University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Union University v. Sebelius FA-TN-0002
Docket / Court 1:14−cv−01079−JDB−EGB ( W.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
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 Affordable Care Act (ACA)'s system for ensuring that employee health insurance covers birth control. Specifically, the plaintiffs objected to notifying the ... read more >
This case is one of the many filed in federal district courts across the country by non-profit Catholic organizations challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA)'s system for ensuring that employee health insurance covers birth control. Specifically, the plaintiffs objected to notifying the government or their health insurer that they were claiming a religious exemption from the ACA regulation's mandatory insurance coverage for contraception. The current regulatory accommodation allows religious organizations who object for religious reasons to providing contraceptive coverage for their employees to notify their insurer, or notify the government directly, of that objection. Then, the government will work with the insurer or health benefits provider to ensure the employees have access to contraception. The religious employers claimed that this approach violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because they see their action of notifying the government as starting a chain of events that results in their employees receiving contraception.

This particular lawsuit was filed by Union University, a Baptist college, on Apr. 4, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) against the Department of Health and Human Services. The plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief and claimed that the ACA's contraception mandate violated its sincerely held religious beliefs, the First Amendment's establishment clause and freedom of speech, and the Fifth Amendment's equal protection clause.

The university moved for a preliminary injunction blocking HHS from implementing the mandate. HHS did not oppose the motion. Though the agency did not believe the university would win on the merits, it agreed that the case should be stayed in light of two similar cases currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Michigan Catholic Conference v. Sebelius, 2013 WL 6838707 (W.D. Mich.) and Catholic Diocese of Nashville v. Sebelius, 2012 WL 5879796 (M.D. Tenn.).

On Apr. 29, 2014, District Judge Daniel Breen granted the preliminary injunction and stayed the case until thirty days after the issuance of a mandate by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit pending resolution of either of the two aforementioned pending cases.

The Court of Appeals consolidated Michigan Catholic Conference and Catholic Diocese of Nashville, and on June 11, 2014, affirmed the District Judges' denials of preliminary injunctions for all plaintiffs. The court found that organizations exempt from the contraception mandate experienced no burden on the exercise of their religion, and therefore were unlikely to succeed in proving a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And organizations eligible to receive an "accommodation" under the law needed only to provide a "self-certification" that documented that they had a religious objection. This self-certification did not constitute an unlawful religious burden. For similar reasons, the law did not violate the First Amendment's free speech, free exercise, or establishment clauses.

On Mar. 24, 2017, the present case was reassigned to Chief Judge Thomas S. Anderson.

On Oct. 31, 2017, the Sixth Circuit dismissed bothMichigan Catholic Conference and Catholic Diocese of Nashville, which the defendants informed the court in a Nov. 3, 2017 status report.

On Nov. 6, 2017, Judge Anderson granted the defendants' request to extend the injunction and stay, which had been scheduled to lift Nov. 30, 2017, until Dec. 4, 2017.

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.

On Nov. 16, 2017, the plaintiff stipulated to dismissal of the case, and on the same day, the Judge Anderson dismissed the case.

Andrew Junker - 10/08/2014
Elizabeth Greiter - 01/06/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Hospital/Health Department
Religion discrimination
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit religious organization
Type of Facility
Non-government non-profit
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
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. Government
Plaintiff Description A Baptist college that believed the ACA's contraception coverage mandate and requirements for exempt religious organizations violated their religious beliefs.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Order Duration 2014 - n/a
Filed 04/04/2014
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing FA-MI-0014 : Michigan Catholic Conference v. Sebelius (W.D. Mich.)
FA-TN-0001 : Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville v. Sebelius (M.D. Tenn.)
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
W.D. Tenn.
FA-TN-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
W.D. Tenn.
Complaint [ECF# 3-1]
FA-TN-0002-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Tenn.
Order Granting Plaintiff's Mot. for Prel. Injunc. [ECF# 15]
FA-TN-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Breen, J. Daniel (W.D. Tenn.) show/hide docs
FA-TN-0002-0002 | FA-TN-0002-9000
Bryant, Edward G. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Burleson, John D. (Tennessee) show/hide docs
FA-TN-0002-0001 | FA-TN-0002-9000
Conder, Milton Dale (Tennessee) show/hide docs
FA-TN-0002-0001 | FA-TN-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bennett, Michelle Renee (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Humphreys, Bradley Philip (District of Columbia) show/hide docs

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