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