Medical malpractice plaintiffs lack standing to seek declaratory relief challenging MICRA’s constitutionality.
Heirs of deceased patients sued healthcare professionals for medical malpractice and filed this declaratory relief action against the California Attorney General challenging the constitutionality of two pre-A.B. 35 MICRA statutes: (a) Civil Code section 3333.2, which caps noneconomic damages in professional negligence actions against health care providers; and (b) Business & Professions Code section 6146, which limits attorneys’ contingent fees in such actions. The heirs alleged that it was infeasible for their law firm to represent them due to the damages cap and contingent-fee limitation, and that the insurance crisis that precipitated MICRA has been alleviated. They pleaded violations of their right to petition the government and the takings, equal protection, due process, and jury trial provisions in both the federal and statute constitutions. The trial court sustained the Attorney General’s demurrer without leave to amend, ruling the heirs lacked standing. The heirs appealed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed. After explaining how the MICRA statutes have been repeatedly upheld against constitutional challenges by both the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal, the court held the heirs lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of MICRA. The “potential that heirs may ultimately have to prosecute their medical malpractice case in propria persona in the event their current medical malpractice counsel withdraws does not rise to the level of a cognizable injury for standing purposes.” Accordingly, the “heirs’ alleged injuries are neither concrete nor actual. They are, at present, conjectural and hypothetical.” For the same reason, there is no basis for concluding that the heirs will suffer hardship if declaratory relief is withheld. The litigants’ mere “difference of opinion” as to the validity of MICRA statutes “is obviously not enough by itself to constitute an actual controversy” within the meaning of California’s declaratory relief statute. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1060.)
The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, who are partners at the appellate firm Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.