Montanans Against Assisted Suicide v. Board of Medical Examiners

Montanans Against Assisted Suicide v. Board of Medical Examiners, 2015 MT 112 (April 28, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly dismissed MAAS’s petition as moot.

Short Answer: Yes.

Affirmed

Facts: The Montana Supreme Court issued its opinion in Baxter v. State, 2009 MT 449, on Dec. 31, 2009, holding that a terminally ill patient’s consent to physician aid in dying constitutes a statutory defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician when no other consent exceptions apply. At the request of two doctors, the Board of Medical Examiners drafted a position statement explaining the effect of Baxter on its discipline policy for physicians who aid patients in dying. The board notified interested persons of the final draft, and adopted an amended version of that draft in January 2012.

In March 2012, MAAS asked the board to vacate the position statement and remove it from the board’s website. The board revised the position statement but did not remove it. MAAS asked again in July 2012, and the board did not comply. In September 2012, MAAS petitioned the board to declare that the position statement was invalid. The board held a hearing on the petition in November 2012, and denied the petition shortly thereafter.

MAAS petitioned for judicial review of the board’s decision in December 2012, contending the board exceeded its authority by adopting the position statement and seeking a declaratory ruling to that effect, as well as an order requiring the board to vacate the position statement.

Procedural Posture & Holding: In September 2013, while this matter was pending in the district court, the board adopted a motion to rescind all of its position statements, including this one, and removed them from its website. The board then argued MAAS’s petition was moot. The district court agreed and dismissed the petition. MAAS appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Mootness is a category of justiciability. A matter is moot when a court’s judgment will not effectively operate to grant relief. The board’s decision to rescind the position statement and remove it from its website effectively grated MAAS the relief it sought, leaving the district court with no effective relief to grant and rendering the matter moot.

MAAS argues that reconsidering and overruling Baxter would provide effective relief, but the district court was powerless to grant that relief. More importantly, overruling precedent is not relief in an of itself; it is a potential consequence of the Court’s analysis when considering whether to grant relief. To hold otherwise would allow advisory opinions, which are beyond the power of this Court. No exceptions to the mootness doctrine apply.