California Seniors v. Catholic Healthcare, B140639.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation104 Cal.Rptr.2d 655,87 Cal.App.4th 491
Decision Date28 February 2001
Docket NumberNo. B140639.,B140639.
PartiesCONGRESS OF CALIFORNIA SENIORS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE WEST et al., Defendants and Respondents.
104 Cal.Rptr.2d 655
87 Cal.App.4th 491
CONGRESS OF CALIFORNIA SENIORS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE WEST et al., Defendants and Respondents.
No. B140639.
Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 1.
February 28, 2001.

[104 Cal.Rptr.2d 656]

[87 Cal.App.4th 492]

Service Employees International Union, Carol R. Golubock and Andrew L. Strom, Los Angeles, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

[87 Cal.App.4th 493]

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Barry S. Landsberg, Terri D. Keville and Ileana M. Hernandez, Los Angeles, for Defendants and Respondents.

[104 Cal.Rptr.2d 657]


Hospitals, doctors and others who provide services to Medicare beneficiaries are reimbursed based in part upon annual cost reports filed by the providers to conform to the Medicare statute and a variety of federal rules and regulations. Those cost reports are at the heart of this case, in which the primary plaintiff is a union and the primary defendant is a hospital at which there appears to be an ongoing effort to unionize the hospital's employees. The union claims the hospital has included in its annual cost reports certain "antiunion" expenses that the union says are not allowable under federal law. For relief, the union wants a declaration that the hospital's conduct constitutes an unfair business practice within the meaning of section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code, an accounting of the hospital's "expenditures on activities to influence employees regarding unionization and of the impact of such expenditures on payments received" by the hospital under the Medicare program, and an injunction compelling the hospital to disgorge all money it has acquired by means of any unlawful business practice.

The issue is preemption. Our conclusion is that the field of Medicare provider cost reporting and reimbursement is so fully and completely occupied by federal law—as our unfortunately lengthy discussion of the pertinent statutes, regulations, manuals and other rules will show—that there remains no room for state action. We affirm the trial court's judgment of dismissal.


The Congress of California Seniors, the Service Employees International Union, and two of the Union's locals (collectively, the Union) sued Catholic Healthcare West and related medical organizations (collectively, CHW), alleging violations of Business and Professions Code section 17200.1 The Union alleges that both "the Medicare and the Medi-Cal programs impose upon providers of medical services detailed cost reporting requirements. Under the Medicare program, hospitals ... are required to submit annual reports ... includ[ing] information on patient revenues, operating expenses by classification, patient days, and number of Medicare patient days. The reports are a necessary component of claims for payment under the program.

87 Cal.App.4th 494

The Medi-Cal program requires the submission of similar cost reports." Since any costs incurred for activities directly related to influencing employees with regard to unionization may not be included in determining reasonable costs, "a provider is under an obligation when reporting costs of providing services under the Medicare and Medi-Cal programs to exclude the costs of such activities from the reasonable operating costs reported."

According to the Union, CHW has for the past several years "engaged in activities to deter unionization by [its] employees" and, in the process, has incurred considerable costs, including "a share of the salaries and benefits paid to supervisory employees for time spent in their employer's anti-unionization activities; a share of the salaries and benefits paid to non-supervisory employees for time spent attending meetings and other activities arranged by [CHW] to influence them regarding unionization; payment to consultants who have been retained by [CHW] to plan and direct [its] anti-unionization activities; the costs of preparing, producing, and disseminating communications to employees in an effort to influence them regarding unionization; attorneys fees for planning and defending [CHW] in proceedings brought by governmental agencies with regard to [CHW's] illegal activities in [its] efforts to influence employees regarding unionization." According to the Union, CHW has failed to exclude the "considerable costs" it incurred "in activities to influence employees regarding unionization" from its calculation

104 Cal.Rptr.2d 658

of its reasonable and allowable costs on its cost reports.

In five causes of action, the Union alleges that CHW's activities are unlawful, unfair or fraudulent, all in violation of section 17200. In its prayer, the Union asks for a declaration that CHW's conduct violates the law, an "accounting ... of all expenditures on activities to influence employees regarding unionization and of the impact of such expenditures on payments received under the Medicare and [Medi-Cal] programs and from private health plans," injunctions (1) prohibiting CHW from "refusing to disgorge all monies which [it] acquired by means of any" unlawful business practice, (2) prohibiting CHW from "refusing to amend [its] Medicare and Medi-Cal cost reports to exclude the costs of their anti-unionization activities from allowable costs," and (3) "refusing to correctly report" its costs in the future, and attorneys' fees. (Italics added.)

CHW removed the case to federal court, contending there that the Union's claims are preempted by the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq. The district court rejected the removal and remanded the case to superior court. CHW then demurred, contending (among other

87 Cal.App.4th 495

things) that the Union's claims are preempted by the Medicare and Medi-Cal statutes, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Federal False Claims Act. The demurrers were sustained with leave to amend but the Union elected to stand on its complaint and a judgment of dismissal was entered. At the same time, at CHW's request, the trial court issued a protective order to prohibit disclosure of "all information received during the discovery process in this matter." The Union appeals.


We agree with the Union that section 17200 prohibits any business act or practice that is unlawful, unfair or fraudulent, and we agree that the Union need not be personally aggrieved to sue under section 17200. (Stop Youth Addiction, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal.4th 553, 567, 71 Cal.Rptr.2d 731, 950 P.2d 1086.) We assume, as we must because this case is before us at the demurrer stage, that the Union has alleged conduct that could be unlawful, unfair or fraudulent. (First Nationwide Savings v. Perry (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1657, 1662, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 173.) But it does not follow that the Union can pursue its Medicare-based claims under section 17200—because the Union's attack on CHW's cost reporting and the resulting reimbursement to CHW is preemptedby federal law.


In the absence of an express congressional command, state law is preempted (1) if it actually conflicts with federal law or (2) if federal law so thoroughly occupies a legislative field by a pervasive and complex regulatory system as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the states to supplement it. (Solmzano v. Superior Court (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th 1135, 1139, 13 Cal.Rptr.2d 161; see also Smiley v. Citibank (1995) 11 Cal.4th 138, 147, 44 Cal.Rptr.2d 441, 900 P.2d 690.) Since there is no express preemption in the Medicare statute (Solorzano v. Superior Court, supra, 10 Cal. App.4th at p. 1141, 13 Cal.Rptr.2d 161), and since our conclusion makes it unnecessary to separately consider whether there is an actual conflict, the question before us is whether federal law has occupied the field of Medicare reimbursement sufficiently to exclude the state. (Ball v. GTE Mobilnet of California (2000) 81 Cal. App.4th 529, 537, 96 Cal.Rptr.2d 801.)

The Union contends our analysis must start with a presumption of nonpreemption. We disagree. "[A]n `assumption' of nonpre-emption is not

87 Cal.App.4th 496

triggered when the State regulates in an area where there has been a history of significant federal presence." (United

104 Cal.Rptr.2d 659

States v. Locke (2000) 529 U.S. 89, 108, 120 S.Ct. 1135, 146 L.Ed.2d 69.) Put more plainly, there is no presumption one way or the other where, as with Medicare, there is a history of significant federal presence in the field. But the fact that public health is a field historically within the police powers of the states means the party asserting preemption must establish that preemption was the "`clear and manifest purpose of Congress.'" (Solorzano v. Superior Court, supra, 10 Cal.App.4th at p. 1139, 13 Cal.Rptr.2d 161.) To meet that burden, CHW claims congressional intent to preempt California's regulation of Medicare reimbursement to healthcare providers is implicit in the statutes and regulations governing how and by whom Medicare reasonable cost reimbursement and recoupment decisions must be made. We agree.2


Medicare, established by the 1966 adoption of title XVIII of the Social Security Act, provides basic and supplementary health insurance to individuals age 65 and older and to other qualifying individuals. (42 U.S.C. §§ 1395c, 1395j.) The Medicare program is governed and administered by the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). (Bowen v. Georgetown University Hospital (1988) 488 U.S. 204, 205-206, 109 S.Ct. 468, 102 L.Ed.2d 493 [Congress has authorized the Secretary of HHS to promulgate regulations setting limits on the levels of Medicare costs that will be reimbursed].) The program has three components, each financed differently and each offering a distinct type of beneficiary coverage: Part A covers institutional health services; Part B covers outpatient services rendered by physicians and other professionals; Part C, adopted by the 1997 Balanced...

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  • Congress of California Seniors v. Catholic HealthCare West
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 28, 2001
    ... 104 Cal.Rptr.2d 655 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. CONGRESS OF CALIFORNIA SENIORS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE WEST et al., Defendants and Respondents. B140639 IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT DIVISION ONE Filed 2/28/01 (Super. Ct.......

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