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Teenage Illegal Alien’s Right to an Abortion: Understanding Constitutional Rights of Non-Citizens

A 17-year old girl who realized she was pregnant while being held in an immigration detention center in has found herself at the center of an ongoing lawsuit over her right to get an abortion as an illegal immigrant. The girl is unnamed, known only as Jane Doe in all the documents associated with her. She was pregnant when she was originally caught, by herself, crossing the border in September. However, she did not realize she was pregnant until she was being held in a Texas shelter.

We’ve talked before about the shelters the government is required to provide to unaccompanied minors held for potential deportation, and the governments failures when it comes to providing basic necessities in these shelters. However, the government was denying something else this time–access to an abortion. Jane Doe had made it clear that she did not want to carry her pregnancy to term, but was repeatedly denied requests to leave the shelter to go to a clinic and get an abortion. In the meantime, she was instead taken from the shelter to–without her request–to attend religious counseling sessions to convince her not to get an abortion and to a clinic to get ultrasounds to show her sonograms of the fetus. As the timer for an abortion was obviously ticking down, eventually the ACLU was forced to bring a lawsuit on behalf to enforce her rights to an abortion.

This lawsuit is an interesting way to analyze a not well resolved issue of law: the rights of non-citizens to an abortion while in the U.S. However, it is worth first addressing the constitutional rights of non-citizens and illegal aliens in the U.S. Despite a bit of a misinformation campaign to the contrary, non-citizens inside the U.S. do have constitutional rights–end of story. But to explore both the lawsuit and the rights of non-citizens in general, we’re going to do a two-part article. This article will address non-citizen constitutional rights and the next one will deal with Jane Doe’s lawsuit itself.

abortionConstitutional Rights of Illegal Aliens

Right off the bat, illegal aliens have constitutional rights. Despite a great deal of information on the internet trumpeting that they do not, they do. Before you leave a comment on this article, they do. Seriously. Not only do they have constitutional rights, but the fact that they have these rights has been settled for over a century.  The issue has been settled since 1886.

The first cases addressing the issue all dealt with Chinese immigrants, primarily here as non-citizens working on the railroads. In three cases–in 1886, 1896, and 1903–it was firmly established that so long as you are within U.S. territory you have at least some constitutional rights regardless of your citizenship status or whether you are here legally or illegally. These non-citizens were ruled all the way back then to have 14th Amendment Equal Protection rights as well as the due process protections of the 5th and 6th Amendments.

The lynchpin of these rulings rested on the words of the Constitution of the United States: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” You notice that the first section of that quote says “citizen” while the rest of the sections simply say “person.” This is an important distinction; some rights are indeed generally reserved for citizens but due process and equal protection of law is guaranteed to any person in the United States. The Supreme Court has consistently stuck to this interpretation of the Constitution.

In 2001, they ruled once again that the 14th Amendment applies to all aliens–legal or illegal. Two decades earlier, they ruled against Texas preventing illegal alien children from attending grade school on Constitutional Equal Protection grounds. To make a complicated issue short, states cannot deny to anybody in their jurisdiction–including illegal aliens–equal protection under their laws.

The Supreme Court has, at least in the criminal context, also extended the protections of the First and Fourth Amendment. This includes rights such as search and seizure protections, a right against self incrimination, and political freedoms of speech and association.

Situations Where Non-Citizens Have Very Little Rights

While illegal aliens do have Constitutional rights, the federal government has an extremely broad discretion in how to treat these non-citizens–immigration proceedings. The Supreme Court has long established that immigration law is the realm of the fed and these proceeding are essentially an administrative matter above judicial review.

Immigration is treated as a national security and foreign policy matter–firmly in the realm of Congress. This means Congress can do things that might be constitutionally unacceptable if they were dealing with citizens; if only in the context of immigration and deportation proceedings. This power is further supported by the nature of immigration proceedings as administrative as opposed to criminal hearings–you don’t go to jail you just get deported.

When the Supreme Court upheld this in 1952, they did so in the context of Congress’ right to expel noncitizens who were former communists. However, they also made it clear what the message behind the ruling was, saying “In recognizing this power and this responsibility of Congress, one does not in the remotest degree align oneself with fears unworthy of the American spirit or with hostility to the bracing air of the free spirit…One merely recognizes that the place to resist unwise or cruel legislation touching aliens is the Congress, not this Court.”

What Do the Constitutional Rights of Non-Citizens Mean in the Abortion Context?

Non-citizens and illegal aliens have constitutional rights and, generally, enjoy protection of state law equal to that of a citizen. Depending on the state an illegal alien lives in, these rights are occasionally expanded by state law. While California likely offers the most additional protections, many states offer things such as in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, healthcare, and more. If somebody tells you non-citizens do not have constitutional rights or are not protected by the law, they are incorrect.

But before Jane Doe’s case there had never been a case specifically ruling on the constitutional rights of non-citizens to an abortion. Obviously there are a great deal of protections for citizen women seeking an abortion, although some might argue these protections are not enough. However, no court had ruled on the specific issue. Non-citizens enjoy equal protection of the law, but how does that apply when it comes to the law on abortion? Later this week we’ll look at Jane Doe’s case and find out.

Holding Equifax Accountable: Lawsuits and Actions Against Equifax

The Equifax breach has, rightly so, been a heat magnet for the credit reporting giant in the media. It’s also been a lawsuit magnet as the company has faced a tremendous number of suits against it in the last several weeks.

A few days ago, we discussed the common causes of action that may be available to you for holding Equifax legally accountable if you’ve been affected by the recent hacks stealing a tremendous amount of private consumer information–everything from social security numbers to credit card numbers and more. It would hardly be surprising if you can count yourself among this unfortunate number as the hack impacted nearly half the population of the United States.

With this many affected, it’s no surprise that there have been a veritable landslide of lawsuits and actions brought against Equifax recently. From class actions to more specific cases to government action against the credit behemoth–let’s look at the many ways people are trying to hold Equifax accountable for this breach.

equifaxWhat is a Class Action Lawsuit?

Class action lawsuits are common when many would-be plaintiffs have damages which are individually too small to justify the costs of a lawsuit. They are not always easy to bring, having several requirements such as similarly situated plaintiffs before they can be approved. However, with half the nation affected by Equifax’s breach there are a heck of a lot of people with smaller claims. This has led to over 50 different class action lawsuits being leveled against Equifax, some of these lawsuits seek as much as $70B.

These lawsuits primarily deal with the two causes of action we discussed earlier this week–Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations and negligence. This is because these can take the individually small claims–especially when it comes to FCRA violations–and combine to make a lawsuit that can support its costs.

However, not all of these class actions deal with FCRA and negligence issues. For instance, one of the lawsuits seeking to be certified as a class action is made up entirely of banks and financial institutions. The lawsuit argues that the breach is forcing these banks to pay for canceling and reissuing credit cards and costing them profits as customers are prevented from or become wary of using credit cards after Equifax’s breach.

What about Private Lawsuits Against Equifax?

Lawsuits brought against Equifax by individuals have covered even more types of legal claims than their class action counterparts.

A lawsuit out of San Jose has targeted Equifax’s offer of a year of free credit monitoring, arguing that the move is designed to transition into paid services. Another lawsuit out of Atlanta is accusing Equifax of securities fraud for knowingly misleading shareholders as to their ability to protect the privacy of consumer data.

Carson Block–best known for alleging fraudulent activity on the part of companies then profiting off short-selling that company as their stock collapses–was himself a victim of the Equifax breach. With his data and social security number stolen, he has sued for $500,000 over negligence and the “stress, nuisance, and annoyance” of dealing with his lost data.

Private persons are not alone in their actions against Equifax. Lawsuits have been brought over the breach by the city of San Francisco and the State of Massachusetts.  These lawsuits seek millions of dollars in civil penalties and restitution for consumers out of the city and state.

The FTC, SEC, and More Taking Official Action

While Massachusetts and San Francisco are bringing lawsuits against Equifax, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI, Congress, the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau, and the Attorney Generals for over 40 states have begun investigations into Equifax and the Equifax breach.

Obviously, each of these investigations will take their own path and most are remaining tight lipped about the actual investigations. For instance, the FTC mentioned that–while it usually does not comment on ongoing investigations whatsoever–it would confirm the existence of an investigation considering the sheer number of people in the U.S. that were impacted by the breach. The FTC investigation will be focusing on Equifax’s security measures and their handling of customer service once the breach was announced.

How Will This Resolve?

With so many lawsuits with so many different fact patterns, it’s obviously extremely hard to predict results. However, at least for class action lawsuits on this sort of issue, there is an unfortunate trend of settling for extremely small individual payouts for members of a class action lawsuit–often settling for free credit monitoring services and nothing more.

Some have predicted that this case will be a bit different. Judges have become more hesitant to sign off on settlements that only provide free credit monitoring–especially since there is a trend for the free credit monitoring provided to transition into proposals for paid services. What’s more, as mentioned in the article earlier this week there has been a move towards courts recognizing a breach itself as a recognizable harm as opposed to requiring that breach to result in actual financial damages. This opens the doors to a sea of new potential plaintiffs.

This is all true, however, we will likely be waiting at least a few years before we see any actual resolution on these cases–especially the class actions. These class action cases need to go through a lot of initial steps which will substantially slow the process. What’s more, given the sheer number of people effected, it will take a truly monumental payout for individual members of a class action to see a substantial recovery. With half the U.S. affected, if Equifax settled for $5B the average harmed consumer could expect to see around $35 if everybody took their share.

Regardless of the end results, it is crucial that we hold companies such as Equifax–companies who hold information capable of ruining somebody financially–accountable for their data security. This can be done by lawsuits targeting their pocket book. However, it needs to also be done at a regulatory level in Congress. Congress actions just days ago, shooting down laws making it harder for companies to insulate against class action lawsuits, have not fit this bill. For now, we can only hope more regulations will be put forward and this time Congress will be more receptive.

Holding Equifax Accountable: Your Potential Causes of Action After the Breach

The Equifax breach has released personal information of nearly half of the population of the United States. 143 million people out of 323 million total have had their personal or financial data exposed. The full repercussions of this breach likely have not been realized and will not be for years to come. This information could lead to identity theft and credit fraud over a decade down the line, a situation one would struggle to link to the original breach.

The breach itself has been all over the news, so many are likely already familiar with the details. However, for those who are not, the Equifax hack has seen the potential theft of social security numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers, birth dates, and more. Over 200,000 credit card numbers and nearly 200,000 credit dispute details have also been absconded with.

The scale of this breach, accompanied by how dangerous the information that was accessed could be when it comes to identity theft or credit fraud has naturally led to many expressing outrage and fear over the situation. This is only made worse by the fact that it can be very hard to know whether you are among those whose information was accessed or even if you’ve been the victim of fraud using your information. To add to this, Equifax will not necessarily be warning you if you are among those targeted. While they will be notifying the approximately 200,000 whose credit cards were targeted and the 200,000 whose credit dispute documents were accessed, you otherwise are unlikely to be hearing from them.

Some initial steps you can take to protect yourself can include requesting a free credit report (you’re allowed one free request from each of the big three credit reporting companies every year), setting up a credit freeze or fraud alert systems.

However, with so many harmed, many want to know how they can hold Equifax responsible and recover from any harm. Data breach is complicated topic of law that can see substantial variations from state to state. However, there are causes of action which could be available to you based on Equifax’s actions. There are also an enormous number of existing lawsuits and investigations brought to bear of the credit reporting giant. This week we’re going to have two articles looking at how Equifax Equifaxcan and is being held accountable. These articles will deal with both the most common causes of action that you could bring against Equifax–as well as the strengths and weaknesses of those causes of action–and the lawsuits and investigations Equifax is already facing. Today we’ll start with the causes of action you may bring against Equifax, starting with your ability to bring a lawsuit against Equifax in the first place.

Does an Arbitration Clause Prevent Me From Suing?

Early on, as the initial news of the breach broke, it nearly simultaneously broke that signing up for Equifax credit protection services could bar you from suing due to an arbitration clause–a clause requiring legal action against Equifax to be resolved through arbitration as opposed to in the courts. There were also concerns that the Equifax terms of service could prevent class action lawsuits against them altogether. This is no longer an issue.

Equifax itself has said, in the face of extreme criticism, that these terms will not bar lawsuits. The terms have been removed altogether at this point and company has made it clear that the terms do not apply to actions stemming from their data breach. The issue has also led to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announcing that it would take steps to prevent arbitration clauses such as these, but Congress has killed these efforts. The vote was finalized just days ago in a very close vote, the deciding vote to break a 50-50 split was cast by Vice-President Pence.

With the ability to bring a real lawsuit available to you, let’s look at the most common causes of action the breach might make available to you–violations of the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and negligence.

What is the Federal Credit Reporting Act?

Credit reporting agencies such as Equifax handle an enormous amount of sensitive data. This is why the FCRA was passed in order to require these companies to ensure the accuracy of the data they keep, make that data available to those it relates to, and–most importantly here–keep that data private. A credit reporting agency must only make your information available to those who have a legitimate business purpose for accessing it, such as an employer considering whether to hire somebody or a bank considering whether to offer a loan. They also must correct any inaccuracies in their information if you notify them of an issue. The FCRA further requires that reporting agencies use reasonable procedures (basically industry standard) to protect private information.

Where a company like Equifax fails to do this and you are harmed by their failure, you can generally sue for FCRA violations. Exactly how this is handled can vary from state to state, so your rights may vary depending on where you live. One important trend is in exactly what constitutes a harm under the FCRA. For a long time, you needed to show identity theft caused by a data breach to sue. However, more and more, courts are treating the data breach itself as a harm allowing you to sue. This is not always the case, but is a trend in favor of those hoping to sue Equifax.

These claims can provide up to $1,000 per willful violation of the FCRA and are likely the best course for those who have not experienced–or would have trouble proving–actual fraud or identity theft due to the breach.

Can Be Found Equifax Negligent?

Negligence is, without getting into too deep of an explanation, the breach of a duty where that breach is the actual cause of a harm. There is a duty of reasonable care, the care a reasonable person would take, which everybody owes to everybody under the law. However, certain situations can create additional duties. Equifax certainly had a duty, created by statute, to protect the data of consumers. They knew in July that that there was an issue, but simply allowed consumers to continue accessing and using their website before finally notifying the public of the issue in September. Equifax did not even patch the vulnerability in their website framework for months after it was discovered.

While not a 100% slam dunk, this certainly looks like a breached duty. This means that much of any negligence action against Equifax would boil down to a discussion of causation and damages. Were you actually financially harmed and was the cause of this harm the Equifax breach. For instance, if you could prove that your credit card information was stolen in the breach and then used for rampant credit card fraud you’d likely have a strong case for negligence.

However, that sort of causation and damages can be very tricky to prove. The breach is extremely recent and the sort of information that was stolen could be sold years from now, making it extremely hard to link to Equifax’s breach. What’s more, compared to the sheer number of people affected by the breach, the number who have suffered financial damages due to loss of information is relatively small.

Equifax Breach Has Already Led to an Enormous Number of Lawsuits

As we’ll see later this week, these two causes of action are tip of the iceberg when it comes to Equifax’s problems. While these are the most common causes of action, Equifax’s headaches already range from securities fraud to Federal Trade Commission investigations.

We’ll discuss these lawsuits in the next article. However, they have one important thing in common. They all are holding Equifax accountable for protecting consumer privacy and personal data. If you’ve suspect you’ve been impacted by the breach, it is worth consulting a lawyer to know whether you have a viable cause of action against Equifax. While Congress has refused to prevent companies from limiting their liability in situations such as this in the future, in the immediate present it is worth pursuing a case if you have been harmed by Equifax’s handling of your information. If you have a smaller claim, there are also–as we’ll see later this week–a tremendous number of ongoing class action lawsuits against Equifax which you may wish to join.

Narcos: Pablo Escobar’s Brother Threatening to Sue Netflix for $1B

The brother of infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar–the 71-year-old Roberto de Jesus Escobar–has been in an ongoing legal battle with Netflix for almost a year now. Roberto Escobar took issue with Netflix’s semi-biographical show about his brother’s operations Narcos and claimed unspecified intellectual property violations to the tune of an incredible $1B. What’s more, Mr. Escobar demanded that Netflix allow him to review all future episodes of Narcos for accuracy and give a yes or no on the episode. Since the initial demands, Mr. Escobar’s claims have been refined a bit to mostly cover copyright and trademark issues.

This dispute has been catapulted back into the public eye in the last few weeks for two reasons. First, the lawyers for Narcos Productions, LLC–part of Netflix in charge of the show–have challenged a number of trademarks filed by Mr. Escobar on both “Narcos” and “Cartel Wars.” These challenges aren’t particularly surprising given the success of the show and the spin-off mobile game “Cartel Wars;” as well as how weak Mr. Escobar’s claims are. Second, the murder of a location scout for Narcos while in Mexico a few weeks back.

Escobar has been extremely critical of the Narcos show, saying that the show is apparently riddled with inaccuracies and lies. He expressed extreme anger over the show, saying “They are playing me without paying. I am not a monkey in a circus, I don’t work for pennies.” Since the murder of the Narco’s location scout Carlos Portal, Escobar has been coy about the topic. He described filming without authorization of Escobar, Inc. as “very dangerous…especially without our blessing. This is my country.” He has also said that he will “close their little show” if Netflix does not pay him the money he asked for. However, despite these veiled threats, when Escobar’s attorneys were asked about the situation they only said that they had no comment except “Escobar Inc. cooperates with all law enforcement.”

While Escobar’s approach to the situation might be a bit intimidating, it has not cause lawyers for Narcos Productions, LLC to back down much at all. After his initial $1B demands, Escobar went out and applied for trademarks on “Narcos” and “Cartel Wars” on a laundry list of goods and services. Downloadable ringtones, sunglasses, temporary tattoos, sheet music, sunglasses, yoyos, websites, video games (online and offline), board games, Christmas tree ornaments, snow globes, protective pads for skateboarding, basically everything under the sun. This list just scratches the surface of the immense list of uses Escobar claims to have made on the phrases “Narcos” and “Cartel Wars” prior to the show coming out. Netflix has responded in a letter and they are not impressed.

narcosA few months back, Netflix sent a letter to Escobar demanding that he cease use of and abandon his trademark applications for “Narcos” and “Cartel Wars.” This letter has been more recently accompanied by filing an objection to Escobar’s trademark applications a few weeks back, part of an official process of opposing trademark applications going through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. While the opposition is not currently readily available to read, one must imagine that it mirrors at least some of the objections they raised in their original letter to Escobar–primarily fraud. With so many goods and services claimed Netflix argues that many of them are simply untrue, fabrications by Escobar. For example, Escobar claims that he first began operating Narcos websites and offering online game services on January 31st of 1986–before the internet was readily available for consumer use and long before online gaming existed in any shape or form. The letter also points out that the specimen used in Escobar’s registration (a word used for the example of the mark provided with a trademark application) is nearly identical to the logo Netflix uses for its show–so much so as to imply copying.

Escobar himself seems to believe that he will still come out on top in his fight with Netflix. His attorneys have indicated that Netflix may be able to reach some settlement and Escobar himself has said that this means that they accept that he rightfully owns the trademarks he has filed for. This is simply not the case, settlements can come for any number of reasons, including simply avoiding the costs of challenging Escobar’s marks. This is especially true because almost no case in law is a guaranteed slam dunk victory. Let’s take a look at how copyright and trademark law would apply to Mr. Escobar’s claims and see just what kind of case he is likely to have against Netflix

Understanding Escobar’s Copyright and Trademark Cases

To start with, let’s look at the copyright claims here because they are by far the weaker of two weak cases. In order to be valid, a would-be copyright must be original and fixed in a tangible medium.  Originality is fairly low standard, requiring only minimum creativity.  For example, a creative arrangement of phone numbers in a telephone book would be enough to qualify. Fixation only requires you to store your work in a medium that can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated.

Today, copyright protection attaches as soon as you place an original work in a fixed medium—allowing you to stop people from using your work without permission and sue them for actual lost profits based on their actions. Registration provides you with a presumption of validity for your copyright and the ability to sue for statutory damages—which nearly always exceed your actual loss.  However, there is no copyright available for facts. This is for the obvious reason that it would be an absolute mess if one party could own the rights to publish the truth.

With this in mind, Escobar has very nearly no claim for copyright. Not only has he presented absolutely no work which Narcos might have infringed. Narcos is ostensibly a biopic based on the factual life of Pablo Escobar.

Escobar’s trademark claims have slightly more potential. Trademark law is designed to protect the public from confusion as to the source of a good by providing a protected indicator of the source of a good. While trademarking the name of a show with only a few seasons based only on the show is often not available, you better believe merchandise and paraphernalia can be protected by trademark. Generally, trademark protection is gained through registration. However, if somebody used a mark in commerce before you registered your mark, they’ll still have superior rights to yours in the geographic locations they can prove they used their mark prior to you. This will also be limited to the types of goods and services they actually used in commerce prior to your registration. Damages in a trademark infringement case can include profits attributable to infringement (in particularly bad cases of infringement), actual loss of sales or goodwill due to the infringement, and the reasonable rate for a license to the plaintiffs trademark (calculated via the value of the mark when infringement began and presuming both parties agreed the defendant was infringing). These damages can be tripled in cases of willful infringement-situations where the infringer knew of the mark and still violated it.

It’s unlikely Escobar has really used the phrase in all the ways he says he has. However, if he has used them and can establish that use he will have some rights as a prior user–rights he could assert against Netflix.

What are Escobar’s Chances?

Is Escobar going to get a billion dollars from Netflix? No, he’s not, that’s silly. Frankly the number seems pulled from the air and has essentially no basis besides being a nice round number. However, a settlement is far from out of the question. It’s very common for companies to cheaply settle a lawsuit that has even a small chance of success instead of dealing with the risk and expense of pursuing the suit to its completion. However, it might be a little early to expect a settlement at this point.

While Escobar’s trademark applications are still live for now, Netflix is still in the process of an initial challenge to the marks. The opposition itself is quite recent and is unlikely to be resolved for a month or two at the least and a year or more at the most. Until this gets resolved, it seems unlikely there will be a settlement unless it is quite favorable to Netflix. Any copyright claim from Escobar is essentially D.O.A. and even his trademark applications, while not completely without potential, seem riddled with issues that would prevent his registration.

While it hasn’t been brought up by either side, if brought in the right place a right of publicity claim may have some traction for Mr. Escobar if brought on behalf of his brother’s estate. Right of publicity is the right to your own name and image. However, it would have to be the right place because almost everywhere except for California offers no right of publicity after death.

No matter the cause of action, Escobar’s claims here are very thin despite his threats and bravado. While Netflix may yet settle, it won’t be because Escobar has a strong chance of winning any lawsuit against them.

Big Pharma Penalized, U.S. District Courts Rules in Favor of Maryland’s Price-Gouging Law

Pharmaceuticals have not been enjoying the greatest couple years when it comes to the court of public opinion. From Martin Shkreli’s infamous price jacking to recent price fixing convictions against Heritage Pharamaceuticals CEO Jeffrey Glazer, the hits have kept on coming as pharmaceutical scandals come out of the woodwork. Now, pharmaceutical companies have taken a hit in District Court as a judge has handed the first round victory to an anti-price gouging law out of Maryland targeting generic pharmaceuticals.

Despite the many instances of abuses on the part of pharmaceutical companies in the last few years, Congress has been slow to take any meaningful action on the issue. This has left the states to take action on their own and Maryland’s law–taking effect on October 1st just a few weeks back–is the first successful law of its kind.  However, pharmaceutical interests were very keen to see that was not the case. After the law was passed back in May, the Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM)–a group of generic pharmaceutical companies–quickly challenged the law as unconstitutional and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while their lawsuit was ongoing.

While the recent district court ruling shot down the potential of an injunction, the lawsuit is still far from over. Let’s take a look at the details of the statute out of Maryland, the AAM’s challenges to the law, the ruling of the court, and the trends of similar laws across the country.

big pharmaUnderstanding the Maryland’s Statute

The price gouging law, passed with a substantial bipartisan majority, is focused exclusively on off-patent and generic medications. It does not apply whatsoever to name brand drugs under patent protection.

It’s primary provision allows for Maryland to look into claims of unconscionable increases in the prices of generic medication. Where such an increase is found by the attorney general of Maryland, a fine of up to $10,000 can be levied against the manufacturer or distributor for each violation. The attorney general can also require companies to return money to consumers lost as a result of price gouging, order a stop to price gouging activities, an require a drug manufacturer to make a drug available to Medicaid participants at the pre-gouging price for up to a year.

In pursuing these investigations, the law allows the attorney general to require the accused company to produce records and justify their price changes. An opportunity to explain their increases is generally required under the law before levying fines. The information given in these explanations is held confidential by the attorney general where necessary.

The exact amount or percentage increase that would constitute “unconscionable” is not precisely defined in the law. However, “unconscionable” is far from a new legal concept and is often brought  up in the context of contract law as a situation where terms are so egregiously unjust in the favor of a party with greater bargaining power that a reasonable person would never agree to them. For example, where a life saving medicine is made incredibly expensive-beyond all market forces-but a purchaser has an option of either paying that price or suffering extreme consequences. This ambiguity when it came to the term unconscionable was central to AAM’s challenge to the law.

What are the AAM’s Arguments for Unconstitutionality?

AAM, as generic drug manufacturers, obviously didn’t care much for the law. Their challenges, however, were not frivolous attempts to slow down its progress. They made two primary arguments. First, the law overreached Maryland’s bounds by effecting potential pricing in states beyond just Maryland. Second, that the law itself was unconstitutionally vague.

The first argument hinged on a fairly uncommon argument in this day and age-the dormant commerce clause. The commerce clause is the power of the federal government to regulate commerce involving multiple states. However, in its current interpretation, the dormant commerce clause is a product of this power which prevents states from passing legislation which favors one state over the other. The dormant commerce clause also requires a balancing test where a law places a burden on commerce between states. However, it is exceedingly rare to see a law struck down on this basis in recent history. What’s more, merely burdening interstate commerce faces a much less rigorous test for constitutionality than favoring one state over another in a law.

The second argument, that the law was void for vagueness, pointed at the lack of concrete definition to the term “unconscionable” and said that the law was unconstitutional because manufacturers couldn’t know when they were violating it. In general, a law is unconstitutional were it doesn’t give the public notice of when they are violating it, impinging on their constitutional due process rights.

What was the District Court Ruling?

In deciding on the case, the District Court did several things which amount to handing a rousing victory to Maryland. First, it denied all injunctions and allowed the law to go forward as planned. Preliminary injunctions require, among other things, a showing that the plaintiff is particularly likely to succeed. The court just didn’t think that likelihood was here for AAM.

Second, the court outright dismissed AAM’s claims regarding the dormant commerce clause. They ruled that the law applies neutrally to all interstate commerce and thus the argument held no weight.

However, it wasn’t a clean sweep for Maryland here. The court didn’t rule in favor of AAM’s vagueness argument, but they did allow litigation on the issue to go forward. The judge felt the arguments were reasonable enough to bear fully exploring. Even then, the judge went out of his way in his ruling to note he didn’t think the arguments were necessarily winning ones.

This case is far from over. Even with the vagueness argument making its way through the ruling, AAM have already made it clear that they look to appeal and believe their case will succeed in the higher courts. For now though, it’s a victory for Maryland and the price gouging law will continue as planned.

Good News: Maryland’s Law is a Growing Trend

Maryland’s price gouging law may be the first to be passed, but it looks to be part of a concerted effort by the states to address this issue where the federal government has not. 36 states have introduced, if not passed, nearly 200 bills related to pharmaceutical pricing in the last year. Nevada passed a law in June, a month after Maryland, which requires drug manufacturers to release price and profits on insulin every year. Ohio has an upcoming vote on a law which would make it illegal for the state and its agents to buy drugs at a higher price than the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

At least for Maryland’s law, AAM and a few others have criticized it for targeting generic drugs. They say that generic drugs are driving down medical costs and going them doesn’t make sense. However, this argument is a bit tone deaf in the of the off-patent Daraprim being the very drug at the center of Martin Shkreli’s infamous price hikes.

Regardless of how you feel about Maryland’s law, there’s little question that price gouging on necessary medications is an issue to be addressed. Living with an illness such as diabetes in difficult enough without wondering whether your insulin may suddenly skyrocket in price. For now, Maryland has won this round. However, this is a trend to keep an eye on–both out of the states and the federal government.