Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Ctr., Inc.
575 US ___ (2015)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Providers of “habilitation services” under Idaho’s Medicaid plan are reimbursed by the state Department of Health and Welfare. Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act requires Idaho’s plan to “assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care” while “safeguard[ing] against unnecessary utilization of . . . care and services,” 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(30)(A). Providers of habilitation services claimed that Idaho reimbursed them at rates lower than section 30(A) permits. The district court entered summary judgment for the providers. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Supremacy Clause gave the providers an implied right of action, under which they could seek an injunction requiring compliance. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that there is no private right of action. The Supremacy Clause instructs courts to give federal law priority when state and federal law clash, but it is not the source of any federal rights and does not create a cause of action. The suit cannot proceed in equity. The power of federal courts of equity to enjoin unlawful executive action is subject to express and implied statutory limitations. The express provision of a single remedy for a state’s failure to comply with Medicaid’s requirements, the withholding of Medicaid funds by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, 42 U.S.C. 1396c, and the complexity associated with enforcing section 30(A) combine to establish Congress’s “intent to foreclose” equitable relief.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

ARMSTRONG et al. v. EXCEPTIONAL CHILD CENTER, INC., et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 14–15. Argued January 20, 2015—Decided March 31, 2015

Providers of “habilitation services” under Idaho’s Medicaid plan are reimbursed by the State’s Department of Health and Welfare. Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act requires Idaho’s plan to “assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care” while “safeguard[ing] against unnecessary utilization of . . . care and services.” 42 U. S. C. §1396a(a)(30)(A). Respondents, providers of habilitation services, sued petitioners, Idaho Health and Welfare Department officials, claiming that Idaho reimbursed them at rates lower than §30(A) permits, and seeking to enjoin petitioners to increase these rates. The District Court entered summary judgment for the providers. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Supremacy Clause gave the providers an implied right of action, and that they could sue under this implied right of action to seek an injunction requiring Idaho to comply with §30(a).

Held: The judgment is reversed.

567 Fed. Appx. 496, reversed.

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV, concluding that the Supremacy Clause does not confer a private right of action, and that Medicaid providers cannot sue for an injunction requiring compliance with §30(a). Pp. 3–10.

(a) The Supremacy Clause instructs courts to give federal law priority when state and federal law clash. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 210. But it is not the “ ‘source of any federal rights,’ ” Golden State Transit Corp. v. Los Angeles, 493 U. S. 103 , and certainly does not create a cause of action. Nothing in the Clause’s text suggests otherwise, and nothing suggests it was ever understood as conferring a private right of action. Article I vests Congress with broad discretion over the manner of implementing its enumerated powers. Art I., §8; McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 421. It is unlikely that the Constitution gave Congress broad discretion with regard to the enactment of laws, while simultaneously limiting Congress’s power over the manner of their implementation, making it impossible to leave the enforcement of federal law to federal actors. Pp. 3–5.

(b) Reading the Supremacy Clause not to confer a private right of action is consistent with this Court’s preemption jurisprudence. The ability to sue to enjoin unconstitutional actions by state and federal officers is the creation of courts of equity, and reflects a long history of judicial review of illegal executive action, tracing back to England. This Court has never held nor suggested that this judge-made remedy, in its application to state officers, rests upon an implied right of action contained in the Supremacy Clause. Pp. 5–6.

(c) Respondents’ suit cannot proceed in equity. The power of federal courts of equity to enjoin unlawful executive action is subject to express and implied statutory limitations. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U. S. 44 . Here, the express provision of a single remedy for a State’s failure to comply with Medicaid’s requirements—the withholding of Medicaid funds by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, 42 U. S. C. §1396c—and the sheer complexity associated with enforcing §30(A) combine to establish Congress’s “intent to foreclose” equitable relief, Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U. S. 635 . Pp. 6–10.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and III, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part IV, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas and Alito, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Kagan, JJ., joined.

Primary Holding

No implied private right of action can be inferred from the Supremacy Clause, since it does not create any federal rights, and the equitable power of federal courts to enjoin executive actions may be expressly and implicitly constrained by Congress.

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