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Dayton Docket

Dayton Law Alum Plays Role In Supreme Court Case

While attending the University of Dayton School of Law, Daniel Wolff ’01 always knew he would be involved with historic cases.

He just thought he’d be assigning them as reading for his class.

“I loved the idea of being a law professor,” Wolff says.

But instead of spending his career teaching famous cases, Wolff’s worked on them, including one ruled on by the Supreme Court in April.

“It’s very satisfying to be part of a case of historical significance,” Wolff says.

Wolff and the firm where he’s a partner, Crowell & Moring in Washington D.C., represented Maine Community Health Options in its effort to collect damages from the federal government in a case that revolved around a provision in the Affordable Care Act.

The case was consolidated with three others and heard by the Supreme Court, which delivered an 8-1 decision in favor of Maine Community Health and the other health insurance companies. The decision could end up being worth $12 billion in money owed to the insurers, but its impact goes beyond the bottom line.

“The end result is that the court confirmed that when the United States creates an obligation by statute it is required to honor that obligation no different than if it had been created through a contract,” Wolff says.

Wolff originally argued the case for Maine Community Health Options before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and, along with other lawyers at his firm, wrote a brief for the case when it went before the Supreme Court.

“We were proud of that brief,” Wolff says. “We felt Justice Sonia Sotomayor drew heavily from that brief in her decision.”

But some of the work Wolff found most interesting had to do with the effort by his firm to lead the way on the case, since lawyers for health insurers across the country were bringing similar claims.

“That was the most thrilling and intellectually satisfying part of this,” Wolff says. “Developing the strategy that allowed our client to be at the head of the pack.”

Wolff says he was originally brought into the case by his firm because of his substantial experience in administrative law.

“My role was to help think through the statutory issues about what the U.S. is required to do under the Affordable Care Act and assess the justifications they were telling the insurers as to why they weren’t doing that,” Wolff says.

Wolff says his work with the firm relies a lot on what he learned at UDSL in Professor Blake Watson’s classes.

“What I’m doing these days, 80 percent was indoctrinated by his classes,” Wolff says. “It involves administrative law and a lot of property law.”

Of course during law school Wolff thought one day he’d be the one teaching those classes.

“I originally envisioned doing a judicial clerkship and making my way into teaching,” Wolff says.

But after his clerkship, Wolff took a position at Crowell & Moring and discovered how much he enjoyed the work.

“It opened me up to the benefits of a large firm practice in a big city,” Wolff says.

Wolff has advice for Dayton Law students who would like to do the kind of work he does.

“If you want to practice at the highest levels, then start early in law school,” Wolff says. “Take the practice of law seriously. Aim high and have a plan.”

Even if sometimes that plan can change over time.

The decision in Maine Community Health vs. United States is likely to be something reviewed in law classes, but Wolff is fine not being one of the professors leading that discussion.

“It’s a career highlight,” Wolff says. “My name will not go down in history because of this. No one will remember this as Dan Wolff’s case, but I know I got to be part of this and that’s very gratifying.”

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