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Brandt v. Burwell

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 20, 2014

MOST REVEREND LAWRENCE E. BRANDT, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, as Trustee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, a Charitable Trust, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
SYLVIA M. BURWELL, In Her Official Capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ET AL., Defendants.


ARTHUR J. SCHWAB, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction filed on May 30, 2014. Doc. no. 16. On June 3, 2014, the Court held a status conference with counsel for the Parties. Doc. no. 20. During this status conference, the Court noted & and Plaintiffs concurred - that the issue presented by Plaintiffs' preliminary injunction had to be decided by June 30, or July 1, 2014. Id . at 5-6. Given the fast-approaching June 30-July 1, 2014 deadline, the Court asked Defendants (hereinafter "the Government") if there would be any objection to the Court ruling on the Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction based solely upon a written record. Id . at 7. The Government indicated that it had no objection to deciding the Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction on the written record. Id . Finally, as a last order of business during this June 3, 2014 status conference, the Court and counsel for the Parties selected July 16 and 17, 2014, as the dates upon which a permanent injunction hearing would be held. Id . Following the status conference, counsel for the Parties filed a Stipulation of Undisputed Facts. Doc. no. 22. The Government's Response to Plaintiffs' Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction was filed on June 10, 2014. Plaintiffs filed a Reply Brief on June 13, 2014.[1] Doc. no. 23.

Now, upon review of the written record, and for reasons set forth in greater detail below, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction.

I. Preliminary Injunction Standard

The primary purpose of a preliminary injunction is to maintain the status quo until a decision on the merits of the case is rendered. Univ. of Texas v. Camenisch, 451 U.S. 390, 395 (1981). "Given this limited purpose, and given the haste that is often necessary if those positions are to be preserved, a preliminary injunction is customarily granted on the basis of procedures that are less formal and evidence that is less complete than in a trial on the merits." Id.

"Four factors determine whether a preliminary injunction is appropriate: (1) whether the movant has a reasonable probability of success on the merits; (2) whether the movant will be irreparably harmed by denying the injunction; (3) whether there will be greater harm to the nonmoving party if the injunction is granted; and (4) whether granting the injunction is in the public interest.'" B.H. ex rel. Hawk v. Easton Area Sch. Dist., 725 F.3d 293, 302 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Sypniewski v. Warren Hills Reg'l Bd. of Educ., 307 F.3d 243, 252 (3d Cir. 2002)) (quoting Highmark, Inc. v. UPMC Health Plan, Inc., 276 F.3d 160, 170 (3d Cir. 2001)).

"A plaintiff seeking an injunction must meet all four criteria, as [a] plaintiff's failure to establish any element in its favor renders a preliminary injunction inappropriate.'" Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sec'y of U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Servs., 724 F.3d 377, 382 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting NutraSweet Co. v. Vit-Mar Enters., Inc., 176 F.3d 151, 153 (3d Cir. 1999)); accord, Duraco Prods., Inc. v. Joy Plastic Enters., Ltd., 40 F.3d 1431, 1438 (3d Cir. 1994)("The injunction should issue only if the plaintiff produces evidence sufficient to convince the district court that all four factors favor preliminary relief.").

As to the first criterion, the movant bears the burden of proving a reasonable probability of success on the merits. "[O]n an application for preliminary injunction, the plaintiff need only prove a prima facie case, not a certainty that he or she will win." Highmark, 276 F.3d at 173, (citing 11A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT, ARTHUR R. MILLER & MARY KAY KANE, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 2948.3 (Civil 2d ed. 1995)).

The second criterion requires the movant prove that "irreparable injury is likely in the absence of an injunction" - the mere "possibility" of such irreparable harm "is too lenient." Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008). "While the burden rests upon the moving party to make these [first] two requisite showings, the district court should take into account, when they are relevant, (3) the possibility of harm to other interested persons from the grant or denial of the injunction, and (4) the public interest.'" Acierno v. New Castle County, 40 F.3d 645, 653 (3d Cir. 1994), (quoting Delaware River Port Auth. v. Transamerican Trailer Transp., Inc., 501 F.2d 917, 919-20 (3d Cir. 1974)) (footnote omitted).

In order to satisfy the third criterion, this Court must find "that the party seeking the injunction would suffer more harm without the injunction than would the enjoined party if it were granted." Pittsburgh Newspaper Printing Pressmen's Union No. 9 v. Pittsburgh Press Co., 479 F.2d 607, 609-610 (3d Cir. 1973). In Winter, the Supreme Court of the United States noted that although it did "not question the seriousness of [the movant's] interests, ... the balance of the equities and consideration of the overall public interest in this case tip[ped] strongly in favor of the [non-moving party]." 555 U.S. at 26. Thus, this criterion requires this Court to employ a balancing test that compares the harms the movant and non-movant would suffer and then weighs them to discern which party would be more greatly harmed by the Court's grant or denial of the injunction.

The fourth and final criterion is closely tied to the third in that it requires this Court to determine if the public's interest will be furthered or harmed by the issuance of a preliminary injunction. See Trefelner ex rel. Trefelner v. Burrell Sch. Dist., 655 F.Supp.2d 581, 597-98 (W.D. Pa. 2009) ("With regard to the public interest prong, the court finds that granting the temporary restraining order is in the public interest. The focus of this prong is whether there are policy considerations that bear on whether the order should issue, '" (citing 11A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT, ARTHUR R. MILLER & MARY KAY KANE, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 2948.4 (Civil 2d ed. 1995)). "The grant or denial of a preliminary injunction is committed to the sound discretion of the district judge, who must balance all of these factors in making a decision.'" Spartacus, Inc. v. Borough of McKees Rocks, 694 F.2d 947, 949 (3d Cir. 1982) (quoting Penn Galvanizing Co. v. Lukens Steel Co., 468 F.2d 1021, 1023 (3d Cir. 1972)).

II. Substance of Plaintiffs' Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction

Turning to the instant matter, Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction enjoining the Government from enforcing 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4) - as further regulated by 45 C.F.R. § 147.130(a)(1)(iv) - as it applies to them and their group health plans. Plaintiffs represented to the Court that Plaintiffs' applicable group health care plan needs to be renewed on or about June 30, or July 1, 2014. See doc. no. 20, pp. 5-6, transcript of proceedings held on June 5, 2014. The renewed group health care plan will be subject to the aforementioned statute and regulation. Based on the filings in this case, such application of the law to the renewed health plans would essentially place Plaintiffs in a position where compliance with the aforementioned statute and regulation will cause them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs; or, their conscience disregard of the statute and regulation will cause them to potentially incur large monetary fines and/or other penalties.

The statute at issue here - 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4) - is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. No. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (2010), and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, Pub. L. No. 111-152, 124 Stat. 1029 (2010) (hereinafter "ACA"). Section 1001 of the ACA requires all group health plans and health insurance issuers that offer non-grandfathered, non-exempt group or individual health coverage to provide coverage for certain preventive services without cost-sharing, including, "[for] women, such additional preventive care and screenings... as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration [("HRSA")]." 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-13(a)(4).

In addition to the statute at issue here, there is a regulation which allows HRSA to "establish exemptions" from group health plans maintained by "religious employers" with respect "to any requirement to cover contraceptive services[.]" See 45 C.F.R. § 147.130(a)(1)(iv)(A); see also Gilardi v. Dept. of Health and Human Svcs., 733 F.3d 1208 (C.A. D.C. 2013).

The issue before this Court is whether Plaintiff-Bishop Brandt, as Trustee of the Diocese of Greensburg, a Charitable Trust, and Plaintiff-Diocese of Greensburg, as the beneficial owner of Greensburg series of the Catholic Benefits Trust, which are exempt from the provisions of the ACA requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptive products, services, and counseling (hereinafter "the contraceptive mandate"), are divisible from their nonprofit, religious affiliated/related charitable and educational organizations; and which, under the current provisions, will be compelled to facilitate/initiate coverage of contraceptive products, services, and counseling, beginning July 1, 2014, in violation of their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Plaintiffs contend the contraceptive mandate, as applied via the "accommodation, " requires them to facilitate/initiate the process for providing health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services, contraceptives, and related educational and counseling services ("contraceptive products, services, and counseling"). Per the "accommodation, " an organization must self-certify that it: (1) "opposes providing coverage for some or all of [the] contraceptive services"; (2) is "organized and operates as a nonprofit entity"; and (3) "holds itself out as a religious organization." The organization must then provide a signed self-certification to its insurance company, or if self-insured, to its third party administrator ("TPA"). 26 CFR § 54.XXXX-XXXXA(a).

The Government counters that Plaintiffs cannot prevail on their Motion in the instant matter (1) for the same reasons set forth in its Opposition to the two Motions for Expedited Preliminary Injunction in the Zubik and Persico cases, and (2) for a new reason (which the Court has termed the "self-insured church plan" reason, discussed infra. ). The Court disagrees.

A. Uncontested Facts

As noted above, the Parties stipulated to several facts. Doc. no. 22. Among these stipulated facts was a concession by the Government that Plaintiffs' religious beliefs - as set forth in the written submissions ...

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