City may forgo response to brief in Healthy SF lawsuit 

San Francisco might not even bother filing a response to acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal’s decision Friday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny reviewing the pending legal challenge to The City’s universal health care program, Healthy San Francisco.

The City and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association have 10 days to respond to the brief that was filed Friday afternoon. In the brief, Katyal argued that the nation’s recently approved health care reform bill means there’s no longer a need for the high court to decide whether the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, pre-empts local governments from requiring employers to make health care expenditures for their workers.

"Given the solicitor general has addressed the issues comprehensively, we are still evaluating whether it’s necessary to file a response," said Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. "We always thought we were right on the law and we thought the passage of health care reform on a national level helped our case, and it seems to have been affirmed in the solicitor general’s view."

The 26-page brief reflects the Obama administration’s views about The City’s four-year legal battle with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Kevin Westlye, executive director of the association, said there’s at least one recent example of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the petitioner in an ERISA case.

Westlye said this alone strengthens the association’s case.

"Our case is front and center," Westlye said. "I thought we were positioned well before, but now I think we are positioned even better."

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a nonprofit group representing the interests of restaurant owners, alleged in a lawsuit that The City’s health care ordinance is pre-empted by ERISA, which sets national standards for employee benefit plans. The federal law prevents states and local governments from dictating specific terms of an employee benefit plan, which includes health care benefits.


Lawsuit timeline


The Golden Gate Restaurant Association is challenging The City’s Healthy San Francisco program.

July 25, 2006: Health Care Security Ordinance passes

Nov. 8, 2006: Restaurant association sues in federal court

Dec. 26, 2007: Court says law pre-empted by federal ERISA

Sept. 30, 2008: On appeal, 9th Circuit rules in favor of The City

March 17, 2009: Association files emergency petition with U.S. Supreme Court

March 30, 2009: Emergency petition denied

Aug. 24, 2009: San Francisco opposes association in brief to Supreme Court

Oct. 5, 2009: Supreme Court asks solicitor general for opinion

May 28: Solicitor general urges petition be denied

Source: City Attorney’s Office

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