclassifications effective for three fiscal years, the agency updated the geographical boundaries for the New York City area before the close of that period and reassigned the hospital to an area in New Jersey with an appreciably lower wage index. The hospital successfully sued three agency officials in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal. The Medicare Act, 42 U.S.C. 1395oo(f)(1), channels reimbursement disputes through administrative adjudication as a near-absolute prerequisite to judicial review. The hospital did not pursue its claim through administrative adjudication before suing in federal court. By not following the statutory channeling requirement, the hospital has no valid basis for subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Temple University Hospital, Inc. v. Secretary United States Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Pennsylvania and 45 other states entered into a settlement agreement with certain cigarette manufacturers, who agreed to disburse funding to the states to cover tobacco-related healthcare costs. Pennsylvania’s 2001 Tobacco Settlement Act established the "EE Program" to reimburse participating hospitals for “extraordinary expenses” incurred for treating uninsured patients according to a formula. The Department of Human Services (DHS) determines the eligibility of each hospital for EE Program payments. The Pennsylvania Auditor General reported that for Fiscal Years 2008-2012, some participating hospitals received disbursements for unqualified claims, and recommended that DHS claw back funds from overpaid hospitals and redistribute the money to hospitals that had been underpaid. DHS followed that recommendation for fiscal years prior to 2010 but discovered methodological discrepancies and discontinued the process for Fiscal Years 2010-2012.Plaintiffs, on behalf of all “underpaid” hospitals, sued an allegedly overpaid hospital, alleging conspiracy to defraud the EE Program in violation of RICO, 18 U.S.C. 1961–1964. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants submitted fraudulent claims for reimbursement, in violation of the wire fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. 1343 (a RICO predicate offense). The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the claims, finding that the theory of liability adequately alleges proximate causation. No independent factors that accounted for the plaintiffs’ injury and no more immediate victim was better situated to sue. View "St. Lukes Health Network, Inc. v. Lancaster General Hospital" on Justia Law

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J.L. and D.W. were covered by employer-sponsored Aetna insurance plans that provided out-of-network benefits only in cases of “Urgent Care or a Medical Emergency” (J.L.) or not at all (D.W.). J.L. needed bilateral breast reconstruction surgery and there were no in-network physicians available to perform the procedure. D.W. required facial reanimation surgery—a niche procedure performed by only a few U.S. surgeons. Both were referred for treatment to the Plastic Surgery Center, an out-of-network New Jersey medical practice. The Center negotiated with Aetna, which agreed to pay a “reasonable amount.” The Center billed $292,742 for J.L.’s services, Aetna paid only $95,534.04. Of the $420,750 the Center billed for D.W.’s services, Aetna paid only $40,230.32.The district court dismissed common law breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment claims, holding that section 514(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1000, expressly preempted all claims. The Third Circuit reversed as the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims, which do not require impermissible “reference to” ERISA plans. The claims, as pleaded, plausibly seek to enforce obligations independent of the plan and do not require interpretation or construction of ERISA plans. The claims plausibly arise out of a relationship that ERISA did not intend to govern. View "Plastic Surgery Center, P.A. v. Aetna Life Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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Care Alternatives provides hospice care to New Jersey patients, employing “interdisciplinary teams” of registered nurses, chaplains, social workers, home health aides, and therapists working alongside independent physicians who serve as hospice medical directors. Former Alternatives employees filed suit under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729–3733 alleging that Alternatives admitted patients who were ineligible for hospice care and directed its employees to improperly alter those patients’ Medicare certifications to reflect eligibility. They retained an expert, who opined in his report that, based on the records of the 47 patients he examined, the patients were inappropriately certified for hospice care 35 percent of the time. Alternatives’ expert testified that a reasonable physician would have found all of those patients hospice-eligible. The district court determined that a mere difference of opinion between experts regarding the accuracy of the prognosis was insufficient to create a triable dispute of fact as to the element of falsity and required that the plaintiffs provide evidence of an objective falsehood. Upon finding they had not adduced such evidence, the court granted Alternatives summary judgment. The Third Circuit vacated, rejecting the objective falsehood requirement for FCA falsity. The plaintiffs’ expert testimony created a genuine dispute of material fact as to falsity. View "Druding v. Care Alternatives" on Justia Law

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Health benefit plans sued GSK, the manufacturer of the prescription drug Avandia, under state consumer-protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 (RICO), based on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as having benefits to justify its price, which was higher than the price of other drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes. The district court granted GSK summary judgment, finding that the state-law consumer-protection claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. ch. 9; the Plans had failed to identify a sufficient “enterprise” for purposes of RICO; and the Plans’ arguments related to GSK’s alleged attempts to market Avandia as providing cardiovascular “benefits” were “belated.” The Third Circuit reversed, applying the Supreme Court’s 2019 "Merck" decision. The state-law consumer-protection claims are not preempted by the FDCA. The Plans should have been given the opportunity to seek discovery before summary judgment on the RICO claims. Further, from the inception of this litigation, the Plans’ claims have centered on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits as compared to other forms of treatment, so the district court’s refusal to consider the Plans’ “benefits” arguments was in error because those arguments were timely raised. View "In re: Avandia Marketing, Sales and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law