Bloomberg News

Michigan Judge Blocks Health-Care Birth-Control Mandate

March 15, 2013

The U.S. health-care reform’s mandate requiring employee insurance plans to provide coverage of contraception was blocked by a federal judge in Michigan.

Tom Monaghan and his property-management company, Domino’s Farms Corp., sued the U.S. government in December, contending that complying with the mandate would require him to violate his religious beliefs as a member of the Catholic Church. Domino’s Farms would have to provide contraceptive products, including an abortion-inducing drug, or be forced to pay $200,000 a year as a tax or penalty, the plaintiffs said.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff issued a preliminary injunction yesterday, finding Domino’s Farms and Monaghan could be irreparably harmed if the mandate was enforced while the lawsuit was pending.

“Denying plaintiffs’ motion will result in a substantial burden on Monaghan’s right to free exercise of religion, since the mandate requires him to choose whether to comply and violate his beliefs, or accept the financial consequences of not doing so,” Zatkoff said in the 20-page decision.

“Such an infringement upon plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights -- even for a short time -- constitutes irreparable injury,” Zatkoff wrote.

Bradley Humphreys, a Justice Department attorney in Washington, didn’t immediately return a call for comment on yesterday’s decision.

Restraining Order

Zatkoff had issued a temporary restraining order in December blocking implementation of the mandate. Monaghan and Domino’s Farms asked the judge to convert the temporary order into a preliminary injunction, which would stay in force pending appeal.

The U.S. opposed that request, contending that “the relevant question” was whether Monaghan’s religious beliefs were “substantially burdened by a regulation that applies only to the health plan of a wholly separate legal entity,” according to court papers.

“By treating Mr. Monaghan and Domino’s Farms as one and the same, the court ignored the layers of legal separation between Mr. Monaghan and the corporation, only the latter of which is responsible for providing health coverage that includes contraceptive coverage,” Justice Department lawyers said in a Jan. 28 filing.

Constitutionality Upheld

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul in June in a 5-4 decision. Multiple lawsuits, including some after the Supreme Court decision, have been filed challenging the requirement that employee health-care insurance plans provide contraception.

The post-Supreme Court ruling suits include one filed by Michigan and six other states that was dismissed and is now on appeal, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement yesterday. Schuette filed a brief with Zatkoff’s court supporting Monaghan and Domino’s Farms.

“Any rule, regulation or law that forces American employers to violate their free exercise of religion is a violation of the First Amendment,” Schuette said in a statement yesterday.

The case is Domino’s Farms Corp. v. Sebelius, 12-cv-15488, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Detroit at mcfisk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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