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Case Name Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta v. Sebelius FA-GA-0001
Docket / Court 12-cv-03489 ( N.D. Ga. )
State/Territory Georgia
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection Contraception Insurance Mandate
Case Summary
On October 5, 2012, the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, and affiliated Catholic organizations filed this U.S. District Court lawsuit in the Northern District of Georgia against the Federal Government under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the ... read more >
On October 5, 2012, the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, and affiliated Catholic organizations filed this U.S. District Court lawsuit in the Northern District of Georgia against the Federal Government under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the First and Fifth Amendments, and as a violation of the Constitution's Separation of Powers provisions. Plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, seek 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 violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Plaintiffs amended their complaint a first time on December 31, 2012, and a second time on August 19, 2013 to challenge the ACA as amended by the 2013 Final Rules. They argued that while the Diocese itself likely fell within the "religious employer" exception, the affiliated Catholic entities did not and, instead, were considered "eligible organizations" qualifying for an accommodation. The accommodation would require plaintiffs to provide self-certification to their insurance provider setting forth their religious objections to the ACA, in turn trigging an obligation on the part of the insurance provider to procure the services plaintiffs find objectionable. According to the plaintiffs, this series of events makes them the but-for cause of providing contraception coverage in violation of their sincerely held beliefs. Plaintiffs continued to ask the court to grant a permanent injunction against enforcement of the relevant provisions of the ACA.

On March 26, 2014, the District Court (Judge William S. Duffey, Jr.) permanently enjoined the government from enforcing the contraceptive mandate against plaintiffs. 2014 WL 1256373. The court noted that the contraception mandate, including the self-certification form, placed a substantial burden on plaintiffs by compelling them to affirmatively modify their behavior and violate their religious beliefs. The court also held that the general applicability of the law was not a compelling state interest nor was the conception mandate the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. On May 23, 2014, the government appealed this case to the Eleventh Circuit.

On May 30, 2014, Judge Duffey issued an opinion and order in response to the government's motion for Reconsideration on the Dioceses' RFRA and free exercise claims. 2014 WL 2441742. The government had also asked the court to reconsider whether or not the affiliated entities maintained a "church plan" under ERISA. If they did, they would be exempt from the self-certification requirement, and not have standing to challenge the mandate. Judge Duffey held that the Dioceses' RFRA and free exercise claims should be dismissed, and clarified that the affiliated organizations did not need to establish that they were church plans, because the self-certification requirement was a substantial burden on their religious exercise.

This case was consolidated on appeal with Eternal Word Television Network v. Sebelius. On February 18, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit (Judge Jill Pryor) held that the contraception mandate does not violate the RFRA because it is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest, but enjoined enforcement of the mandate against the plaintiffs because the issue of whether the accommodation violates the RFRA was currently before the Supreme Court. 818 F.3d 1122.

On May 31, 2016, following the Supreme Court's decision in Zubik v. Sebelius [II] that religious nonprofits and the government should return the related cases to the courts of appeals and attempt to negotiate a solution, the Eleventh Circuit vacated their February 19, 2016 order in this case, and directed the parties to submit supplemental briefing.

On July 29, 2016 the parties jointly moved for a stay in the proceedings that was granted on August 10, 2016. The parties were ordered to file status reports sixty days after the given order.

Also on August 10, 2016, the defendants moved for an order materially identical to the remand orders the Supreme Court issued in Zubik . The defendants moved for this motion because they wanted to modify the existing injunction against them and have the ability to tell insurance issuers and third party administrators of their requirement to make separate payments for contraceptives given the plaintiffs met the requirements under the accommodation. This would ensure the affected women that would be under the plaintiffs insurance receive coverage while the litigation continued. The plaintiffs opposed the motion.

On October 3, 2016, the court granted the defendant's motion for materially identical orders. The new injunction stated:

“As such, we modify the injunction entered on May 31, 2016 to add that: Nothing in this opinion, [in this Court's prior opinion or orders], or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, is to affect the ability of the Government to ensure that women covered by the [plaintiffs'] health plans "obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives." Through this litigation, [plaintiffs] have made the Government aware of their view that they meet "the requirements for exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement on religious grounds. Nothing in this opinion, [in this Court's prior opinions or orders], or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, "precludes the Government from relying on this notice, to the extent it considers it necessary, to facilitate the provision of frill contraceptive coverage" going forward. Because the Government may rely on this notice, the Government may not impose taxes or penalties on [plaintiffs] for failure to provide the relevant notice.”

Both parties filed status reports on October 11, 2016, stating the defendants were sorting through the 52,000 comments received during the governments’ Request for Information (RFI) and required additional time to determine if modifications were necessary to accommodate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim still pending.

The parties then continued to file monthly status reports with no changes to the case until October 16, 2017. However, during this time President Trump issued an executive order in May of 2017, called the "Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty". As a result, on October 6, 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services released a statement explaining the changes in policy related to President Trump's executive order requiring HHS to consider amending the accommodation requirements under the ACA for the contraception mandate. The new policy would expand the exception to fit entities that had sincerely held religious beliefs opposed to providing contraception.
Here is an article from HHS describing the change.

On October 16, 2017, the parties jointly moved to dismiss the case, with each party bearing its own costs.

On November 7, 2017, the court dismissed the appeal.

This case is now presumed closed.

Wyatt Fore - 04/05/2013
Richard Jolly - 05/05/2014
Kate Craddock - 10/09/2016
Taylor Brook - 03/12/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Hospital/Health Department
Religion discrimination
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
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
United States Department of Labor
United States Department of Treasury
Plaintiff Description The Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA, and affiliated Catholic organizations.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Filing Year 2012
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing FA-AL-0003 : Eternal World Television Network v. Sebelius (S.D. Ala.)
1:12-cv-03489-WSD (N.D. Ga.)
FA-GA-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
14-12890 (U.S. Court of Appeals)
FA-GA-0001-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
First Amended and Recast Complaint [ECF# 21]
FA-GA-0001-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/31/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Directing Plaintiffs not to File a Written Response to Defendants Initial Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 24] (N.D. Ga.)
FA-GA-0001-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/08/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended and Recast Verified Complaint [ECF# 56]
FA-GA-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/19/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order [ECF# 108] (2014 WL 1256373) (N.D. Ga.)
FA-GA-0001-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/26/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order (2014 WL 2441742) (N.D. Ga.)
FA-GA-0001-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/30/2014
Source: Bloomberg Law
Opinion (818 F.3d 1122)
FA-GA-0001-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/18/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
FA-GA-0001-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/10/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
[Opinion] [Ct. of App. ECF# BL-132]
FA-GA-0001-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/03/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
[Opinion] [Ct. of App. ECF# BL-161]
FA-GA-0001-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia
FA-GA-0001-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Anderson, Robert Lanier III (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit)
FA-GA-0001-0007 | FA-GA-0001-0008
Duffey, William S. Jr. (N.D. Ga.)
FA-GA-0001-0002 | FA-GA-0001-0004 | FA-GA-0001-0005 | FA-GA-0001-9000
Pryor, Jill Anne (Eleventh Circuit)
FA-GA-0001-0006 | FA-GA-0001-0007 | FA-GA-0001-0008
Tjoflat, Gerald Bard (Eleventh Circuit, M.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit)
FA-GA-0001-0007 | FA-GA-0001-0008
Plaintiff's Lawyers Burnette, Jason T. (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-0001 | FA-GA-0001-9000 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Forte, Stephen M. (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-0001 | FA-GA-0001-0003 | FA-GA-0001-9000 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Lea, Brian C. (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-9000 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Metcalf, Janine Cone (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-0001 | FA-GA-0001-0003 | FA-GA-0001-9000 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Monde, David M. (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-0001 | FA-GA-0001-9000 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Smith, E. Kendrick (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-0001 | FA-GA-0001-0003 | FA-GA-0001-9000 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Thomas, J. Curtis (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-0003 | FA-GA-0001-9000
Williams, James R. (Georgia)
FA-GA-0001-0001 | FA-GA-0001-0003 | FA-GA-0001-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Barbero, Megan (District of Columbia)
Bennett, Michelle Renee (District of Columbia)
FA-GA-0001-9000 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Delery, Stuart F. (District of Columbia)
Jed, Adam C. (District of Columbia)
Klein, Alisa B. (District of Columbia)
FA-GA-0001-0009 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Nemeroff, Patrick George (District of Columbia)
Pollack, Michael Charles (District of Columbia)
Salzman, Joshua Marc (District of Columbia)
FA-GA-0001-0009 | FA-GA-0001-9001
Stern, Mark B. (District of Columbia)
Yates, Sally Quillian (Georgia)
Other Lawyers Brock, Chad Michael (Georgia)
Davidow, Charles E. (District of Columbia)
Katskee, Richard B. (District of Columbia)
Khan, Ayesha N. (District of Columbia)
Severino, Carrie Lynn (District of Columbia)
Smith, Mailee Rebecca (District of Columbia)

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