La. Coll. v. Sebelius

Decision Date13 August 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 12–0463.
Citation38 F.Supp.3d 766
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana
PartiesLOUISIANA COLLEGE v. Kathleen SEBELIUS, et al.

David A. Cortman, Alliance Defending Freedom, Lawrenceville, GA, Erik William Stanley, Alliance Defending Freedom, Leawood, KS, Gregory Scott Baylor, Matthew S. Bowman, Steven H. Aden, Alliance Defending Freedom, Washington, DC, Kevin Hayden Theriot, Alliance Defending Freedom, Leawood, KS, J. Michael Johnson, Bossier City, LA, for Plaintiff.

Bradley Philip Humphreys, Michelle Renee Bennett, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


DEE D. DRELL, Chief Judge.

Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (Doc. 81) and Plaintiffs Cross–Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 91). Plaintiff asked the Court to decide the pending motions without oral argument, and the Government did not object to proceeding in this manner. (See Docs. 102 & 105). By minute entry on January 9, 2014 (Doc. 105), the Court agreed that motion to dismiss and cross-motions for summary judgment would be decided on the briefing presently before us without the necessity of oral argument. Accordingly, we have considered the filings and evidence in the record and the parties' arguments contained in their briefs and are prepared to rule on the pending motions in turn. For the following reasons, we find that Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment as to its Religious Freedom and Restoration Act claim.

I. Background

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, 124 Stat. 119 (“ACA” or the Act), non-exempt employment-based group health plans are required to provide cost-free coverage for all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), four of which may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall (“contraceptive mandate” or “mandate”). However, recently-promulgated regulations provide a mechanism for certain religious nonprofits to avoid providing coverage for contraceptive services they find religiously offensive by executing a required self-certification form (“challenged regulations”).1 This mechanism—known as the “accommodation”—requires an insurance issuer, upon receipt of the self-certification, to exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer's plan and to provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptives without imposing any cost-sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or the plan beneficiaries.

Plaintiff, Louisiana College (“LC”), is a nonprofit university affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”).2 Plaintiff believes as a matter of faith that human life begins at the moment of conception, or when an egg becomes fertilized. It is therefore against Plaintiff's religious beliefs to participate in or facilitate access to abortion or “abortifacient”3 drugs, which Plaintiff believes can end human life and are therefore sinful. Consistent with these beliefs, Plaintiff provides health care benefits to its employees through a group health plan sponsored by GuideStone Financial Resources4 (“GuideStone Plan”), and has excluded from coverage “contraceptive drugs or devices considered to be abortifacients.” Reaching Souls Int'l v. Sebelius, No. 13–cv–1092, 2013 WL 6804259, at *2 (W.D.Okla. Dec. 20, 2013).

Plaintiff filed the instant suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and other federal officials and agencies (collectively, Defendants) under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the First Amendment Free Exercise, Establishment, Free Speech, and Freedom of Association clauses, the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), seeking to enjoin application of the ACA's contraceptive mandate under the challenged regulations. Plaintiff maintains that compliance with the challenged regulations, including the accommodation, violates its sincerely-held religious beliefs because, by self-certifying, it would trigger and facilitate its employees' free access to emergency contraceptive drugs and devices, which is tantamount to facilitation of sins against human life and is forbidden by its religion. Plaintiff also maintains that choosing to follow the commands of its faith, and thereby failing to comply with the challenged regulations, would result in crippling financial penalties, which is a quintessential substantial burden on the free exercise of religion.

On November 2, 2013, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. 81).5 In response, Plaintiff cross-moved for summary judgment (Doc. 91) and opposed Defendants' motion (Doc. 92). Defendants then filed a reply, combined with a memorandum in opposition to Plaintiff's cross-motion (Doc. 96), to which opposition Plaintiff has replied (Doc. 100).

On December 2, 2013, Plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, seeking relief on the basis of its RFRA claim. (Doc. 94). However, on December 20, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the mandate and accommodation against “any employers who provide medical coverage to employees under the GuideStone Plan and who are ‘eligible organizations.’ Reaching Souls, 2013 WL 6804259 at *8. In light of this decision, Plaintiff filed an unopposed motion to withdraw its preliminary injunction request on January 6, 2014. (Doc. 102). The following day, the Court ordered Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction withdrawn, reserving to Plaintiff the right to file a new motion in the event the Reaching Souls injunction is modified. (Doc. 104).

A. The Plaintiff

Louisiana College was established in Pineville, Louisiana on October 3, 1906, and is the successor to two earlier Louisiana Baptist colleges: Mt. Lebanon University, an all-male college founded in 1852 by the North Louisiana Baptist Convention; and Keatchie Female College, a women's college founded in 1857 by the Grand Cane Association of Baptist Churches. After years of financial difficulties, the Louisiana Baptist Convention (“Convention”)6 took control of both predecessor schools in 1899. The Convention selected an Education Commission to administer the schools, with the understanding that a more centrally-located campus would be selected and a new school would be founded to succeed them. The Education Commission continued to administer Louisiana College until 1921, when it was replaced by a new governing body, the Board of Trustees. Board members are chosen by the Convention and must be members in good standing of a Louisiana Baptist church that cooperates with the Convention.

Christian faith is claimed as central to the identity and administration of Louisiana College. LC is a private, coeducational institution chartered as a “non-profit corporation with the object ‘to own, operate and conduct a Baptist college to foster Christian education.’ (LC Academic Catalog, Doc. 91–4, Exh. L at p. 5). The mission of LC is “to provide liberal arts, professional, and graduate programs characterized by devotion to the preeminence of the Lord Jesus, allegiance to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, dedication to academic excellence for the glory of God, and commitment to change the world for Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Id. at 6). LC also seeks “to create a supportive environment in which students ‘are encouraged to develop an active Christian commitment.’ (LC Christian Commitment Statement, Doc. 91–4, Exh. H). In accordance with this mission, LC “recruits faculty and staff who are committed followers of Christ, who participate actively in a local church, and who are aware of and will teach or perform professionally in harmony with the doctrinal statement.” (LC Academic Catalog, Doc. 91–4, Exh. L at p. 8). LC has approximately 180 full-time employees and 80 part-time employees who are to “exemplify a Christian lifestyle characterized by the highest standard of Christian morality by exhibiting the character of Christ and living according to the ethical principles affirmed by Holy Scripture.” (LC Christian Commitment Statement, Doc. 91–4, Exh. H; Second Amended Complaint, Doc. 77 at ¶ 35).

Included in these principles is a belief that [c]hildren, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord.” (LC Academic Catalog, Doc. 91–4, Exh. L at p. 19). LC adheres to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message of the SBC as its doctrinal statement, including the commandment to “speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.” (Id. at 18). LC believes and teaches that human life begins when an egg becomes fertilized, and that abortion, or methods that harm a fertilized human embryo, ends human life and is a sin. (Second Amended Complaint, Doc. 77 at ¶¶ 2, 28–29, 31, 171). Thus, LC objects to the use of emergency contraceptives, believing that such drugs and devices cause the death of a fertilized embryo. In addition, LC believes that facilitating transgressions of God's law concerning the dignity of human life is equally immoral and sinful, and that sin disrupts its relationship with God. LC therefore states that it “seeks to avoid facilitating sinful behavior, thereby engaging in immoral conduct itself,” and that its religious beliefs “prohibit it from providing, paying for, making accessible, or facilitating coverage or payments for abortion, abortifacients, embryo-harming pharmaceuticals, and related education and counseling, or providing or facilitating a [health insurance] plan that causes access to the same through an insurance company, third-party administrator, or any other party.” (Plaintiffs Memorandum in Support, Doc. 92 at p. 16; Second Amended Complaint, Doc. 77 at ¶ 170).

Consistent with its religious beliefs, LC provides its employees and their...

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