Court refuses TRO against contraceptive coverage mandate in challenge by for-profit senior care companies

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Briscoe v. Sebelius, (D CO, Feb. 27, 2013), a Colorado federal district court refused to grant a temporary restraining order to a for-profit corporation, two related for-profit LLCs and their evangelical Christian owner who were challenging the application of the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate to them. The companies manage and operate senior care assisted living centers and skilled nursing facilities, and offer a self-insurance plan to their over 200 employees. Business owner Stephen Briscoe Briscoe says that his religious beliefs prevent him from including coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures in his companies’ insurance plans. The court concluded that plaintiffs’ had not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.

Rejecting plaintiffs’ claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court held that “secular, for-profit corporations neither exercise nor practice religion.” It went on to reject the claim that the mandate imposes a substantial burden on the business owner’s practice of religion:

Briscoe claims a substantial burden based on what his companies must do, rather than what he himself must do. The AHCA’s mandate does not prevent Briscoe from personally exercising his religion….  [A]ny burden Briscoe claims on his ability to exercise his religion based on his companies’ compliance with the AHCA mandate, is slight and attenuated. Further, Briscoe’s argument implicitly requests that I disregard the distinction between a corporation and its officers and owners. Briscoe cannot use corporate status to shield himself from liability and at the same use it as a sword to assert an RFRA claim.

The court also rejected plaintiffs’ 1st Amendment free exercise, free speech and Establishment Clause challenges.