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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Sharpe Holdings, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Servs. FA-MO-0003
Docket / Court 12-cv-00092 ( E.D. Mo. )
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection Contraception Insurance Mandate
Case Summary
On December 12, 2012, a for-profit general business corporation, its owner, and two employees filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Missouri against the federal government under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the First Amendment ... read more >
On December 12, 2012, a for-profit general business corporation, its owner, and two employees filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Missouri against the federal government under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the First Amendment. Plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought to enjoin enforcement of provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) extending universal contraception coverage in employer-sponsored private health insurance coverage. Plaintiffs contend that this mandatory contraception coverage violated their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The parties consented to adjudication by a magistrate judge, and on December 31, 2012, Magistrate Judge David Noce granted a temporary restraining order stopping the federal government from enforcing the contraception mandate. This order was renewed on January 14, 2013 until the Court determined the merits of plaintiffs' case and whether further injunctive relief was needed.

On June 14, 2013, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to add three additional plaintiffs, including non-profit corporation CNS International Ministries (FA-MO-0011 in this Clearinghouse), and on June 28, 2013, Magistrate Judge David Noce extended preliminary relief to the newly added plaintiffs.

On September 30, 2013, Judge Noce granted the defendants' motion to stay the case proceedings pending Eight Circuit rulings on two similar cases, Annex Medical, Inc v. Sebelius, No 13-1118 and O'Brien v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, No. 12-3357. Judge Noce also extended the earlier preliminary injunction for all parties.

On December 4, 2013, the plaintiffs amended their complaint again in response to updates to the contraceptive mandate implementing regulation which were finalized on July 2, 2013. Plaintiffs argued that by making "an accommodation" for religious non-profits wherein third party insurance administrators instead provide contraceptive materials, the new regulation was more like a "shell game" because the non-profit employees would still receive coverage through their employment at these non-profits.

On December 30, 2013, Judge Noce ordered the earlier preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order be sustained and that the stay be upheld as applied to non-profit and for-profit plaintiffs alike. On February 28, 2014, the defendants filed an interlocutory appeal with the Eighth Circuit, against the district court's preliminary injunction, arguing that the third party insurance providers had an independent obligation under the ACA to provide contraceptive coverage to religious non-profit employees. The defendants further argued that, even if there were a substantial burden on the exercise of religion, the accommodation was the least restrictive means possible to accomplish its compelling interest in ensuring access to no-cost contraceptive coverage.

In district court, Judge Noce entered a permanent injunction on February 13, 2015 against the defendants, prohibiting them from enforcing the July 2013 version of the contraception mandate against all plaintiffs. The district court stated that following the Supreme Court's June 2014 holding in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA when applied to closely-held for-profit corporations. On June 17, 2015, the district court also awarded attorney fees and costs for the for-profit plaintiffs.

On September 17, 2015, the Eighth Circuit ruled on the defendants' February 2014 appeal, affirming the district court's preliminary injunctive relief for the non-profit plaintiffs. 801 F.3d 927. The Eighth Circuit rejected the defendants arguments, but did not address the First Amendment claims because it concluded that religious non-profits were entitled to relief based on the RFRA claims. The court accepted the the plaintiff's argument that they will be forced to violate their religious beliefs by complying with either the contraceptive mandate or the accommodation process or to incur severe monetary penalties for refusing to comply. The Eighth Circuit cited a Supreme Court injunction issued in Wheaton College v. Sebelius on July 3, 2014, which held that the nonprofit accommodation process, requiring the objecting organization to notify their insurer, or provide specifications about their employee insurance to HHS, could be satisfied by a general notification to HHS of their religious views. 134 S.Ct. 2806.

On October 9, 2015, the district court entered a final judgment against the government and in favor of the for-profit plaintiffs. Judge Noce wrote that the non-profit portion of this case would likely continue through to an appeal given the Circuit split on the application of the ACA's birth control mandate to non-profits, but that the decision would not likely affect the resolution for the for-profit plaintiffs.

The defendants petitioned for certiorari, and on May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court granted cert and vacated the Eighth Circuit's ruling, remanding the case. 2016 WL 2842448. The Court ordered that the case be considered under its per curiam order in Zubik v. Burwell [II] that ordered lower courts to give religious nonprofits and the government time to come to agreement on an approach that "accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage." 136 S.Ct 1557, 1560.

As of June 18, 2017, the case is in the Eighth Circuit, pending further action until status reports are filed on whether recent changes in the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch will significantly affect aspects of this and related cases concerning contraception mandates.

Kate Craddock - 10/30/2016
Richard Jolly - 04/06/2014
Maria Ricaurte - 10/11/2015
Abigail DeHart - 06/26/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Hospital/Health Department
Jurisdiction-wide
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
General
Abortion
Contraception
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Closely-held (for profit) corporation
Non-profit religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)
Defendant(s) United States Department of Health and Human Services
Plaintiff Description Sharpe Holdings, Inc., a for-profit general business corporation, and its owners; Ozark National Life Insurance Company, a for-profit corporation; NIS Financial Services, Inc., a for-profit corporation; CNS International Ministries, Inc., a non-profit corporation, and Heartland Christian College, a non-profit corporation.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing FA-MO-0011 : CNS International Ministries, Inc. v. Sebelius (E.D. Mo.)
Docket(s)
12-cv-00092-DDN (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/03/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-MO-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/20/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 20] (2012 WL 6738489) (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 12/31/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Continuing Temporary Restraining Order [ECF# 31] (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/14/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 52]
FA-MO-0003-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/14/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 56] (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/28/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Staying Proceedings and Administratively Terminating Doc. 2 [ECF# 57] (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/30/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Complaint [ECF# 61]
FA-MO-0003-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/04/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 84] (2013 WL 6858588) (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 12/30/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order and Injunction [ECF# 102] (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/13/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion - 8th Circuit (801 F.3d 927)
FA-MO-0003-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/17/2015
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 124] (E.D. Mo.)
FA-MO-0003-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/09/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [ECF# 128] (2016 WL 2842448)
FA-MO-0003-0014.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/16/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Benton, William Duane (Eighth Circuit)
FA-MO-0003-0011 | FA-MO-0003-9000
Colloton, Steven M. (Eighth Circuit)
FA-MO-0003-0011 | FA-MO-0003-9000
Noce, David D. (E.D. Mo.) [Magistrate]
FA-MO-0003-0002 | FA-MO-0003-0003 | FA-MO-0003-0006 | FA-MO-0003-0007 | FA-MO-0003-0009 | FA-MO-0003-0012 | FA-MO-0003-0013 | FA-MO-0003-9000
Wollman, Roger Leland (Eighth Circuit)
FA-MO-0003-0011 | FA-MO-0003-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Belz, J. Matthew (Missouri)
FA-MO-0003-0008
Belz, Timothy (Missouri)
FA-MO-0003-0001 | FA-MO-0003-0005 | FA-MO-0003-0008 | FA-MO-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bennett, Michelle Renee (District of Columbia)
FA-MO-0003-9000
Moore, Christina Bahr (District of Columbia)
FA-MO-0003-9000
Pruski, Jacek (District of Columbia)
FA-MO-0003-9000
Other Lawyers Amiri, Brigitte A. (New York)
FA-MO-0003-9000
Doty, Grant R. (Missouri)
FA-MO-0003-9000
Lee, Jennifer (New York)
FA-MO-0003-9000
Mach, Daniel (District of Columbia)
FA-MO-0003-9000
Rothert, Anthony [Tony] E. (Missouri)
FA-MO-0003-9000

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