On February 21, 2012, a Catholic liberal arts college filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida under the First Amendment, 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 private counsel and 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 May 4, 2012, the defendant Departments moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. The U.S. argued that the plaintiff could not claim any imminent harm because the plaintiff had not introduced evidence to prove it did not qualify 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 the anticipated amendments likely would not change the offensive contraception coverage requirement.
On July 10, 2012, the government moved to stay discovery pending resolution of the motion to dismiss. On July 31, the District Court (Magistrate Judge Sheri P. Chappell) denied the motion, finding that the "large number of other challenges" by similarly situated plaintiffs would require the defendants to conduct discovery on the issue in question regardless of the outcome of the defendant's motion to dismiss this particular case. Ave Maria University v. Sebelius, 2012 WL 3128015 (M.D. Fla. Jul. 31, 2012). Defendants sought review of this order on August 3, 2012, and on November 28, the District Court (Judge John Antoon II) issued an order sustaining defendants' objections, overturning the July 31 order, and granting the motion to stay discovery pending resolution of the motion to dismiss. In this order, Judge Antoon wrote that the July order did not address the "significant possibility" that the defendants' motion to dismiss would be granted, eliminating the need for discovery in this particular case.
On March 29, 2013, Judge Antoon granted the motion to dismiss. Judge Antoon found that, in light of the defendants' efforts to address the plaintiff's concerns via the safe harbor period and the anticipated amendments, the plaintiff's claim was not yet ripe for review. Ave Maria University v. Sebelius, 2013 WL 1326638 (M.D. Fla. March 29, 2013).
On Aug. 29, 2013, the university refiled its complaint, which was given a new docket number 2:13-cv-0063-JSM-CM, and eventually assigned to Judge James S. Moody. On Oct. 22, the university moved for summary judgment, which Judge Moody denied one day later as being premature.
On Nov. 19, 2013, the defendants moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. But Judge Moody stayed the case on Dec. 11, 2013, because of the Hobby Lobby
case pending before the Supreme Court.
On Aug. 7, 2014, after the Supreme Court had ruled in Hobby Lobby
, the university moved to reopen, which the Court granted on the same day. The university also moved for a preliminary injunction prohibiting HHS from assessing fines or taking other enforcement action against the university for not following the mandate or accommodation procedures. The Final Rules required any eligible organization seeking accommodation from the ACA's contraception coverage provisions to file a form with its insurer, who would then assume responsibility for providing contraceptive coverage.
On July 3, 2014, the Supreme Court issued an interim order in Wheaton College v. Burwell
, 134 S. Ct. 2806 (2014), which held that to obtain an injunction pending appeal, an eligible organization is not required to follow the notice procedures under the Final Rules. Rather, it is enough for the organization simply to inform the HHS in writing that it objects to the contraception provisions.
Following this ruling, HHS issued Interim Final Regulations providing that an eligible organization seeking accommodation need only to inform the department in writing of its religious objection to the mandate, and include the name of its insurance plan and type, and the name and contact information for any of the plan's third-party administrators and health-insurance issuers.
On July 30, 2014, the university provided notice to HHS of its objection to the mandate, but did not include any of the other information that the Interim Final Regulations required.
On Oct. 28, 2014, Judge Moody granted the university's motion for a preliminary injunction. He ruled that the university did not need to follow either the Final Rules or the Interim Final Regulations for the injunction to take effect. The judge also stayed the case pending the resolution of the appeal in Eternal Word Television Network, Inc. v. Sec'y, U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., et al.
, No. 14-12696-CC (11th Cir. Filed July 28, 2014). Hannah Swanson - 04/08/2013
Andrew Junker - 10/29/2014