The Ninth Circuit on the San Francisco Health Insurance Mandate Ordinance

Workplace Prof has the story here of a three judge panel out of the Ninth Circuit staying the district court ruling that the San Francisco ordinance mandating the provision of health insurance by employers was preempted, and provides a link to the ruling. I second the surprise he describes in his post over the conclusion that the ordinance could legally be found to not be preempted, but in light of the media coverage of the appeal over the last week or so that I have been seeing indicating that the particular three judge panel hearing the action for a stay appeared critical of the lower court ruling, the fact that the stay itself was imposed doesn’t stun me.

The panel’s ruling consists primarily of drawing distinctions among the facts of leading Supreme Court preemption decisions and the details of the San Francisco ordinance, rather than of any sweeping view of preemption that would place mandates and fair share acts outside the scope of preemption, something which would set up a direct conflict with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in Fielder, which found the Maryland Fair Share Act to be preempted. The distinctions that the panel relies upon are in many ways in the eye of the beholder, and it would be just as easy to argue the opposite, that the similarities of the San Francisco ordinance to the facts of the leading preemption cases mean that the ordinance should be understood to be preempted. The ruling also reflects, although obviously the panel is controlled by Ninth Circuit law in areas not yet passed on by the Supreme Court, a heavy reliance on Ninth Circuit decisions that do not necessarily reflect where this issue will end up if and when the Supreme Court finally weighs in on the preemptive effect of ERISA on state health care mandates and fair share acts, something which one can bet will happen sooner rather than later if the eventual ruling out of the Ninth Circuit on the San Francisco ordinance sets up a direct conflict with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in Fielder.