University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Priests for Life v. Sebelius FA-DC-0018
Docket / Court 1:13-cv-01261 ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Special Collection Contraception Insurance Mandate
Case Summary
On August 19, 2013, Priests for Life, a non-profit Catholic group organized in opposition to abortion, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) ... read more >
On August 19, 2013, Priests for Life, a non-profit Catholic group organized in opposition to abortion, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Represented by the American Freedom Law Center, the plaintiffs asked the court for monetary relief and to enjoin the contraceptive services mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The plaintiffs claimed that the contraceptive services mandate was unconstitutional and violated the plaintiffs' rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expressive association, and equal treatment.

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that their sincerely held religious beliefs cause them to object to providing any direct or indirect support for contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients. They claimed that the accommodation for non-profit religious employers allowing them to have nothing to do with the contraceptive services provided by a third party insurer did not assuage their concerns. They claimed that even though the entire cost of the services would be absorbed by the third party, they would be furthering these services by paying for coverage through an insurer that provided these services.

This case involves the same dispute as Priests for Life v. Sebelius in the Southern District of New York, FA-NY-0005 in this Clearinghouse, which was dismissed without prejudice on April 15, 2013, and was refiled in the District of Columbia later in the year. Priests for Life is one of a number of organizations that is religiously based and has a particular objection to the contraception mandate, but is not covered under any of the religious exemptions in the statute or in regulation, which are generally limited to churches and religious orders. Priests for Life objects to the fact that a health care plan that they purchase for their employees will provide those employees with access to contraceptive services.

On December 19, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a judgment for the defendant. The court found that the actions of third parties do no create an impermissible burden, and granted the defendants' motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs appealed this case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on December 19, 2013. 7 F. Supp. 3d 88 (D.D.C. 2013). The appeal included the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. The Appeals Court ruled on November 14, 2014 that the accommodation the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has designed for religious nonprofits to comply with the contraceptive coverage mandate does not burden the plaintiffs' religious freedom, and affirmed the District Court's ruling. 772 F.3d 229 (D.C. Cir. 2014). On May 20, 2015, the Court of Appeals denied plaintiffs request for rehearing en banc, reasoning that the result in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius does not compel them to credit plaintiffs’ misinterpretation of the regulation the plaintiffs are challenging and on June 10, 2015, the Circuit Court ordered that the mandate be stayed through August 26, 2015, pending petition for writ of certiorari.

On November 6, 2015, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether notifying the federal government by signing a form identifying the employer as a religious nonprofit that objects to the contraceptive services mandate (so that the government can work with the insurer or benefits provider to ensure employees have contraceptive coverage) violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or constitutes the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest. This case was consolidated with six other cases dealing with this issue. Together, the cases were known as Zubik v. Burwell [II] .

This case was argued on March 23, 2016. On March 29, 2016, in an unusual move, the Supreme Court directed the parties to file supplemental briefs suggesting a solution to their disagreement, in which employees could still receive contraception coverage without employers giving any notice to the government. On May 16, 2016, the 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 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.

Back in the Circuit Court, the parties submitted a series of status reports indicating they had entered into settlement negotiations with the new Trump administration. On Oct. 16, 2017, the parties filed a joint motion to voluntarily dismiss the appeal. The case appears to be settled, though any settlement agreement is not currently publicly available. The Circuit Court dismissed the case on Nov. 6, 2017.

The case is now closed.

Kate Craddock - 06/06/2016
Virginia Weeks - 12/03/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
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) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Labor
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Plaintiff Description Plaintiff organization is a non-profit Catholic group organized in opposition to abortion.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted Moot
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Unknown
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Unknown
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Filing Year 2013
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing FA-NY-0005 : Priests for Life v. Sebelius (E.D.N.Y.)
FA-DC-0001 : Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Sebelius (D.D.C.)
FA-TX-0005 : East Texas Baptist University v. Sebelius (S.D. Tex.)
FA-CO-0006 : Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Sebelius (D. Colo.)
FA-OK-0005 : Southern Nazarene University v. Sebelius (W.D. Okla.)
FA-PA-0005 : Geneva College v. Sebelius (W.D. Pa.)
FA-PA-0010 : Zubik v. Burwell [II] (W.D. Pa.)
FA-DC-0017 : March for Life v. Burwell (D.D.C.)
1:13-cv-01261-EGS (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0018-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/30/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-DC-0018-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/13/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 36] (7 F.Supp.3d 88) (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0018-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/19/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Notice of Appeal [ECF# 37]
FA-DC-0018-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/19/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion, U.S. Court of Appeals for DC Circuit [Ct. of App. ECF# 1522271] (772 F.3d 229)
FA-DC-0018-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/14/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Supreme Court Order Granting Certiorari (136 S.Ct. 444)
FA-DC-0018-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 11/06/2015
Source: Supreme Court website
Opinion (136 S.Ct. 1557)
FA-DC-0018-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/19/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Sullivan, Emmet G. (D.D.C.)
FA-DC-0018-0002 | FA-DC-0018-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Muise, Robert J. (Michigan)
FA-DC-0018-0001 | FA-DC-0018-0003 | FA-DC-0018-0004 | FA-DC-0018-9000
Yerushalmi, David Eliezer (New York)
FA-DC-0018-0001 | FA-DC-0018-0003 | FA-DC-0018-0004 | FA-DC-0018-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Berwick, Benjamin Leon (District of Columbia)
Brinkmann, Beth S (District of Columbia)
Delery, Stuart F. (District of Columbia)
Jed, Adam C. (District of Columbia)
Kade, Elizabeth Lanier (District of Columbia)
Klein, Alisa B. (District of Columbia)
Machen, Ronald C (District of Columbia)
Stern, Mark B. (District of Columbia)
Other Lawyers Mach, Daniel (District of Columbia)

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