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Maine Equal Justice Partners v. Commissioner, Department of Health And Human Services

Supreme Court of Maine

August 23, 2018

MAINE EQUAL JUSTICE PARTNERS et al.
v.
COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

          Argued: July 18, 2018

          Patrick Strawbridge, Esq. (orally), Consovoy McCarthy Park PLLC, Boston, Massachusetts, for appellant Commissioner, Department of Health and Human Services

          James T. Kilbreth, Esq. (orally), and David M. Kallin, Esq., Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, Portland; Jack Comart, Esq., and Robyn Merrill, Esq., Maine Equal Justice Partners, Augusta; and Charles F. Dingman, Esq., PretiFlaherty, Augusta, for appellees Maine Equal Justice Partners et al.

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Before us is the Department of Health and Human Services' motion asking us to stay the effect of a partial judgment entered in the Business and Consumer Docket [Murphy, J.) dated June 4, 2018, and to issue an expedited briefing schedule governing the Department's appeal from that partial judgment. There are substantial unresolved issues surrounding the petitioners' appeal filed pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80C, and it is clear from the limited record before us that those issues must be resolved before we can consider the matter on the merits. Because an appeal of the Superior Court order mandating the implementation of only one provision of the citizen initiative expanding Medicaid coverage is interlocutory and because, on these unique facts, no exception to the final judgment rule exists, we deny the motion for an expedited briefing schedule and dismiss the Department's appeal.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] On November 7, 2017, the voters of Maine approved a citizen initiative entitled "An Act to Enhance Access to Affordable Health Care" (the Act). See L.D. 1039, ch. 1, §§ A-l to B-3 (referred to the voters, 128th Legis. 2017) (effective Jan. 3, 2018) (to be codified at 22 M.R.S. § 3174-G(1)(H)[1]). The Act, which expands Medicaid coverage, was not acted upon by the Legislature but nonetheless became the law after enactment by the people. See L.D. 1039, ch. 1, §§ A-l to B-3; see also Me. Const, art. IV, pt. 3, § 19; Opinion of the Justices, 2017 ME 100, ¶¶ 43-44, 162 A.3d 188. Title 22 M.R.S. § 3174-G(1) requires the Department to "provide for the delivery of federally approved Medicaid services to the following persons," now including, pursuant to the Act,

H. No later than 180 days after the effective date of this paragraph, a person under 65 years of age who is not otherwise eligible for assistance under this chapter and who qualifies for medical assistance pursuant to 42 United States Code, Section 1396a(a)(10)(A)(i)(VIII) when the person's income is at or below 133% plus 5% of the nonfarm income official poverty line for the applicable family size. The department shall provide such a person, at a minimum, the same scope of medical assistance as is provided to a person described in paragraph E.
No later than 90 days after the effective date of this paragraph, the department shall submit a state plan amendment to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ensuring MaineCare eligibility for people under 65 years of age who qualify for medical assistance pursuant to 42 United States Code, Section 1396a(a)(10)(A)(i)(VIII).
The department shall adopt rules, including emergency rules pursuant to Title 5, section 8054 if necessary, to implement this paragraph in a timely manner to ensure that the persons described in this paragraph are enrolled for and eligible to receive services no later than 180 days after the effective date of this paragraph. Rules adopted pursuant to this paragraph are routine technical rules as defined by Title 5, chapter 375, subchapter 2-A.

L.D. 1039, ch. 1, §A-3.

         [¶3] April 3, 2018, marked the passage of ninety days without action by the Department, contrary to the Act's mandate to file a state plan amendment (SPA) within ninety days after the effective date.[2] On April 30, 2018, Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) and others[3] filed a petition for review pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80C and 5 M.R.S. § 11001(2) (2017) based on the Department's failure to initiate the implementation of the Act. As relief, petitioners requested that the Superior Court:

a. Declare that the Commissioner is under an existing statutory obligation pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 3174-G(1)(H) to submit a state plan amendment to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ensuring MaineCare eligibility for people under 65 years of age who qualify for medical assistance pursuant to 42 United States Code, Section 1396a(a)(10)(A)(i)(VIII);
b. Order that DHHS, within 3 days, submit the required state plan amendment to CMS;
c. Declare that DHHS is under an existing statutory obligation pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 3174-G(1)(H) to adopt rules, including emergency rules pursuant to Title 5, section 8054 if necessary, to implement § 3174-G(1)(H) in a timely manner to ensure that people under 65 years of age who qualify for medical assistance pursuant to 42 United States Code, Section 1396a(a)(10)(A)(i)(VIII) are enrolled for and eligible to receive services no later than July 2, 2018;
d. Order that DHHS adopt the required rules in a timely manner to ensure that eligible individuals are enrolled for and eligible to receive services no later than July 2, 2018; and
e. Grant Petitioners such other and further relief as it deems appropriate.

         [¶4] On June 4, 2018, the Superior Court entered a partial judgment in favor of the petitioners on the merits of a portion of the Rule 80C appeal. In its order, the court addressed the Commissioner's argument that "because 180 days have not passed since the effective date of [the Act], the question of whether or not the Commissioner is required to promulgate rules or provide coverage is not yet ripe" and concluded that "only the questions concerning the filing of the SPA are ripe, not those pertaining to rulemaking or coverage because the deadlines for those actions are still on the horizon."

         [¶5] The court's preliminary order regarding the filing of the SPA did not address all of the requests for relief that the petitioners sought or otherwise address the Department's obligation-or lack thereof-to implement the statute's directives regarding rulemaking or the full implementation of expansion, because it concluded that those particular issues were not ripe for its review. The court therefore addressed only the relief requested pursuant to sections a and b of the petition quoted above and concluded, without factual findings, that the plain language of the statute required the Commissioner to submit the SPA by April 3, 2018. It therefore ordered the Department to submit the SPA to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, by June 11, 2018.

         [¶6] On June 7, 2018, the Department filed a notice of appeal and a motion to expedite the appeal with us. In its motion, the Department also contended that the judgment on the Rule 80C petition was automatically stayed pending the resolution of this appeal. MEJP opposed the Department's motion. On June 11, 2018, the same day that MEJP filed its opposition, we issued an order directing the Superior Court "to determine the immediate enforceability of [its] order pending appeal or for any stay or injunction pending appeal." On June 15, 2018, the Superior Court denied the Department's motion for a stay.

         [¶7] On June 18, 2018, the Department again asked us to stay the execution of the judgment and expedite the appeal. On June 20, 2018, we issued an order setting a hearing on the Department's renewed motion and issued a temporary stay in order to preserve the status quo in the interim. On July 18, 2018, we heard argument on the procedural status of this appeal. We now address the partial judgment of the trial court based on our review of the limited record before us.

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶8] "A final judgment or final administrative action is a decision that fully decides and disposes of the entire matter pending before the court or administrative agency, leaving no questions for the future consideration and judgment of the court or administrative agency." Brickley v. Horton, 2008 ME 111, ¶ 9, 951 A.2d 801 (quotation marks omitted); see also Bank of N.Y. v. Richardson, 2011 ME 38, ¶ 7, 15 A.3d 756 ("A judgment is final only if it disposes of all the pending claims in the action, leaving no questions for the future consideration of the court") (quotation marks omitted)). Even where neither party has raised the issue of a judgment's finality, "we may dismiss [an] appeal sua sponte[4] if we determine that the appeal is unripe." Brickley, 2008 ME 111, ¶ 9, 951 A.2d 801. When there is further action to be taken in a given case, that case is interlocutory and not ripe for appellate review. See Taylor v. Walker, 2017 ME 218, ¶ 8, 173 A.3d 539. When a "decision from us at this stage would be entirely premature," dismissal of the interlocutory appeal is proper. Brickley, 2008 ME 111, ¶ 10, 951 A.2d 801.

         [¶9] We conclude that this appeal is interlocutory "because a decision from us at this stage would be entirely premature." Id. The initiating petition in this case requested numerous forms of relief. See infra ¶ 3. No factual record was created, and the Superior Court addressed only one component of the requested relief because it concluded that certain key components and deadlines of the Act were "still on the horizon"-namely, the Act's mandate that the Department "[n]o later than 180 days after the effective date of this paragraph . . . shall provide" newly eligible persons "at a minimum, the same scope of medical assistance as is provided to a person described in paragraph E." See infra ¶ 2. On remand, the court will determine whether any ripeness issues remain.

         [¶10] Although much of the analysis developed by the parties and the court has focused on the plain language of the Act, the implementation must be done in accordance with the Maine Constitution, article IV, part 3, section 19, which states that

any measure referred to the people and approved by a majority of the votes given thereon shall, unless a later date is specified in said measure, take effect and become a law in 30 days after the Governor has made public proclamation of the result of the vote on said measure ...; provided, however, that any such measure which entails expenditure in an amount in excess of available and unappropriated state funds shall remain inoperative until 45 days after the next convening of the Legislature in regular session.

(Emphasis added.) Whether the Act has become operative, with or without any Legislative action, must be determined ...


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