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Are ALJ Appointed Properly, per the Constitution?

A sneaky and under-publicized matter, which will affect every one of you reading this, slid into common law last year with a very recent case, dated Jan. 9, 2020, upholding and expanding the findings of a 2018 case, Lucia v. SEC, 138 S. Ct. 2044 (U.S. 2018). In Lucia, the Supreme Court upheld the plain language of the U.S. Constitution’s Appointments Clause.

The Appointments Clause prescribes the exclusive means of appointing “officers.” Only the President, a court of law, or a head of department can do so. See Art. II, § 2, cl. 2.

In Lucia, the sole issue was whether an administrative law judge (ALJ) can be appointed by someone other than the President or a department head under Article II, §2, cl. 2 of the U.S. Constitution, or whether ALJs simply federal employees. The Lucia court held that ALJs must be appointed by the President or the department head; this is a non-delegable duty. The most recent case, Sara White Dove-Ridgeway v. Nancy Berrryhill, 2020 WL 109034, (D.Ct.DE, Jan. 9, 2020), upheld and expanded Lucia.

ALJs are appointed. In many states, ALJs are direct employees of a single state agency. In other words, in many states, about half, the payroll check that an ALJ receives bears the emblem of the department of health for that state. I have litigated in administrative courts in approximately 33 states, and have seen my share of surprises. In one case, many years ago, LinkedIn informed me that my appointed ALJ was actually a professional photographer by trade.

Lucia, however, determined that ALJs at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were “officers of the United States,” subject to the Appointment Clause of the Constitution, which requires officers to be appointed by the president, the heads of departments, or the courts. The court’s decision raised concern at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because its ALJs had not been appointed by the secretary, but rather by lower agency officials.

The court also held that relief should be granted to “one who makes a timely challenge to the constitutional validity of the appointment of an officer who adjudicates his case.” Whether that relief is monetary, in the form of attorneys’ fees reimbursed or out-of-pocket costs, it is unclear.

In July 2018, President Trump’s Executive Order 13843 excepted ALJs from the competitive service, so agency heads, like HHS Secretary Alex Azar, could directly select the best candidates through a process that would ensure the merit-based appointment of individuals with the specific experience and expertise needed by the selecting agencies.

The executive order also accepted all previously appointed ALJs. So there became a pre-July 16, 2018, challenge and a post-July 16, 2018, based on Trump’s Executive Order. Post-July 16, 2018, appointees had to be appointed by the President or department head. But the argument could be made that ALJs appointed pre-July 16, 2018, were grandfathered into the more lax standards. In Dove-Ridgway, Social Security benefits were at issue. On July 5, 2017, ALJ Jack S. Pena found a plaintiff not disabled. On Jan. 7, 2019, the plaintiff filed an appeal of the ALJ’s decision, seeking judicial review from the district court. In what seems to be the fastest decision ever to emerge from a court of law, two days later, a ruling was rendered. The District Court found that even though at the time of the administrative decision, Lucia and Trump’s Executive Order had not been issued, the court still held that the ALJ needed to have been appointed constitutionally. It ordered a remand for a rehearing before a different, constitutionally appointed ALJ, despite the fact that Trump had accepted all previously appointed ALJs.

In this firsthand, post-Jan. 9, 2020, era, we have an additional defense against Medicare or Medicaid audits or alleged overpayments in our arsenal: was the ALJ appointed properly, per the U.S. Constitution?

Programming Note: Listen to Knicole Emanuel’s live reports on Monitor Monday, 10-10:30 a.m. EST.

As seen on RACMonitor.

Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Burwell. Burwell Who?

As I am sure most of you have heard, April 10, 2014, Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary to Health and Human Services (HHS), resigned. Some journalists wrote that her resignation came 6 months after “the disastrous rollout of Obamacare,” obviously alluding that she was fleeing from her position as Secretary. But is that why Sebelius left? And who is Sylvia Mathews Burwell?

It is no secret that when Healthcare.gov went live on October 1, 2013, Sebelius called the roll-out a “debacle.” But recent figures show enrollment in Obamacare exchanges has surpassed 7.5 million.

Sunday Sebelius stated that “Clearly, the estimate that it was ready to go Oct. 1 was just flat-out wrong.”

According to Politico Pro, “a White House official said Sebelius told Obama in March that she planned to resign. She felt that the Affordable Care Act trajectory was back on track, and believed “that once open enrollment ended it would be the right time to transition the Department to new leadership.””

It seems that Sebelius did not want to resign during the height of the debacle. She waited until things smoothed out a bit before walking away.

Obama has chosen Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his budget Director, to replace Sebelius.

Who is Burwell?

Burwell

Burwell served as deputy White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration. She also served at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) twice, once as director. She has also worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Speaking of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and people with obscene amounts of money, why don’t people ever set up charities to pay for Medicaid recipients to receive private insurance with the co-pays all covered? If I ever get an obscene amount of money I would set up a Medicaid Foundation. The Emanuel Medicaid Foundation. Look for that in the VERY FAR future, folks.).

Going back to Burwell…she received her bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University. She also received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University. Seriously? Is that a quadruple major from 2 colleges?

Her grandparents were Greek immigrants, and she grew up in West Virginia.

There isn’t much more information on Burwell. She is relatively young (48) and holds a relatively small resume considering the enormous undertaking she is about to assume.

Obama nominated Burwell one day after Sebelius resigned. There is no indication of whether Burwell was Obama’s first choice. It took him one day to replace Sebelius, which is pretty amazing.  Remember, we still haven’t replaced former Medicaid Director, Carol Steckel. Sandy Terrell is still the “Acting Director.” Whew, it has got to be difficult to fill these intimidating positions.

I can only imagine how many people would NOT want to be Secretary of HHS. Talk about a big job! Talk about high stress!

Burwell has not been confirmed yet. Despite Burwell not being a common household name when Obama nominated her, it is without question that Burwell has now stepped into the limelight. If confirmed, Burwell will be one of the most powerful people in health care…and one of the most scrutinized.

Good luck, Burwell!! Make Burwell a household name…for good reasons. And when someone says, “Burwell who?”

Someone else will respond, “That is the Secretary for HHS.”