ANN ARBOR, MI – Federal District Court Judge Robert H. Cleland of the Eastern District of Michigan, issued an opinion yesterday evening granting a motion for Preliminary Injunction that effectively halts enforcement of the HHS mandate against Plaintiffs Weingartz Supply Company and its owner and president, Daniel Weingartz. The motion was brought by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Erin Mersino, TMLC’s lead counsel on the case who presented the oral argument in support of Plaintiffs, commented, "The federal court has found that our clients have a likelihood of success and would be irreparably harmed by the unconstitutional overreaching of the HHS mandate. This is not only a victory for our clients, but for religious freedom."
The HHS mandate refers to regulations adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services that forces employers, regardless of their religious convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy penalties.
In ruling for the Weingartz Plaintiffs, Judge Cleland emphasized that “[t]he loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” He concluded, “The harm in delaying the implementation of a statute that may later be deemed constitutional must yield to the risk presented here of substantially infringing the sincere exercise of religious beliefs. The balance of harms tips strongly in Plaintiffs’ favor. A preliminary injunction is warranted.”
Judge Cleland denied without prejudice the motion brought on behalf of Legatus for reasons stated below.
On May 6, 2012, TMLC, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the HHS mandate on behalf of Legatus, the Nation’s largest organization of top Catholic business owners and CEOs, and the Michigan-based Weingartz Supply Company and its president Daniel Weingartz.
The motion for Preliminary Injunction on behalf of Plaintiffs was filed on August 15, 2012. Judge Cleland heard oral arguments on the motion on September 28, 2012.
Named as defendants in TMLC’s lawsuit were Obama administration officials responsible for implementation of the HHS mandate promulgated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Included were: Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Hilda Solis, Secretary of the Department of Labor; Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Department of Treasury; and their respective departments.
Judge Cleland reiterated in his written opinion what he told both sides at the beginning of the oral augments on September 28th, namely, whatever ruling he grants, the case will continue to be litigated.
Judge Cleland denied the motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of Legatus without prejudice on the grounds that he is not persuaded that Legatus has standing to bring its claim at this time. He cited recent cases where other courts deciding the identical issue found that non-profit organizations protected under the safe harbor do not have standing because their injury is conjectural. The Government has represented that the HHS mandate regulations are being amended to accommodate the religious liberty concerns of non-profit organizations like Legatus.
Importantly, Judge Cleland noted that in the event the Government acts in a way inimical to the rights Legatus seeks to protect, Legatus can again approach the court with its concerns at that time.
Moreover, Judge Cleland directed the government to file a brief statement describing the status of the amendment process for final regulations occurring under the temporary enforcement safe harbor not later than the first Monday of each month.
TMLC’s lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the HHS Mandate under the First Amendment, specifically the Free Exercise of Religion and Free Speech clauses. It also claims that the HHS Mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Although several cases across the country challenging the constitutionality of the HHS mandate have been dismissed by federal courts on technical grounds, Judge Cleland is the second federal judge to grant a motion for preliminary injunction.