United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division
DRELL, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
original plaintiff in this litigation filed two motions
within the same document (Doc. 123). We recount the
procedural history of the case to clarify the underpinnings
of this ruling and status of the case.
original complaint was filed by Louisiana College
("LC") seeking several forms of relief from this
court. LC's main claim sought sanctuary under the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), 42
U.S.C. § 2000bb, et seq. by judicial review of
certain regulations requiring LC to, inter alia,
self-certify that it was an "eligible organization"
with a religious objection to providing contraceptive
coverage in order to avoid the contraceptive mandate
contained within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act ("ACA"), Pub. L. No. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119
(2010), which would otherwise require employers, like LC, to
provide employee health benefits including contraceptives as
a covered benefit.
many other similarly-situated organizations, LC asserted that
the regulations promulgated by the United States Department
of Health and Human Services ("HHS"), the United
States Department of Labor ("DOL") and the United
States Department of Treasury ("Treasury")
(collectively, "Agencies") impermissibly infringed
upon its sincerely held religious beliefs and that it was
entitled to an exemption from compliance with the both the
contraceptive mandate and the self-certification exception
based upon protections afforded to it by RFRA. (Docs. 1, 29,
77). LC's complaint initially sought injunctive relief.
However, at that time, district courts across the country
were simultaneously considering similar claims. Notably,
because of the ruling of the Tenth Circuit Court of
Appeals in Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged,
Denver, Colorado v. Burwell 794 F.3d 1151
(10th Cir. 2015), LC voluntarily withdrew its
demand for injunctive relief. (Doc. 102). In Zubik v.
Burwell 136 S.Ct. 1557 (2016), the United States Supreme
Court consolidated many of these cases, including cases from
the Fifth and Third Circuits in which injunctive relief was
denied and, recognizing the emerging feasibility of a
workable compromise between the ACA's contraceptive
mandate and petitioners' sincere desire to take no part
in the provision of such benefit, vacated the circuits'
prior rulings and remanded them to their respective circuit
courts for disposition without expressing any view on the
merits of the several claims. Id. at 1560.
factually significant in terms of the larger national issues
of religious freedom, the Zubik decision had only
marginal effect in the instant case, given LC's voluntary
withdrawal of its motion for injunctive relief. In short,
this court has not ruled on the merits of LC's prior
motion for such relief. Instead, this case proceeded to
decision on the merits by motion to dismiss and cross-motion
for summary judgment. (Docs. 81, 91, 106, 107, 108). In our
August 13, 2014 ruling and accompanying judgment, we found LC
was entitled to relief under RFRA and ruled in LC's
favor. Finding that the relief afforded under RFRA disposed
of the issues, we did not address LC's constitutional
claims. In addition, we designated our ruling as final.
(Docs. 107, 107, 108).
government appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit in
October of 2014 and the appeal sat, essentially without
action, until January 5, 2018. (Doc. 115). It is our
understanding that this delay is owed mostly to the route of
Zubik toward and through the U.S. Supreme Court and
the time awaiting a decision in that matter. In any event, on
January 5, 2018, the government's appeal was voluntarily
dismissed, and no further action was taken in this case until
the current motion was filed in August of 2018. (Doc. 123).
Louisiana College's Current Requests
makes three (3) current requests of this court. First, it
takes the position that, because its motion for injunctive
relief was withdrawn and before being argued before the
court, the matter of injunctive relief is not final and a
matter which might still be considered by this court. It asks
this court for issuance of a permanent injunction in its
favor recognizing its rights under RFRA in accordance with
our prior ruling on the merits.
LC asks for declaratory relief that, in the court's view,
is identical to the injunctive relief described above. LC
vaguely requests a declaration of relationship between the
parties that entitles it to some relief greater than that
previously granted by this court in 2014. Though, again, no
detail is provided as to what specific traits this
declaratory relief would possess to make it somehow better
than relief already obtained, we understand that its purpose
would be to act as a shield for this court's 2014 ruling
and judgment. Recent edits to regulations intended to bolster
the positions of entities like LC have generated a host of
new litigation and this court is aware of the relative
insecurity created by this climate. Inclusion of larger
numbers and types of organizations within the ambit of
religious objectors exempted from the ACA's contraceptive
mandate now forms the basis of a multitude of lawsuits and,
notably, nationwide injunctions. See, e.g.
Pennsylvania v. Trump, 281 F.Supp.3d 553 (E.D. Pa.
we understand LC's concerns, they do not translate into
an actionable basis for relief in this court. LC is unable to
articulate an actual harm at this point and, as such, this
court would not be able to articulate a specific relief and
is not permitted to render hypothetical relief. Gagliardi
v. TJCV Land Trust, 889 F.3d 2018 (11th Cir.
2018) (Florida court's invalidation of proposed
government expenditure rendered appellants' claims moot
because any relief that could be fashioned by the court would
have been hypothetical and such advisory ruling violates the
justiciability requirement of constitutional standing). Of
course, should some future circumstance bring actual harm to
the relief afforded to LC under this court's 2014 ruling,
it is free to file suit to protect its rights under that
ruling, based on facts as they would then exist.
LC requests leave to bring an out-of-time claim for attorney
fees. The record in this case is clear that the issue of
attorney fees is barred, making this third request for relief
an equitable one. Specifically, as reflected in its original
and supplemental complaints (Docs. 81, 91, 106, 107, 108), LC
requested attorney fees early on in this litigation.
Following issuance of the court's August 2014 ruling and
judgment, LC requested an extension of time to file its
motion for attorney fees, which was granted, permitting LC to
file any such motion no later than 21 days after the issuance
of a mandate by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as to
any appeal that might be filed by the government. (Doc. 110).
As recounted above, that mandate was issued on January 5,
2018, giving LC until January 26, 2018 to file its motion for
attorney fees. The record shows that LC filed no motion for
attorney fees and the delay afforded by the court has long
matter lies within the court's sound discretion and, in
the interest of thorough consideration, we note several
aspects of the choice we must make. First, the request is
justifiably opposed by the government because of its
potential precedential effect. Second, the request's
arrival, some seven (7) months after its due date, is
excessive in its untimeliness and is not owed to excusable
neglect. Third, this case was allowed to proceed to ruling
and judgment without further request from LC along the way.
The court finds that permitting LC to reopen the issue of
attorney fees at this time would neither be fair, nor