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Case Name March for Life v. Burwell FA-DC-0017
Docket / Court 1:14-cv-01149-RJL ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Case Summary
On June 28, 2013, the United States Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule concerning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Mandate). The regulations of the final rule required health insurance plans to provide coverage of contraception and abortifacients, with an ... read more >
On June 28, 2013, the United States Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule concerning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Mandate). The regulations of the final rule required health insurance plans to provide coverage of contraception and abortifacients, with an exemption for employee health plans offered by churches and their integrated auxiliaries, as well as an accommodation for employee health plans by certain qualified religious organizations.

Plaintiffs were a non-profit, non-religious pro-life organization and its employees who shared the same opposition to abortion and coverage of contraception and abortifacients in the employee health plans. Some of the employees held a religious belief against the use of contraception and abortifacients.

The exemption promulgated by the Health Department did not extend to the plaintiff organization for its non-church, non-religious nature. As a result, the organization was unable to provide non-abortifacient health plans to employees without violating the Mandate. As it was also reluctant to drop all health insurance coverage for its employees, the plaintiffs commenced a lawsuit.

On July 7, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against three government agencies, namely the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the United States Department of Labor and the United States Department of the Treasury, under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 500 et seq., the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq. The plaintiffs, represented by public interest attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, sought declaratory and injunctive relief from the Court. They alleged that the Mandate unconstitutionally discriminated against the organization in light of the exemption and accommodation of certain similarly situated entities, and deprived its religious employees of the ability to choose non-abortifacient health plans. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as the Equal Protection and Free Exercise clauses in the Constitution of the United States.

On September 23, 2014, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, or in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment.

On August 31, 2015, Judge Richard J. Leon granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs’ Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment claim, Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim, and Administrative Procedure Act claim. He dismissed their Free Exercise under the First Amendment claim. Judge Leon found that the Mandate violated the plaintiffs’ right to Equal Protection because it permitted accommodation to some groups but not theirs, although they had the same anti-abortionist beliefs. Turning to the plaintiffs' RFRA claim, Judge Leon found that, although the plaintiffs were a non-religious group, they still opposed the mandate on the religious grounds. He found the mandate placed a substantial burden on the plaintiffs’ ability to exercise their religion and that the government’s interest was not sufficiently compelling and the mandate was not narrowly tailored. Judge Leon also dismissed the plaintiff’s Free Exercise claim because the mandate was generally neutral. 128 F.Supp.3d 116.

On October 28, 2015, the defendants appealed to the D.D.C. Court of Appeals.

On February 24, 2016, the case was held in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Zubik v. Burwell. On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam order remanding Zubik and other consolidated cases to their respective courts of appeals, ordering the lower courts to give the parties time to come to agreement on an approach that 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.

On June 17, 2016, this case was ordered to remain in abeyance pending the D.D.C. Court of Appeals decision in Priests for Life v. HHS See Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse summary.

Parties filed joint status reports on January 5, 2018, February 5, 2018, and March 7, 2018 stating the case remained in abeyance while the parties discussed the resolution of the appeal.

The case is ongoing.

Emma Bao - 09/30/2014
Taylor Brook - 03/08/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Free Exercise Clause
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Abortion
Contraception
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
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) United States Department of Health and Human Services
United States Department of Labor
United States Department of the Treasury
Plaintiff Description A non-profit, non-religious pro-life organization, which was required under the Affordable Care Act regulations issued by the Health Department to provide coverage of abortifacients in its employee health insurance plans, together with its employees who were against the use of abortifacients.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2014
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing FA-PA-0010 : Zubik v. Burwell [II] (W.D. Pa.)
FA-DC-0018 : Priests for Life v. Sebelius (D.D.C.)
Docket(s)
1:14-cv-1149 (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0017-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/15/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
15-5301 (U.S. Court of Appeals)
FA-DC-0017-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/07/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Verified Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-DC-0017-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/08/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 30] (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0017-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/31/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Leon, Richard J. (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0017-0002 | FA-DC-0017-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Aden, Steven H. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-0001 | FA-DC-0017-9000 | FA-DC-0017-9001
Baylor, Gregory S. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-9001
Bowman, Matthew S. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-0001 | FA-DC-0017-9000
Cortman, David A. (Georgia)
FA-DC-0017-0001
Graves, Elissa (Arizona)
FA-DC-0017-0001 | FA-DC-0017-9000
Price, Christen M. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Grogg, Adam Anderson (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-0001 | FA-DC-0017-9000
Klein, Alisa B. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-9001
Nemeroff, Patrick George (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-9001
Salzman, Joshua Marc (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-9001
Stern, Mark B. (District of Columbia)
FA-DC-0017-9001

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