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Geneva College v. Sebelius

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 8, 2013

GENEVA COLLEGE; WAYNE L. HEPLER; THE SENECA HARDWOOD LUMBER COMPANY, INC., a Pennsylvania Corporation; WLH ENTERPRISES, a Pennsylvania Sole Proprietorship of Wayne L. Hepler; and CARRIE E. KOLESAR Plaintiff,
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, HILDA SOLIS in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Labor, TIMOTHY GEITHNER in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY


JOY FLOWERS CONTI, District Judge.

Pending before the court is the Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 81) filed by plaintiff Geneva College ("Geneva"). Attached to Geneva's motion is the Declaration of Kenneth A. Smith (ECF No. 81-1), Geneva's president. Defendants Timothy Geithner, Kathleen Sebelius, Hilda Solis, the United States Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS"), the United States Department of Labor, and the United States Department of the Treasury (collectively, "defendants") filed a response in opposition. (ECF No. 85.) The present motion seeks reconsideration of the portion of this court's Memorandum Opinion and Order dated March 6, 2013, (ECF No. 74), which dismissed Geneva's claims without prejudice for lack of ripeness.

I. Background

The present case involves Geneva's challenge to the requirement that it include coverage for certain preventive services as part of the health insurance plans that it offers to its employees and students. Geneva objects to the requirement in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (March 23, 2010) ("ACA") mandating that it provide health insurance coverage for abortifacient products and contraceptives such as ella, Plan B, and intrauterine devices, as well as sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling for women of reproductive capacity (referred to collectively as the "objected to services"). The ACA's requirement that health insurance plans provide coverage for the objected to services is contained in 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4) (referred to generally as the "mandate").

As the court discussed in its prior opinion, defendants have promulgated certain final and proposed regulations as part of implementing the mandate. (ECF No. 74 at 6-11.) Most pertinent to the present motion are the proposed rules issued February 6, 2013, which purport to offer an accommodation to religious entities like Geneva that do not fit the definition of a "religious employer"[1] set forth in final rules promulgated August 3, 2011. The February 6, 2013 proposed rules set forth a proposed accommodation for religious organizations that object to providing contraceptive coverage, including religious institutions of higher education. They exclude from the mandate organizations that meet certain criteria: (1) "The organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of the contraceptive services required to be covered under [the mandate] 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;" and (4) "The organization self-certifies that it satisfies the first three criteria." Coverage of Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act, 78 FED. REG. 8, 456, 8, 462 (Feb. 6, 2013).

In the court's previous opinion, it determined that Geneva's claims were not ripe pursuant to the three-prong test set forth by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Step-Saver Data Systems, Inc. v. Wyse Technology , 912 F.2d 643, 647 (3d Cir. 1990). Geneva's claims were found to be unripe based upon: (1) the uncertainty created by the ongoing administrative rules process; (2) defendants' assurances in this and other cases that the final rules implementing the mandate would never be enforced against entities like Geneva; and (3) defendants' proposed rules, which the court interpreted as potentially alleviating the alleged burdens imposed by the mandate on entities like Geneva. The court acknowledged that if its understanding of how Geneva would view the impact of the proposed rules was incorrect, Geneva could file a motion for reconsideration. (ECF No. 74 at 27 n.15.)[2]

Geneva took the court up on its offer and now argues that its claims are ripe because: (1) its objection to the mandate remains unchanged despite the issuance of the proposed rules; and (2) it has already begun negotiating the terms of its student health insurance plan for the 2013-2014 plan year (which begins on August 1, 2013 (ECF No. 32 § 74)), and must now choose between making available insurance subject to the objectionable proposed rules and eliminating its student health insurance plan altogether. (ECF No. 81-1.)

Defendants respond that "Geneva cannot create jurisdiction over its challenge to the current regulations, which will never be enforced against it, by asserting that it will object to any new rules defendants promulgate." (ECF No. 85 at 6.)[3] In support, defendants cite decisions from several courts across the country finding that claims by entities similar to Geneva are not yet ripe. (Id. at 7-8.) Defendants also argue that the proposed rules are not final agency action and are not subject to judicial review. (Id. at 3-5.)

II. Standard of Review

A motion to reconsider "must rely on at least one of three grounds: 1) intervening change in controlling law, 2) availability of new evidence not previously available, or 3) need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Waye v. First Citizen's Nat'l Bank , 846 F.Supp. 310, 313-14 (M.D. Pa. 1994), aff'd, 31 F.3d 1175 (3d Cir. 1994). By reason of the interest in finality, at least at the district court level, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly; the parties are not free to relitigate issues the court has already decided. Rottmund v. Continental Assurance Co. , 813 F.Supp. 1104, 1107 (E.D. Pa. 1992). Stated another way, a motion for reconsideration is not properly grounded in a request for a district court to rethink a decision it, rightly or wrongly, has already made. Williams v. Pittsburgh , 32 F.Supp.2d 236, 238 (W.D. Pa. 1998). "Motions for reconsideration may not be used as a means to argue new facts or issues that inexcusably were not presented to the court in the matter previously decided.'" Knipe v. SmithKline Beecham , 583 F.Supp.2d 553, 586 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (citing Brambles USA, Inc. v. Blocker , 735 F.Supp. 1239, 1240 (D. Del. 1990)). Such motions may not be "used to revisit or raise new issues with the benefit of the hindsight provided by the court's analysis.''" Id . (citing Marshak v. Treadwell, No. 95-3794 , 2008 WL 413312 at *7 (D. N.J. Feb. 13, 2008)). With regard to the third ground, litigants are cautioned to "evaluate whether what may seem to be a clear error of law is in fact simply a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant.'" Waye , 846 314 n.3 (citing Atkins v. Marathon LeTourneau Co. , 130 F.R.D. 625, 626 (S.D.Miss. 1990)).

III. Discussion

A. Geneva's Basis for Reconsideration

Geneva's motion is primarily directed at the short timeframe within which it must now negotiate the terms of its student health insurance plan. The next plan year for the student health insurance plan begins on August 1, 2013. See ECF No. 32 § 74. Kenneth A. Smith, Geneva's president, asserts in his declaration that, as of April 5, 2013, "officials have already been communicating with First Risk Advisors about the student health plan for the 2013-14 school year." (ECF No. 81-1 § 2.) Based upon those discussions, Geneva determined that "[t]here is a significant probability that [it] will simply cease facilitating health insurance coverage for its students... given the moral and religious unacceptability of the accommodation' set forth in the [proposed rules]." (Id. § 4.) If Geneva chooses to eliminate its student health insurance plan, it must provide notice to its students no later than May 13, 2013. (Id. § 6.)

Geneva identifies no specific grounds for reconsideration upon which it bases the present motion (i.e. newly available evidence, etc.). Courts have found that "[t]o support a motion for reconsideration on the basis of newly available evidence, the movant must show not only that this evidence was newly discovered or unknown to it until after the hearing, but also that it could not with reasonable diligence have discovered and produced such evidence [during the pendency of the motion].'" Cabrita Point Dev., Inc. v. Evans, Nos. 2006-103, 2006-109, 2009 WL 3245202 at *2 (D. V.I. Sept. 30, 2009) (second alteration in original) (quoting Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v. CBI Indus., Inc. , 90 F.3d 1264, 1269 (7th Cir. 1996)). To the extent that the passage of time since the filing of the initial complaint now impacts the timing of the negotiations for Geneva's 2013-14 student health insurance plan and in light of the potential impact of the proposed rules on decisions surrounding its student health plan, that information presents newly available evidence appropriate for reconsideration.

The crux of Geneva's concerns appear to be that the proposed rules do not moot the issues it raised in the complaint, and it must finalize its student health insurance plan before August 1, 3013. Defendants did not indicate that the final rules will be implemented in time for Geneva to meet that deadline. To the extent that those new facts impact the court's previous ...

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