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Media Alerts - Wieland v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Eighth Circuit
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August 3, 2015
  Wieland v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel reverses finding that individuals lacked standing to challenge certain provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act related to healthcare coverage of contraceptives

Area of Law Affordable Care Act

Issue(s) Presented Whether the district court properly determined that individuals did not have standing to challenge certain provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its implementing regulations related to healthcare coverage of contraceptives.

Brief Summary Plaintiffs are devout Roman Catholics with religions objections to the use of contraceptives. Plaintiff Paul Wieland is a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, and obtained healthcare coverage for himself, his wife, and his three daughters from his employer, the State of Missouri, through the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan (collectively, "the State"). Prior to August 2013, Plaintiffs had the opportunity to opt out of coverage for contraceptives under Missouri state law. After passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the "ACA"), however, a federal court held that Missouri's opt out provisions were preempted by the contraceptive mandate of the ACA. As a result, Plaintiffs were no longer given an opportunity to opt out of coverage for contraceptives, and were placed into a new healthcare plan including such coverage.

Plaintiffs filed suit against the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor, along with their respective Secretaries (collectively "HHS"), challenging certain provisions of the ACA. The provisions and implementing regulations challenged by Plaintiffs do not apply to individuals like themselves, but to "group health plan[s] and . . . health insurance issuer[s] offering group or individual health insurance coverage." 42 U.S.C. ยง 300gg-13(a)(4); 76 Fed. Reg. 46621. Plaintiffs alleged that HHS's enforcement of these provisions and regulations violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Free Exercise, Free Speech, and Due Process Clauses of the US Constitution, and the Administrative Procedures Act by forcing them to provide their daughters with coverage for contraceptives in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The District Court dismissed Plaintiffs complaint for lack of standing. It held that Plaintiffs were challenging provisions of the ACA that did not apply to them, and were seeking an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the provisions against the State, which was not a party to the case. It further concluded that, even if enforcement of the provisions were enjoined, whether a contraceptive-free plan would be made available to Plaintiffs would depend on the independent discretionary actions of the State.

Plaintiffs appealed, and a panel of the Eighth Circuit reversed the District Court's ruling. The Eighth Circuit held that Plaintiffs had plead sufficient factual allegations establishing a chain of causation running directly from the challenged contraception mandate of the ACA to their injury. The Eighth Circuit panel also found that there was no independent discretionary action by the State. Rather, Plaintiffs were placed into a plan including contraceptive coverage as a direct result of HHS's threatened enforcement of the contraceptive mandate against the State, and no discretion was involved in the State's decision to eliminate the ability to opt-out of contraceptive coverage. As such, the Eighth Circuit determined that it was the ACA's contraceptive mandate itself that was the but-for cause of the change in the Plaintiffs' healthcare plan. The Eighth Circuit also held that Plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that their injury would be redressed if the injunctive relief sought was granted in light of Missouri law and Missouri's previous willingness to offer Plaintiffs the opportunity to opt-out of contraceptive coverage.

The full text of the opinion may be found at

Panel Circuit Judges Loken, Murphy, and Wollman

Date of Issued Opinion July 20, 2015

Decided Reversed and remanded

Docket Number 13-3528

Counsel Timothy Belz for Appellants and Alisa Beth Klein for Appellees

Author Circuit Judge Wollman

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 08/03/2015 10:58 AM     8th Circuit  

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