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February 18, 2015
  Geneva College v. Secretary Department of Health - Third Circuit
Headline: ACA accommodation for contraceptive services does not substantially burden under RFRA

Area of Law: Issues Presented: Affordable Care Act and Religious Freedom Restoration Act- First Amendment

Brief Summary: The case centers on three district court cases ruling on the preventive services requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The appellees object to the ACA's requirement that contraceptives coverage must be provided to their plan participants and beneficiaries. There is an accommodation for the contraceptive coverage requirement that the nonprofit appellees are eligible for which allows them to advise that they will not pay for the contraceptive services. The services are then provided by a third-party administrator or an insurance issuer. The appellees contend that this accommodation forces them to "facilitate" or "trigger" the provision of insurance coverage for contraceptive services which they are opposed to on religious grounds. The Court disagrees with the District Courts that the accommodation places a substantial burden on the appellees and thus it reverses.

Significance (if any): The accommodation, provided for in the ACA, for health group plan established or maintained by nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as a religious organization and opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptives services to be covered on account of religious objections does not place a substantial burden on the organizations and thus does not violate RFRA.

Extended Summary: The Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that group health plans and health insurance issuers offering health insurance coverage to cover for women, among other things, all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The ACA allows an exemption from the contraceptive coverage for the group health plan of a "religious employer" as defined by the IRS Code. The ACA also provides an accommodation for organizations that are not "religious employers" but oppose coverage based on religious objections. All of the appellees are nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious organizations and oppose providing coverage for some or all of the contraceptives to be covered due to religious objections. The accommodation requires that the organization complete a self-certification form indicating that it has a religious objection to providing the coverage for the contraceptive services. The health insurance issuer or a third-party administrator is then required by the ACA to provide the contraceptive services without cost to the organization or to the plan participants or beneficiaries. The information on contraceptives is then provided to the plan participant or beneficiary separate from the information given out about the group health plans and the information specifies that the organization does not administer or fund the contraceptive services as well as providing a separate contact number for questions and complaints.
The Court determined that it was not the act of filing out the form and submitting it that the appellees found burdensome. Instead, their claim was that by providing the form to the insurance issuer or third party administrator it "triggers" the provision of contraceptive coverage thus requiring the organizations to be complicit in sin. The Court rejected the argument that the form itself gives rise to contraceptive coverage, noting that it is federal law that requires third parties to provide coverage after the organizations refuse to do so. The Court held, as did the Sixth Circuit, Seventh Circuit, and the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, that the submission of the form does not facilitate the contraceptive coverage by third parties but rather that the third parties providing coverage do so as a result of a legal obligation. The submitting of the form only relieves the organization of any obligation to provide the contraceptives and from any penalties that would otherwise have been levied.
The Court also rejected the argument that there was a causal connection between signing and submitting the form and coverage by third-party administrators. The form does not authorize the third-party administrators to serve as the plan administrator. It is the government that treats and designates the third-party administrator as the plan administrator. The form only communicates the organization's decision to opt out; it does not authorize anyone to do anything on the organization's behalf. The Court also rejected the argument that the submission of the self-certification form made the appellees complicit in the provision of contraceptive coverage. On the form, the organizations specifically state that they object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage. What happens after the form is submitted does not demonstrate a substantial burden on the organizations.
The Court held that because the self-certification procedure did not cause or trigger the provision of contraceptive coverage, the organizations are unable to show that their religious exercise is burdened. The Court noted that even if the procedure was burdensome, it would not be substantially so because there is no governmental pressure nor is the organization forced to choose between following its religious beliefs or forfeiting benefits otherwise generally available. The Court also rejected the argument that contraceptive coverage process was a substantial burden because it split the Catholic Church by making the Dioceses eligible for the exemption while Catholic nonprofits only qualify for the accommodation.
To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/133536p.pdf

Panel (if known): Rendell, Sloviter, Circuit Judges, and McKee, Chief Judge

Argument Date: November 19, 2014

Argument Location:

Date of Issued Opinion: February 11, 2015

Docket Number: No. 13-3536, 14-1374, 14-1376, 14-1377

Decided: Reversed

Case Alert Author: Cheri Snook

Counsel: Stuart F. Delery, Esq., David J. Hickton, Esq., Beth S. Brinkmann, Esq., Mark B. Stern, Esq., Michael A. Comber, Esq., Bradley P. Humphreys, Esq., Adam C. Jed, Esq., Alisa B. Klein, Esq., Patrick Nemeroff, Esq., Eric R. Womack, Esq., for appellants Secretary United States Department of Health and Human Services; Secretary United States Department of Labor; Secretary United States Department of Treasury; United States Department of Health and Human Services; United States Department of Labor; United States Department of the Treasury; Steven H. Aden, Esq., Gregory S. Baylor, Esq., Matthew S. Bowman, Esq., Erik W. Stanley, Esq., Kevin H. Theriot, Esq., David A. Cortman, Esq., David J. Mongillo, Esq., for appellees Geneva College; Seneca Hardwood Lumber Company, Inc.; Carrie E. Kolesar; Wayne Hepler; Paul M. Pohl, Esq., John D. Goetz, Esq., Leon F. DeJulius, Jr., Esq., Ira M. Karoll, Esq., Alison M. Kilmartin, Esq., Mary Pat Stahler, Esq., for appellees Most Reverand Lawrence T. Persico, Bishop of The Roman Catholic Dioceses of Erie, as Trustee of the Roman Catholic Diocese Of Erie, a Charitable Trust; The Roman Catholic Dioceses of Erie; ST. Martin Center, Inc., an affiliate Nonprofit Corporation of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Erie; Prince of Peace Center, Inc., an Affiliate Nonprofit Corporation Of Catholic Preparatory School, an Affiliate Nonprofit Corporation Of The Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie; Most Reverand David A. Zubik, Bishop of Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, as Trustee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, a Charitable Trust, Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities Dioceses of Pittsburgh; Deborah J. Dewart, Esq., for Amicus Liberty, Life and Law Foundation; Witold J. Walczak, Esq., Sara J. Rose, Esq., Brigitte Amiri, Esq., Jennifer Lee, Esq., Daniel Mach, Esq., for Amicus Julian Bond, The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania; Charles E. Davidow, Esq., Andree J, Goldsmith, Esq., Karin Dryhurst, Esq., Marcia D. Greenberger, Esq., Judith G. Waxman, Esq., Emily J. Martin, Esq., Gretchen Borchelt, Esq., Leila Abolfazli, Esq., for Amicus National Women's Law Center and Twenty Other National, State and Local Organizations; Ayesha N. Khan, Esq., for Amicus American United for Separation of Church and State; Sarah Somers, Esq., Martha Jane Perkins, Esq., Dipti Singh, Esq., Counsel for National Health Law Program, American Public Health Association, National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, National Women's Health Network, National Latina Institute For Reproductive Health, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, National Hispanic Medical Association, Forward Together, IPAS, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (Siecus), HIV Law Projuct, and California Women's Law Center as Amici Curiae; Kimberlee Wood Colby, Esq., The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Association of Christian Schools International, National Association of Evangelicals, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commissions of the Southern Baptist Convention, American Bible Society, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, and Christian Legal Society in Support of Appellees and Urging Affirmance

Author of Opinion: Chief Justice Rendell

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 02/18/2015 10:59 AM     3rd Circuit  

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