Justices add pre-emption case to merits docket
on Nov 4, 2016 at 7:33 pm
The Supreme Court added one new case to its merits docket this afternoon. Shortly after the end of events remembering the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on February 13, the justices issued an initial order from their conference earlier today. (Additional orders from today’s conference are expected on Monday morning.) Today’s lone order was a grant in Coventry Health Care of Missouri v. Nevils, a case involving the interaction of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act and state insurance law. The FEHBA is a 1959 federal law enacted to provide health insurance to federal workers. The law gave the federal Office of Personnel Management authority to issue regulations and contract with private insurance carriers; it also contains a section indicating that the provisions of any such contracts supersede any state or local laws.
Jodie Nevils, the respondent in the case, is a federal employee who has health insurance with the petitioner, Coventry Health Care, through a FEHBA plan. After he was injured in a car accident, Nevils received medical care, for which Coventry paid. When Nevils settled his lawsuit against the other driver, Coventry sought to recover the costs – approximately $6500 – of Nevils’ medical bills.
Nevils then sued Coventry in state court in Missouri, arguing that state law prohibited Coventry from seeking either subrogation – which allows an insurance company like Coventry to try to recover from a third party, like the driver who injured Nevils – or reimbursement from Nevils for money received from the other driver. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed with Nevils, concluding that FEHBA does not pre-empt state laws barring subrogation or reimbursement.
After a series of proceedings that included a brief from the federal government, Coventry asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. It warned that the state court’s decision “jeopardizes a massive, multibillion-dollar program that serves eight million federal workers and dependents.” Nevils defended the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling but conceded that the question presented in the case was worthy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s review. Today the justices agreed to conduct that review. Oral arguments in the case will likely be scheduled for February; a decision is expected by June.