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Media Alerts - K.P. v. LeBlanc - Fifth Circuit
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September 5, 2013
  K.P. v. LeBlanc - Fifth Circuit
Headline: Fifth Circuit Upholds Louisiana Law Excluding Abortion from Malpractice Liability Limits.

Area of Law: Abortion, Medical Malpractice, Fourteenth Amendment.

Issue Presented: (1) Whether the Plaintiffs have standing to bring their claims challenging the validity of Louisiana Act 825 and (2) whether to uphold the district court's permanent injunction against Act 825 based on a finding that the Act violates the Constitution by unduly burdening the right to abortion.

Brief Summary: The Plaintiffs are healthcare providers in Louisiana. The case concerns the extent of their potential liability in a suit for medical malpractice arising from a surgical abortion. At least two of the Plaintiffs were participating in the Louisiana Patient's Compensation Fund, which had been created through Louisiana legislation to provide medical-malpractice insurance for healthcare providers and to limit providers' liability. When the providers were sued concerning the abortion, the Patients' Fund Oversight Board, the entity administering the Fund, relied on Act 825 to deny the benefits of the Fund's protections to the Plaintiffs. Act 825 had removed the limitations of liability which all other procedures enjoyed in conjunction with the Fund and Louisiana's Medical Malpractice Act. At stake in this appeal was the constitutionality of Act 825 and the Plaintiffs' standing to bring the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the Plaintiffs did have standing to challenge subsection (C)(2) of the Act. However, the Court reversed the district court's ruling that subsection (C)(2) was in violation of the Constitution. The Court did not rule on the merits of the Plaintiffs' challenge to subsection (A) of Act 825, finding that the Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this claim.

Extended Summary: The Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act limited the liability of healthcare providers and created the Louisiana Patient's Compensation Fund, which effectively acts as a malpractice insurer for participating providers. Louisiana Act 825 creates a special cause of action for injuries occasioned by abortion and excludes abortion providers from the protections and benefits afforded by the Medical Malpractice Act.

The Plaintiffs are healthcare providers in Louisiana who were sued concerning an abortion one of the providers performed. The Patients' Fund Oversight Board, the responsible party for administering the Fund, relied on Act 825 to deny benefits of the Fund's protections to the Plaintiffs.

The Plaintiffs brought a ยง 1983 action against the Board's members challenging the constitutionality of Act 825, alleging the Act to be vague, lacking a rational basis, and unduly burdensome. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana first dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction under the Eleventh Amendment. In a prior appeal, the Fifth Circuit, finding an Ex Parte Young exception, reversed and remanded. This time, the district court granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and "held that the Act was void for vagueness, unduly burdensome, and in want of a rational basis." The district court "permanently enjoined the Board . . . from relying on the Act." The present decision is the appeal from this injunction.

The Fifth Circuit first characterized the Plaintiffs' claim that the Act is unconstitutional as "two separate claims": one against subsection (A), which creates a cause of action for abortion-related injuries, and one against subsection (C)(2), which excludes abortion from the Medical Malpractice Act. The Court then explained that an earlier panel's approval of Plaintiffs' standing had only addressed the challenge to subsection (C)(2). Concurring with the previous panel, the Court found that the Plaintiffs had standing, had experienced an injury-in-fact, and that the claim against subsection (C)(2) was not moot. Regarding the Plaintiffs' claim against subsection (A), the Court held that Plaintiffs lacked standing. Consequently, the Court did not reach the merits of any claims against subsection (A) and did not address the Plaintiffs' claim of the Act being unconstitutionally vague because this claim was related only to subsection (A). Limiting its analysis to subsection (C)(2), the Court then rejected the two remaining constitutional challenges. First, the Court found that the Act does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it is "rationally related to the promotion of informed consent - an unquestionably legitimate end." Second, the Court found that the Act is not unduly burdensome on a woman's right to choose. Citing the Maher-McRae line of Supreme Court cases, the Fifth Circuit reasoned that the Act's "unequal subsidization" is not an obstacle or restriction placed by the government into the path of a woman's free choice. The Court went on to cite the case lineage establishing that the government is not responsible for removing obstacles in that path that are not of the government's making.

In conclusion, the Court reversed the district court's judgment regarding subsection (C)(2) and vacated the judgment regarding subsection (A).

For the full opinion, please see:

Panel: Circuit Judges Higginbotham, Clement, and Haynes

Argument Date: 12/5/2012

Date of Issued Opinion: 9/4/2013

Docket Number: No. 12-30456

Decided: Reversed in part and vacated in part

Case Alert Author: LaDelle Davenport

Counsel: Stephanie Toti, Center for Reproductive Rights, for Plaintiffs-Appellees K.P. et al.; Carlton Jones, III, Roedel, Parsons, Koch, Blache, Balhoff & McCollister, A.L.C., for Defendants-Appellants Lorraine LeBlanc et al.

Author of Opinion: Judge Higginbotham

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl

    Posted By: Aaron Bruhl @ 09/05/2013 03:23 PM     5th Circuit  

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