Hobby Lobby Delays Fines, More Lawsuits Tossed Out, and Court Warns HHS to Modify the Mandate as Promised.

That’s quite a headline, eh? On the HHS Mandate front there is some old news and some newer news. I’ll start with the old news first.

I reckon I got so caught up in the Standing With Hobby Lobby action that I missed learning that the company had found a way to delay the start of the threatened $1.3 MM fine per day for not knuckling under to the demands of the Administration. Details from January 11,

Washington (CNN) – By Friday, Hobby Lobby would have racked up $14.3 million in fines from the Internal Revenue Service for bucking Obamacare. But in keeping with the great American tax tradition, they may have found a loophole.

The company is facing $1.3 million a day in fines for each day it chooses not to comply with a piece of the Affordable Care Act that was set to trigger for them on January 1. The craft store chain announced in December that, because of religious objections, they would face the fines for not providing certain types of birth control through their company health insurance.

The penalty was set to go into effect on the day the company’s new health care plan went into effect for the year.

Peter M. Dobelbower, general counsel for Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. said in a statement released through the Becket Fund that, “Hobby Lobby discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months.”

The statement continued that “Hobby Lobby does not provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its health care plan. Hobby Lobby will continue to vigorously defend its religious liberty and oppose the mandate and any penalties.”

Read more.

So, the crushing fines are being held at bay for at least two months, or so. Stay tuned.

For the “newer” news, on January 25, the Archdiocese of Washington lawsuit (which includes Catholic University of America, Catholic Charities of DC, et al)  was tossed out by the U.S. District Court as not being “ripe.” You may recall that the lawsuit filed by the University of Notre Dame was tossed for the same reasons back on January 2nd.

The Archdiocese of Washington released the following statement,

Statement of Archdiocese of Washington in Response to U.S. District Court’s Decision in Archbishop of Washington et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius

January 25, 2013

Late today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Archdiocese of Washington and its co-plaintiffs, asserting that the case is premature in light of the government’s promises to amend the HHS mandate. Importantly, this ruling was not based on the merits of our case.

In fact, the court’s ruling today places the onus squarely on the government to fulfill its binding commitment to address the religious freedom concerns of the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic University of America and several other Catholic entities. This requires the government to revise its HHS mandate in a way that truly respects our right to serve all those in need without violating our religious beliefs.

Today’s decision was based on two commitments the government made to the court in this case and others: first, that the mandate as currently written will never be enforced against us; and second, that the mandate will be revised in a way that addresses our religious freedom concerns by March 31, 2013.

The court specifically noted that the archdiocese and its co-plaintiffs have the right to file a new complaint if the government does not make a meaningful change to the mandate by the March deadline. The court made clear that “it would not look favorably upon the government’s failure to comply.”

On this day when so many march to honor the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, we are hopeful that this ruling will ensure that Catholic and other religious entities will never be forced to engage in practices that violate our religious beliefs.

The Court, presided over by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, stated in its Memorandum Opinion that as HHS promised to modify the mandate (by March 31, 2013) they will expect that deadline to be met.

Moreover, the government’s supplemental brief in this case clarifies that “the regulations will never be enforced in their present form against entities like the plaintiffs in those cases or plaintiffs here and that defendants will finalize amendments to the regulations in an effort to accommodate religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage before the rolling expiration of the safe harbor begins in August 2013″ Defs.’ Supp. Br. Addressing the D.C. Circuit’s Order in Wheaton College v. Sebelius (“Defs.’ Supp. Br.”) [Dkt. # 38] at 4. Just as the Circuit Court did in Wheaton College, this Court “take[s] the government at its word and will hold it to it.”

If after the new regulations are issued, plaintiffs are still not satisfied, any challenges that they choose to bring will be substantially different from the challenges in the current complaint. And in the unlikely event that the government does not keep its word, plaintiffs can bring a new challenge to the regulations along with a motion for emergency relief, if necessary.

The Court footnoted that statement with the following,

The Court notes that it has construed the government’s representations as a binding commitment and it would not look favorably upon the government’s failure to comply.

So there you have it. Hobby Lobby is fine free for the time being, and a couple of lawsuits aren’t ripe, but they’ll be back if the new rules still don’t favor the plaintiffs.

(H/T the Becket Fund, and their HHS Information Central)

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