Pruitt Wins Summary Judgment in District Court


Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, like the IRS-challengers in Halbig, filed a suit alleging that the subsidies available in the Affordable Care Act are only available through state-established (as opposed to federally-established) exchanges. Today, he won his case in a summary judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.  From the Court's decision:

This is a case of statutory interpretation. “The text is what it is, no matter which side benefits.” Bormes v. United States, 759 F.3d 793, 798 (7th Cir.2014). Such a case (even if affirmed on the inevitable appeal) does not “gut” or “destroy” anything. On the contrary, the court is upholding the Act as written. Congress is free to amend the ACA to provide for tax credits in both state and federal exchanges, if that is the legislative will. As the Act presently stands, “vague notions of a statute’s ‘basic purpose’ are nonetheless inadequate to overcome the words of its text regarding the specific issue under consideration.” Mertens v. Hewitt Assocs., 508 U.S. 248, 261 (1993) (emphasis in original). It is a “core administrative-law principle that an agency may not rewrite clear statutory terms to suit its own sense of how the statute should operate.” Util. Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 134 S.Ct. 2427,2446(2014).

“But in the last analysis, these always-fascinating policy discussions are beside the point. The role of this Court is to apply the statute as it is written – even if we think some other approach might ‘accor[d] with good policy.’” Burrage v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 881, 892 (2014)(quoting Commissioner v. Lundy, 516 U.S. 235, 252 (1996)(other citation omitted)). See also Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, 134 S.Ct. 2024, 2034 (2014)(“This Court has no roving license, in even ordinary cases of statutory interpretation, to disregard clear language simply on the view that . . . Congress ‘must have intended’ something broader.”); Util. Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 134 S.Ct. 2427, 2446 (2014)(“The power of executing the laws necessarily includes both authority and responsibility to resolve some questions left open by Congress that arise during the law’s administration. But it does not include a power to revise clear statutory terms that turn out not to work in practice.”).

The animating principles of this court’s decision have been articulated by the Tenth Circuit: “[C]ourts, out of respect for their limited role in tripartite government, should not try to rewrite legislative compromises to create a more coherent, more rational statute. A statute is not ‘absurd’ if it could reflect the sort of compromise that attends legislative endeavor.” Robbins v. Chronister, 435 F.3d 1238, 1243 (10th Cir.2006). “An agency’s rule- making power is not ‘the power to make law,’ it is only the ‘power to adopt regulations to carry into effect the will of Congress as expressed by the statute.’” Sundance Associates, 139 F3d at 808 (citation omitted) “In reviewing statutes, courts do not assume the language is imprecise ... Rather, we assume that in drafting legislation, Congress says what it means.” Id at 809.

The court holds that the IRS Rule is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §706(2)(A), in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §706(2)(C), or otherwise is an invalid implementation of the ACA, and is hereby vacated.


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