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Case Name Wheaton College v. Sebelius FA-IL-0013
Docket / Court 1:13-cv-08910 ( N.D. Ill. )
State/Territory Illinois
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection Contraception Insurance Mandate
Case Summary
On December 13, 2013, Wheaton College, a Christian school, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The college sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedures Act against the Department of Health and Human Services. The ... read more >
On December 13, 2013, Wheaton College, a Christian school, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The college sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedures Act against the Department of Health and Human Services. The college, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the Final Mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which requires the college to offer health insurance plans that provide free coverage of contraceptives that the college views as abortifacients, violates the RFRA; the APA; the Free Exercise, Free Speech, and Establishment Clauses of the 1st Amendment; and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 5th Amendment. The college had previously filed this suit in the District of the District of Columbia, where it was dismissed as moot by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on August 13, 2013 Wheaton College v. Sebelius.

Specifically, Wheaton claimed that its identity as a Christian liberal arts college forbids it from providing access to abortion, including what it views as abortifacient drugs or devices. The college claims that these religious beliefs preclude it from participating in the ACA's regulatory scheme to provide and subsidize these drugs and devices. Nor can the college participate in the accommodation offered by the government, which would still require it to designate an agent to pay for the objected-to services on Wheaton's behalf, as well as to take steps to trigger the coverage; the accommodation itself violates the school's religious beliefs, Wheaton argued.

The Final Mandate was set to go into effect on July 1, 2014.

On June 23, 2014, the district court (Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.) denied Wheaton's motion for a preliminary injunction of the Final Mandate. The court held that Wheaton had no likelihood of success in establishing a substantial burden on its religious exercise, given the accommodation that the government offered it.

On June 30, 2014, the day before the regulations took effect, Wheaton filed an emergency motion for reconsideration, which the court denied based in part on the Hobby Lobby decision handed down by the Supreme Court that same day. Nothing in that decision, the court said, overruled controlling 7th Circuit precedent regarding the sufficiency of the government's accommodation.

That same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit (Judge Richard Posner) also denied Wheaton's emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal, stating that Hobby Lobby emphasized that the accommodation provision "constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty."

But the Supreme Court did grant a temporary injunction on June 30, 2014, over the dissents of Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. 134 S.Ct. 2898.

On July 3, 2014, the Supreme Court ordered that the injunction remain, pending appeal, so long as Wheaton informed the Secretary of HHS of its religious objections in writing. In other words, the college did not have to follow the accommodation's procedures. Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan dissented. 134 S.Ct. 2806.

On July 1, 2015, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s denial of Wheaton’s request for a preliminary injunction. On December 2, 2015, the District Court issued a minute entry granting the parties’ joint motion to stay the case until the ruling inLittle Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell., consolidated as Zubik v. Burwell, so that the parties could evaluate the case following that ruling. On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam order remanding all seven cases to their respective courts of appeals, ordering the lower courts to give the parties 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. The Court took no position on the merits of this case.

This case them resumed activity as the parties entered into settlement discussions, which continued through 2017. On January 18, 2018, following the election of Donald Trump and a drastic shift in administration, Wheaton moved for permanent injunction, stating that because the government had "now admitted that this mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”)," the court should issue an injunction and end the litigation. The court granted the motion on February 22.

The parties are currently litigation attorney's fees.

Andrew Junker - 10/16/2014
Kate Craddock - 02/07/2016
Virginia Weeks - 03/17/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Religion discrimination
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Religious programs / policies
School/University policies
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit religious organization
Private Plaintiff
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. Department of Health and Human Services
Plaintiff Description Christian liberal arts college in Illinois opposed to ACA contraception 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 Litigation
Order Duration 2014 - 2015
Filing Year 2013
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing FA-DC-0002 : Wheaton College v. Sebelius (D.D.C.)
FA-FL-0003 : Ave Maria University v. Sebelius (M.D. Fla.)
1:13-cv-08910 (N.D. Ill.)
FA-IL-0013-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/12/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-IL-0013-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/13/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order and Opinion denying motion for prelim. injunction [ECF# 62] (N.D. Ill.)
FA-IL-0013-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/23/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Sp. Ct. granting temporary injunction pending respondent's response] (134 S.Ct. 2898 / 190 L.Ed.2d 32)
FA-IL-0013-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/30/2014
Source: Supreme Court website
Order denying plaintiff's emergency motion for reconsideration [ECF# 72] (2014 WL 3034010) (N.D. Ill.)
FA-IL-0013-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/30/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Ct. of App. ECF# 6586715] (2014 WL 3034614)
FA-IL-0013-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/30/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order in Pending Case [Sp. Ct. granting injunction pending appeal] (134 S.Ct. 2806 / 189 L.Ed.2d 856)
FA-IL-0013-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/03/2014
Source: Supreme Court website
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 86] (791 F.3d 792)
FA-IL-0013-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/01/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Notification of Docket Entry [ECF# 96]
FA-IL-0013-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/02/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Permanent Injunction and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 119] (N.D. Ill.)
FA-IL-0013-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/22/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Breyer, Stephen Gerald (SCOTUS, First Circuit)
Dow, Robert Michael Jr. (N.D. Ill.)
FA-IL-0013-0004 | FA-IL-0013-0005 | FA-IL-0013-0008 | FA-IL-0013-0011 | FA-IL-0013-9000
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (SCOTUS, D.C. Circuit)
Hamilton, David Frank (Seventh Circuit, S.D. Ind.)
Kagan, Elena (SCOTUS)
Posner, Richard Allen (Seventh Circuit)
FA-IL-0013-0009 | FA-IL-0013-0010
Scalia, Antonin (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
Sotomayor, Sonia (Second Circuit, SCOTUS, S.D.N.Y.)
FA-IL-0013-0001 | FA-IL-0013-0002
Williams, Ann Claire (Seventh Circuit, N.D. Ill.)
Plaintiff's Lawyers Keim, Adele A. (District of Columbia)
FA-IL-0013-0003 | FA-IL-0013-9000
Poland, Christian Mark (Illinois)
FA-IL-0013-0003 | FA-IL-0013-9000
Rienzi, Mark (District of Columbia)
FA-IL-0013-0003 | FA-IL-0013-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Newton, Emily Sue (District of Columbia)
Saltman, Julie Shana (District of Columbia)
Other Lawyers Amiri, Brigitte A. (New York)
Chaiten, Lorie (Illinois)
Lee, Jennifer (New York)
Mach, Daniel (District of Columbia)
Muniz, Richard (Illinois)

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