10 F.Supp.3d 725 (E.D.Tex. 2014), C. A. 1:13-cv-709, Catholic Diocese of Beaumont & Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, Inc. v. Sebelius

Docket NºCivil Action 1:13-cv-709
Citation10 F.Supp.3d 725
Opinion JudgeRon Clark, United States District Judge.
Party NameCATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BEAUMONT AND CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF SOUTHEAST TEXAS, INC., Plaintiffs, v. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPT. OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL., Defendants
AttorneyCivil Action No. 1:13-cv-709 For Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, Inc., Plaintiffs: Randal Girard Cashiola, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cashiola & Bean, Beaumont, TX. For Kathleen Sebelius, in her official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Ser...
Case DateJanuary 02, 2014
CourtUnited States District Courts, 5th Circuit, Eastern District of Texas

Page 725

10 F.Supp.3d 725 (E.D.Tex. 2014)

CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BEAUMONT AND CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF SOUTHEAST TEXAS, INC., Plaintiffs,

v.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPT. OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL., Defendants

Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-709

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Beaumont Division

January 2, 2014

Page 726

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 727

For Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, Inc., Plaintiffs: Randal Girard Cashiola, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cashiola & Bean, Beaumont, TX.

For Kathleen Sebelius, in her official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Thomas Perez, in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, Jacob J. Lew, in his official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Treasury, Defendants: Bradley Philip Humphreys, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Department of Justice - Civil Division, Washington, DC.

Page 728

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Ron Clark, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs, the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont and Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, Inc., filed suit against Defendants United States Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury, seeking an injunction against enforcement of a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide their employees with a health plan that covers all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling (" contraceptive services" ). The Government asserts that Plaintiffs lack standing, and alternatively failed to show a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a violation of their Free Exercise rights, or a violation of their Free Speech rights.

This case is one of many similar cases brought by religious organizations across the country. Some district courts have found for the plaintiffs,1 while others have found for the Government.2 As detailed below, this court's analysis and conclusions are in line with those of the Honorable Lee H. Rosenthal in in E. Tex. Baptist Univ. v. Sebelius, No. 4-12-cv-3009, 988 F.Supp.2d 743, (S.D. Tex. Dec. 27, 2013), the Honorable Brian M. Cogan in Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sebelius, No. 12-cv-2542, 987 F.Supp.2d 232, 2013 WL 6579764 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 16, 2013) and the Honorable Arthur J. Schwab in Zubik v. Sebelius, No. 13-cv-01459, 983 F.Supp.2d 576, (W.D. Pa. Nov. 21, 2013).

Requiring the head of a religious organization to sign a putatively correct statement

Page 729

of religious belief, which the Government has defined to authorize a third party to take an action that is contrary to those religious beliefs, imposes a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. That conclusion is not changed by the Government's argument that, at present, it does not have the power to compel the third party to act. The court finds that Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they have standing and have met their burden for issuance of a permanent injunction.

I. Background

Plaintiffs filed suit on December 10, 2013. Because of the January 1, 2014 deadline the court ordered early consultation by counsel on the issues. With input from counsel at the management conference, the court entered an expedited briefing schedule and set a hearing for December 30, 2013. Defendants moved for dismissal or in the alternative, for summary judgment. The Government filed the administrative record, and the court has reviewed those portions designated by counsel in the pleadings and papers on file. The parties have also filed " Parties Stipulated Preliminary Findings." [Doc. # 26].

At the hearing Plaintiffs presented witnesses, live and by deposition, and the court heard argument of counsel. The parties agreed that the record had been fully developed and only questions of law existed. The parties also agreed at the hearing that they did not object to the court consolidating that hearing with a trial on the merits, and making a final determination as to matters raised by Defendants' motion to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment and Plaintiffs' request for an injunction based on the record before the court. [Transcript of Hearing on December 30, 2013 (Tr.) pp. 75-77].3 See Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a)(2).

The court did not scour the administrative record in a search for facts that support either party, but it has considered the portions that have been specifically referenced by the parties in their motions and briefing. Doddy v. Oxy USA, Inc., 101 F.3d 448, 463 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). The Government argues that the court should limit its review of the facts to the administrative record, and presumably the stipulated facts. Since Plaintiffs are alleging interference with important constitutional rights, the court will consider the evidence presented by Plaintiffs. See McNary v. Haitian Refugee Ctr., 498 U.S. 479, 493-94, 111 S.Ct. 888, 896-97, 112 L.Ed.2d 1005 (1991).

The facts pertinent to this case are virtually uncontroverted, and very similar to the facts in all of the other opinions the court has seen so far. To save space the court will adopt the Parties Stipulated Preliminary Findings [Doc # 26] as findings of fact of the court. The court also finds that the statements concerning the religious beliefs of Catholics (including Plaintiffs) the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the role that Plaintiff Catholic Charities plays in the ministry of Plaintiff Roman Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, set out in the " Declaration of Bishop Curtis J Guillory, S.V.D., D.D." [Doc # 3-1] factually set out the sincere religious beliefs of Plaintiffs and their respective members. [Bishop Guillory, Tr. p. 4]. The court sustains the Government's objection to those statements that express Bishop Guillory's opinions as to the legal effect of, or proper legal interpretation of, the regulations and statutes in question, at paragraphs 15, 17,

Page 730

19, 21, and the first sentence of 22, and will not consider those as facts.

A. Findings of Fact as to Plaintiffs' Sincere Religious Beliefs

In summary, Plaintiffs are both entities affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. In their complaint and motion for preliminary injunction, they allege that the contraceptive mandate forces them to choose between violating central elements of their religious faith and paying substantial financial penalties. For nearly two thousand years the Catholic Church " has taught that life is sacred from conception to death and any -- whether it's medicine or instruments that would prevent life, we consider morally wrong." [Bishop Guillory, Tr. pp. 5-6].

The Church also teaches that material cooperation with evil is also morally wrong. " Material cooperation with evil is like in this particular case, for instance, we for instance as co-payers with the insurance would be cooperating in what we think is morally wrong. In other words, it's cooperating in -- into something that we consider evil, or morally evil; and we are a part of that. We are a participant in that action or that program. And that's what we call material cooperation." [Bishop Guillory, Tr. p. 9]. Defendants do not challenge that Plaintiffs have a sincerely held religious belief that all forms of contraceptives and abortifacients are morally wrong.

B. Findings of Fact as to Catholic Diocese of Beaumont

The Catholic Diocese of Beaumont (" Diocese" ) is a non-profit organization that encompasses forty-four parishes and seven missions located in the greater Beaumont area. The Diocese employs over 950 people, approximately 370 of whom are currently eligible for health plan benefits offered through the Diocese. The Diocese carries out a tripartite mission of spiritual, educational, and social service. Its spiritual ministry is carried out through its parishes. Its educational ministry is conducted through its schools and religious education programs. The Diocese operates three parish schools and two diocesan schools which serve approximately 1,088 students.

Consistent with Church teachings on social justice, the Diocese provides a self-insured health plan to employees working at least thirty hours per week. The plan is offered through the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. Consistent with Catholic teaching, the Trust health plan does not cover abortifacients, sterilization, or contraception.4 Dropping coverage for Catholic Charities so the Bishop would not have to sign the self-certification form would violate the sincerely held religious belief that employee health care is a right, and should be provided.

C. Findings of Fact as to Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, Inc.

Catholic Charities of Southeast...

To continue reading

Request your trial