‘Healthy San Francisco’ stands, as U.S. Supreme Court denies legal challenge

Rejection ends four-year legal battle over popular universal health care program that serves more than 53,000 San Franciscans

SAN FRANCISCO (June 28, 2010) — The U.S. Supreme Court this morning denied review to a legal challenge to a key provision of “Healthy San Francisco,” conclusively ending a contentious four-year attack aimed at gutting the City’s popular universal health care program. At issue in the lawsuit brought by Golden Gate Restaurant Association in 2006 was whether the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, preempts local laws such as San Francisco’s from requiring ongoing employer spending for employee health benefits, or alternative payments to a local government. In rejecting GGRA’s petition for review on this, the last day of the Supreme Court’s 2009-10 term, the high court effectively sustained a Sept. 30, 2008 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the legality of the City’s employer spending requirement for health care.

U.S. Supreme Court's denial of review in GGRA v. CCSF press kit (June 28, 2010)
U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of review in GGRA v. CCSF press kit (June 28, 2010)

For the first time since GGRA filed its legal challenge, today’s denial assures sound legal footing to the popular and widely lauded program. Healthy San Francisco has provided affordable health care services and prescription drugs to more than 53,000 otherwise uninsured San Franciscans, earning a remarkable ninety-four percent satisfaction rate among participants, according to a survey conducted last year by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. That survey additionally found that fully nine in ten participants would recommend the program to a friend.

“I am extremely grateful to high court for allowing to stand a model of health care reform that works — not just for thousands of San Franciscans who would otherwise go without coverage, but for the vast majority of employers,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office defended the program. “I am also thankful to my co-counsel from organized labor and to all of my client partners who stood with us these last four years to defend this law. I applaud Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Mayor Gavin Newsom for their leadership in crafting this policy. We should be very thankful to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, too, whose thorough decision powerfully affirmed our arguments that Healthy San Francisco’s spending provisions were reasonable, fair and legal. I would finally express my gratitude to all those from the business community who voiced their support for this program — especially Zazie and Medjool Restaurants, and Nibbi Construction, which filed amicus briefs on our behalf.”

The case is Golden Gate Restaurant Association v. City and County of San Francisco et al., Supreme Court of the United States, Case No. 08-1515. A timeline of key events in the case follows:

  • July 25, 2006: San Francisco Board of Supervisors passes San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance 10-0 (File No. 051919. Ordinance 218-06).
  • Aug. 4, 2006: Mayor Newsom signs ordinance into law.
  • Nov. 8, 2006: Golden Gate Restaurant Association sues in U.S. District Court, seeking to invalidate the employer spending requirements of the City’s ordinance on federal preemption grounds (that it violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA).
  • March 1, 2007: Local labor unions (San Francisco Central Labor Council, SEIU Local 1021, SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West, and UNITE-HERE! Local 2) move to intervene in case as defendants.
  • April 2, 2007: City amends Ordinance to defer implementation of employer provisions until Jan. 1, 2008 for employers with fifty or more employees; and until April 1, 2008 for employers with twenty to forty-nine employees.
  • April 5, 2007: U.S. District Court grants unions’ motion to intervene.
  • July 13, 2007: Parties file cross-motions for summary judgment in case.
  • Nov. 2, 2007: U.S. District Court hears oral argument on cross-motions.
  • Dec. 26, 2007: U.S. District Court finds for GGRA, holding the employer mandate to be preempted by federal ERISA law.
  • Dec. 27, 2007: City Attorney Herrera files emergency motion with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking stay in district court ruling to enable program to take effect on Jan. 1, 2008.
  • Jan. 9, 2008: Ninth Circuit grants Herrera’s emergency motion, enabling program to go forward with the employer mandate intact.
  • Feb. 8, 2008: GGRA files emergency petition with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy (in his capacity as circuit justice for the Ninth Circuit) seeking immediate reversal of the Ninth Circuit’s stay order.
  • Feb. 21, 2008: Justice Kennedy denies GGRA’s emergency petition without comment.
  • Sept. 30, 2008: Ninth Circuit rules in favor of the City, holding that the employer health care spending requirement is not preempted by ERISA.
  • March 9, 2009: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denies GGRA’s petition for rehearing en banc.
  • March 17, 2009: GGRA files another emergency petition with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy seeking immediate stay of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ final ruling on the merits.
  • March 30, 2009: Justice Kennedy again denies GGRA’s emergency petition without comment.
  • June 6, 2009: GGRA files petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for the high court to review the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that rejected the challenge the healthcare employer spending requirement.
  • August 24, 2009: San Francisco and amici curiae submit briefing to the U.S. Supreme Court opposing GGRA’s petition for review.
  • October 5, 2009: On the first Monday in October, the traditional first day of the U.S. Supreme Court term, the high court calls for the views of the Solicitor General on the case.
  • May 28, 2010: U.S. Solicitor General files brief with the Supreme Court urging that GGRA’s petition be denied.
  • June 9, 2010: Herrera files supplemental brief with Supreme Court, rebutting GGRA’s arguments in response to Solicitor General over whether to grant review.
  • June 28, 2010: U.S. Supreme Court denies review to the legal challenge, conclusively ending the contentious four-year legal battle over “Healthy San Francisco.”