Ninth Circuit Rehearing of Landmark Mental Health Decision is Urged by Federal Government, 15 States, the American Medical Association, and Dozens of Other Leading Organizations

Plaintiffs in Wit v. United Behavioral Health (UBH) are asking the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a high-profile decision recently issued by a three-judge panel. The petition, filed by Stris & Maher LLP, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, and Psych-Appeal, Inc., is supported by a breathtaking array of stakeholders, including the federal government, 15 states and the District of Columbia, and dozens of leading organizations, including the American Medical Association.

In 2019, a U.S. District Court issued a landmark ruling that found UBH used self-serving, overly restrictive internal guidelines in denying tens of thousands of mental health and substance use disorder health insurance claims. In doing so, the court said that UBH violated its fiduciary obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed key parts of that judgment, including that UBH breached its fiduciary duties, but reversed other crucial parts in ways that undermine ERISA and will unfairly restrict access to behavioral health care.

The petition explains that the ruling “created three…different circuit splits, contravened longstanding Circuit precedent, and disregarded the considered views of the U.S. government.”  In the words of Peter Stris, counsel of record on the petition: “We’re confident the full Ninth Circuit will appreciate the need for en banc review. It’s not very often that the federal government, nearly 20 states, and dozens of leading non-partisan organizations come together to urge rehearing by the full court.”

Zuckerman Spaeder partner Caroline E. Reynolds, lead trial and appellate counsel, commented: “En banc review is clearly warranted, and we believe it is essential given the significance of the panel’s errors. In critical areas, the court contradicted settled law, ignored relevant decisions from its own circuit and others, and misinterpreted foundational legal arguments. The result is a ruling that weakens critical consumer protections offered by ERISA and will have dangerous implications that go well beyond behavioral health care.”

The petition was filed by Zuckerman Spaeder attorneys Ms. Reynolds, Adam B. Abelson, D. Brian Hufford, Jason S. Cowart, and David A. Reiser, along with Meiram Bendat of Psych-Appeal, Inc., and Mr. Stris, Rachana A. Pathak, Dana E. Berkowitz, John Stokes, and Colleen R. Smith from Stris & Maher LLP.

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Katie Munroe
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