University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Ave Maria University v. Sebelius FA-FL-0003
Docket / Court 2:13−cv−00630 ( M.D. Fla. )
Additional Docket(s) 2:12-cv-00088-UA-SPC  [ 12-88 ]
State/Territory Florida
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection Contraception Insurance Mandate
Case Summary
This case is one of the many filed in federal district courts across the country by non-profit Catholic organizations challenging the ACA's system for ensuring that employee health insurance covers birth control. Here, the plaintiff, a Catholic liberal arts college, filed a lawsuit in the U.S ... read more >
This case is one of the many filed in federal district courts across the country by non-profit Catholic organizations challenging the ACA's system for ensuring that employee health insurance covers birth control. Here, the plaintiff, a Catholic liberal arts college, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida under 42 U.S.C. §1983, 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 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 defendants moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. The defendants 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 defendants moved to stay discovery pending resolution of the motion to dismiss. On July 31, 2012, Magistrate Judge Sheri P. Chappell of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida denied the motion, finding that the "large number of other challenges" by similarly situated plaintiffs would require the defendants to conduct discovery 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). The defendants sought review of this order on August 3, 2012, and on November 28, 2012, Judge John Antoon II issued an order sustaining defendants' objections, overturning the July 31, 2012 order, and granting the motion to stay discovery pending resolution of the motion to dismiss.

On March 29, 2013, Judge Antoon granted the defendants' 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, 2013, the university moved for summary judgment, which Judge Moody denied one day later as premature.

On November 19, 2013, the defendants moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. However, on Dec. 11, 2013, Judge Moody stayed the case, in light of a substantially similar case pending before the Supreme Court, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751 (2014).

On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Hobby Lobby. In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Alito, the Court held that the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA, when applied to closely-held for-profit corporations. 

On Aug. 7, 2014, the plaintiff moved to reopen the case, and the court granted the motion on the same day. The plaintiff also moved for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendant from assessing fines or taking other enforcement action against the university for not following the mandate or accommodation procedures.

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 plaintiff provided notice to the defendant 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. ("EWTN"), No. 14-12696-CC (11th Cir.).

On Mar. 21, 2016, the parties filed a joint notice to notify the court that the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision in EWTN, see 2016 WL 659222 (11th Cir. Feb. 18, 2016), and stayed the mandate because the same question at issue in both EWTN and in this case was being reviewed on the merits by the Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell, 136 S. Ct. 1557 (2016). The notice also stated that the parties planned to notify the Court within 30 days of the final disposition of EWTN .

On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Zubik v. Burwell, and vacated the judgments below and remanded to the Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits.

EWTN is currently pending.

The present case is still pending, but on October 6, 2017, President Trump changed federal government's policy on the matter, removing the requirement that employers provide contraception coverage through health insurance plans.

Hannah Swanson - 04/08/2013
Andrew Junker - 10/29/2014
Elizabeth Greiter - 01/06/2018


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
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
Non-profit religious organization
Type of Facility
Non-government non-profit
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 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 A non-profit Catholic university opposed to the ACA's contraception coverage mandate.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief None yet
Order Duration 2014 - n/a
Filing Year 2013
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing FA-IL-0013 : Wheaton College v. Sebelius (N.D. Ill.)
FA-OK-0001 : Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (W.D. Okla.)
Docket(s)
2:12-cv-88 (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/29/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
2:13-cv-00630-JSM-CM (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/15/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-FL-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/21/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Denying Motion to Stay Discovery Pending Resolution of Motion to Dismiss] [ECF# 36] (2012 WL 3128015) (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/31/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Granting Motion to Stay Discovery Pending Resolution of Motion to Dismiss] [ECF# 59] (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/28/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Granting Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction] [ECF# 72] (2013 WL 1326638) (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/29/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Verified Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-FL-0003-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/29/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Administratively Staying Case] [ECF# 46] (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/11/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Granting Motion for Preliminary Injunction] [ECF# 62] (2014 WL 5471048) (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 10/28/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Antoon, John II (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-0002 | FA-FL-0003-0004
Chappell, Sheri Polster (M.D. Fla.) [Magistrate]
FA-FL-0003-0003 | FA-FL-0003-9000
Mirando, Carol Court not on record [Magistrate]
FA-FL-0003-9001
Moody, James S. Jr. (M.D. Fla.)
FA-FL-0003-0006 | FA-FL-0003-0007 | FA-FL-0003-9001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Baxter, Eric S. (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-0005 | FA-FL-0003-9001
D'Agostino, Louis D. (Florida)
FA-FL-0003-0001 | FA-FL-0003-0005 | FA-FL-0003-9000 | FA-FL-0003-9001
Duncan, S. Kyle (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-0001 | FA-FL-0003-9000
Kniffin, Eric N (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-0001 | FA-FL-0003-9000
Passidomo, Cheffy (Florida)
FA-FL-0003-0005
Pettit, Michael Westcott (Florida)
FA-FL-0003-0005 | FA-FL-0003-9000 | FA-FL-0003-9001
Verm, Diana Marie (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-0005 | FA-FL-0003-9000 | FA-FL-0003-9001
Womack, Eric R. (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Berwick, Benjamin Leon (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-9000
Grogg, Adam Anderson (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-9001
Pruski, Jacek (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-9001
Other Lawyers Amiri, Brigitte A. (New York)
FA-FL-0003-9001
Kayanan, Maria (Florida)
FA-FL-0003-9001
Lee, Jennifer (New York)
FA-FL-0003-9001
Mach, Daniel (District of Columbia)
FA-FL-0003-9001

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -