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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius [I] FA-DC-0003
Docket / Court 1:11-cv-01989-JEB ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection Contraception Insurance Mandate
Case Summary
On November 10, 2011, Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts college, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the Declaratory Judgment Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), and the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), against the U.S. ... read more >
On November 10, 2011, Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts college, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the Declaratory Judgment Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), and the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), against the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury. The plaintiff, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asked the court for both declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that federal rules adopted pursuant to the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA") violated its religious freedom by requiring it to provide coverage for contraception through its group health insurance plan. Claiming that providing coverage for contraception would both contravene its Catholic faith and compel speech contrary to its beliefs, the plaintiff sought an exemption from the ACA's contraception mandate for itself and other institutions with similar religious objections.

On February 16, 2012, the government moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. The government argued that the plaintiff could not claim any imminent harm because it had not alleged that its insurance plan would be ineligible for the regulations' grandfathering provision; because the plaintiff qualified for the enforcement "safe harbor" period extending until January 1, 2014; and because the defendants were in the process of amending the contraceptive coverage regulations to accommodate the objections of religious institutions like the plaintiff. In its brief opposing the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff argued that it could claim imminent harm because its plan was ineligible for the grandfathering provision, because it might not qualify for the enforcement safe harbor, and because the anticipated amendments likely would not change the emergency contraception coverage requirement.

The plaintiff filed an amended complaint on March 30, 2012, detailing why its insurance plan was ineligible for grandfathering, and explaining that the plan might not be eligible for the enforcement safe harbor because it may have supplied hormonal birth control to enrollees for non-contraceptive medical purposes (e.g., treating ovarian cysts). On April 5, 2012, the government filed again moved to dismiss this amended complaint, arguing that, as before, the plaintiff had not alleged any imminent harm. The plaintiff opposed this motion on the same grounds as the first motion to dismiss.

On July 18, 2012, the district court (Judge James E. Boasberg) granted the government's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Judge Boasberg found that, in light of the government's efforts to address the plaintiff's concerns via the safe harbor period and the anticipated amendments, the plaintiff had not alleged a concrete and imminent harm, and that as a result the plaintiff lacked standing and its claim was not yet ripe for review. Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius, 878 F. Supp. 2d 25 (D.D.C. 2012). On September 5, 2012, Judge Boasberg denied the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the dismissal order. Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius, 2012 WL 3861255 (D.D.C. Sept. 5, 2012).

The plaintiff appealed the dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Case No. 12-5291). The case was consolidated with Wheaton College v. Sebelius (Case No. 12-5273) on appeal. On December 18, 2012, the D.C. Circuit (Judges Merrick B. Garland, Thomas B. Griffith, and A. Raymond Randolph) affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of ripeness, and ordered that the lawsuit be held in abeyance pending the issuance of the amended contraceptive coverage regulations. The defendants were directed to file status reports with the court every 60 days from the date of the abeyance order. Wheaton College v. Sebelius, 703 F.3d 551 (D.C. Cir. 2012).

On August 13, 2013, D.C. Circuit ordered that the consolidated cases be remanded to the district court for the complaints to be dismissed as moot. This case was refiled, however, on November 20, 2013, under the same caption. That case can be found at FA-DC-0019 in this Clearinghouse.

Hannah Swanson - 04/22/2013
Mallory Jones - 11/15/2013
Kate Craddock - 08/07/2016


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Hospital/Health Department
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
General
Contraception
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government non-profit
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. ยงยง 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)
Defendant(s) U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
U.S. Dept. of Labor
U.S. Dept. of the Treasury
Plaintiff Description Plaintiff is a Christian college who opposes the use of contraception for religious reasons, and therefore objects to the contraception mandate in the ACA.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 2013
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing FA-DC-0002 : Wheaton College v. Sebelius (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0019 : Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius [II] (D.D.C.)
Docket(s)
1:11-cv-1989 (D.D.C.) 08/19/2013
FA-DC-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 11/10/2011
FA-DC-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint 03/20/2012
FA-DC-0003-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion 07/18/2012 (878 F.Supp.2d 25) (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0003-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 07/18/2012 (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0003-0004.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order 09/05/2012 (2012 WL 3861255) (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0003-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 12/18/2012 (703 F.3d 551)
FA-DC-0003-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 08/13/2013
FA-DC-0003-0007.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Boasberg, James Emanuel (FISC, D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0003-0003 | FA-DC-0003-0004 | FA-DC-0003-0005 | FA-DC-0003-9000
Garland, Merrick B. (D.C. Circuit)
FA-DC-0003-0006
Griffith, Thomas Beall (D.C. Circuit)
FA-DC-0003-0006
Randolph, Arthur Raymond (D.C. Circuit)
FA-DC-0003-0006
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Coffin, Shannen W. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0003-9000
Kniffin, Eric N (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0003-0001 | FA-DC-0003-0002 | FA-DC-0003-9000
Rassbach, Eric C (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0003-0001 | FA-DC-0003-0002 | FA-DC-0003-9000
Rienzi, Mark (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0003-0001 | FA-DC-0003-0002 | FA-DC-0003-9000
Smith, Hannah C. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0003-0001 | FA-DC-0003-0002
Defendant's Lawyers Bennett, Michelle Renee (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0003-9000
Other Lawyers None on record

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