Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Challenge To ACA Contraceptive Services Mandate Dismissed On Standing and Ripeness Grounds

In State of Nebraska v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, (D NE, July 17, 2012), a Nebraska federal district court dismissed on standing and ripeness grounds a lawsuit by 7 states, 3 Catholic organizations and 2 individuals challenging the mandate issued under the Affordable Care Act that health insurance policies (with limited exceptions) cover contraceptive services. (See prior posting.) Plaintiffs claimed that the mandate will coerce religious institutions and organizations to subsidize contraception, abortifacients, sterilization, and related services in violation of their religious beliefs. They also alleged that state budgetary stability will be threatened if religious organization employers stop providing health insurance in order to avoid the mandate.

The court held that the 3 Catholic organizational plaintiffs as well as the 2 individuals lack standing because their health plans are grandfathered and thus not covered by the mandate. Also it was not shown that the employers of the individual plaintiffs do not qualify for the narrow religious organization exemption from the mandate. The court held that the states' theory of standing "is based on layers of conjecture." The complaint:

merely offers guesses about how independent actors will respond to the Rule and speculation that these responses could cause people to qualify for, and obtain, state benefits that they would not otherwise seek, which will then strain the States’s budgets. This is not sufficient to establish standing.
The court also held that the claims are not ripe:
although the Rule that lies at the heart of the plaintiffs’ complaint establishes a definitive, final definition of "religious employer," ... [it] is currently undergoing a process of amendment to accommodate these organizations. The plaintiffs face no direct and immediate harm, and one can only speculate whether the plaintiffs will ever feel any effects from the Rule when the temporary enforcement safe harbor terminates....
AP reporting on the decision quotes Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning's reaction:
Today's decision completely disregards the federal government's continued shell game when it comes to this rule. Essentially, this decision asks millions of Americans to watch and wait for their religious liberties to be violated.

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