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Diocese of Cheyenne v. Sebelius

United States District Court, D. Wyoming

May 13, 2014

DIOCESE OF CHEYENNE, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF WYOMING, ST. JOSEPH'S CHILDREN'S HOME, ST. ANTHONY TRI-PARISH CATHOLIC SCHOOL, JOHN PAUL II CATHOLIC SCHOOL AT ST. MATHEWS, and WYOMING CATHOLIC COLLEGE, Plaintiffs,
v.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, in her official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., Defendants

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For Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming Catholic College, John Paul II Catholic School at St. Matthews, St Anthony Tri-Parish Catholic School, Saint Joseph's Children's Home, Catholic Charities of Wyoming, Plaintiffs: David T Raimer, Eric S Dreiband, Noel J Francisco, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, JONES DAY, Washington, DC; Paul J Hickey, LEAD ATTORNEY, HICKEY & EVANS, Cheyenne, WY.

For U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, in her official capacity also known as Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary, in his official capacity also known as Thomas Perez, Defendants: C Levi Martin, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEYS OFFICE, Cheyenne, WY; Julie Saltman, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, FEDERAL PROGRAMS BRANCH, Washington, DC.

For U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary, in his official capacity also known as, Defendant: Jacob J Lew, LEAD ATTORNEY, C Levi Martin; Julie Saltman, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, FEDERAL PROGRAMS BRANCH, Washington, DC.

For American Civil Liberties Union, Amicus: Brigitte Amiri, Jennifer Lee, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, New York, NY; Daniel Mach, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, Washington, DC; Jennifer Horvath, LEAD ATTORNEY, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, Wyoming Chapter, Cheyenne, WY.

OPINION

Scott W. Skavdahl, United States District Judge.

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OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 23). Defendants filed an opposition to preliminary injunction (ECF No. 31), and, with the Court's leave, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an amicus curiae brief opposing preliminary injunction (ECF No. 37). The Court heard oral argument on the matter on May 7, 2014. Having considered the parties' briefs, the arguments of counsel, the record herein, and being otherwise fully advised, the Court finds the motion should be denied.

BACKGROUND

This case pits certain provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).

A. The Parties and the Issue

Plaintiffs are several Catholic groups in Wyoming. Defendants are the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services [1] and various other federal governmental departments and their heads (collectively, " the Government" ).

Plaintiffs are non-profit religious organizations whose work is guided by Roman Catholic doctrine, which includes the firm conviction that sexual union must be reserved to married couples who are open to the creation of life, and any artificial interference with the creation of life is contrary to church doctrine. (ECF No. 1 at p. 3.) Accordingly, they contend they are prohibited by Catholic belief from providing, paying for, or facilitating access to products or services that limit a woman's natural reproductive capacity, including even education

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or counseling about such products or services. (ECF No. 24 at p. 8.) Historically, Plaintiffs have exercised this belief by offering a health insurance plan to their employees that omits the objectionable products and services from coverage. Plaintiff Diocese of Cheyenne offers a health plan through a self-insurance trust established by the Catholic bishops of California. (ECF No. 24 at p. 6.) Plaintiffs Catholic Charities, St. Joseph's Children's Home, St. Anthony Tri-Parish Catholic School, and John Paul II Catholic School also offer coverage through the Diocese's self-insurance plan. ( Id. ) Plaintiff Wyoming Catholic College offers health coverage through a self-funded church plan provided by the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.[2]

Plaintiffs take issue with the ACA provisions that require health insurance coverage for products and services limiting women's natural reproductive capacity, including women's contraception, sterilization, and related education and counseling. Plaintiffs contend this ACA requirement violates the RFRA because it forces Plaintiffs to " offer health plans that serve as a conduit for the delivery of the objectionable products and services.[3] (ECF No. 24 at p. 12.) This requirement applies to Plaintiffs beginning July 1, 2014, the date their insurance plan year begins. Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction to prevent the ACA provisions at issue from applying to them pending the final disposition of this case.

B. Relevant Provisions of the Affordable Care Act

Under the ACA, " employment-based group health plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) must provide certain types of preventive health services." Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, 723 F.3d 1114, 1122 (10 Cir. 2013) (en banc), cert. granted, 134 S.Ct. 678, 187 L.Ed.2d 544 (2013) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13; 29 U.S.C. § 1185d). The provision of the ACA at issue here " mandates coverage, without cost-sharing by plan participants or beneficiaries, of 'preventive care and screenings' for women 'as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration.'" Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4)). The guidelines that were adopted require health insurance coverage for, among other preventive care, " '[a]ll Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity,' as prescribed by a provider." Id. at 1123 (quoting 77 Fed. Reg. 8725, 8725 (Feb. 15, 2012)). In turn, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved twenty women's contraceptive

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methods, " ranging from oral contraceptives to surgical sterilization." [4] Id.

The provision exempts " religious employers" from its mandate. Id. at 1123. This exemption is limited, though, and protects only " the unique relationship between a house of worship and its employees in ministerial positions." 78 Fed. Reg. 8456, 8461 (Feb. 6, 2013). Currently, this exemption includes only " churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship, and religious orders." [5] Id. In this case, the parties agree this exemption applies to Plaintiff Diocese of Cheyenne, but the Diocese operates a self-insured group health plan that encompasses its employees along with the employees of several other Plaintiffs (all other Plaintiffs except Wyoming Catholic College). Consequently, Plaintiffs assert the Diocese is a proper party in interest subject to the ACA's contraceptive coverage requirement.

In addition to the " religious employer" exemption, the provision also includes an " accommodation," which is central to the instant case. Only eligible organizations are provided the accommodation, which is intended to eliminate (or substantially reduce) any burden the contraceptive coverage requirement imposes upon their religious beliefs and practices. The parties here agree Plaintiffs (other than the Diocese) are eligible for the accommodation. To take advantage of the accommodation, an entity must satisfy four requirements:

(1) The organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required to be covered under § 147.130(a)(1)(iv) on account of religious objections.
(2) The organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity.
(3) The organization holds itself out as a religious organization.
(4) The organization self-certifies, in a form and manner specified by the Secretary, that it satisfies the criteria in paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) of this section, and makes such self-certification available for examination upon request by the first day of the first plan year to which the accommodation in paragraph (c) of this section applies.

45 C.F.R. § 147.131(b); see also 29 C.F.R. § 2590.715-2713A(a); 78 Fed. Reg. 39869, 39873-74 (July 2, 2013). The eligible organization must provide the self-certification form to its insurance company or, if the organization has a self-insured health plan (as is the case here), to its third-party administrator (TPA). 29 C.F.R. § 2590.715-2713A(b). The law then requires the TPA to provide or arrange payments for the objectionable contraceptive products and services, without participation, payment, or interference from the eligible organization. Id. Thus, under the ACA, the TPA holds the responsibility to arrange contraceptive coverage for the organization's employees and covered dependents. The purpose of this accommodation is " to route the contraceptive coverage for these organizations through a middleman insurer or insurance plan administrator, allowing the organization to avoid directly providing contraceptive coverage." Hobby Lobby, 723 F.3d at 1124 (citing 78 Fed. Reg. 8458-68 (Feb. 6, 2013)). Significantly,

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the eligible entity (the employer) does not bear any direct or indirect cost associated with providing the contraceptive coverage. 29 C.F.R. § 2590.715-2713A(b)(2); Univ. of Notre Dame v. Sebelius, 743 F.3d 547, 551 (7th Cir. 2014). Thus, once the eligible entity supplies the self-certification to its TPA, the eligible entity plays no further role ...


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