Second Minnesota lawsuit filed against HHS mandate

| Susan Klemond | February 14, 2013 | 0 Comments
(CNS photo / Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

(CNS photo / Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The owner of a St. Joseph, Minn., business that provided equipment for the rescue in 2010 of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground filed in U.S. District Court last week the second Minnesota lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

Because it would force him to violate Church teaching, Deacon Gregory Hall, president and CEO of American Manufacturing Co., and a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is seeking relief from the HHS mandate (named for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is enforcing it as part of the Affordable Care Act).

The mandate requires that all health insurance plans include contraceptive, sterilization and drugs considered to be abortifacients.

The case comes after a similar lawsuit was filed last year by two Minnesota businessmen. One of the plaintiffs in that case has received a preliminary injunction releasing him and his business from the requirement as the case is being decided. While seeking to protect his conscience, Deacon Hall also feels an obligation to continue providing health insurance without the contraception coverage to his 42 employees after the current term of his health plan expires on April 1, and he is concerned that if he doesn’t offer insurance he could be at a competitive disadvantage, according to the verified complaint filed with the court.

American Manufacturing, which makes products such as mining equipment, mud pumps and drill rigs, has fewer than 50 employees and isn’t required to provide insurance, but its health plan now includes the contraception coverage. Larger for-profit businesses must provide and pay for a health plan with the coverage or face substantial fines.

Deacon Hall’s religious freedom should be protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law seeking to prevent laws that substantially burden the free exercise of religion, according to Erick Kaardal, of Minneapolis-based firm Mohrman & Kaardal, P.A. who is representing Deacon Hall in the case.

Deacon Hall, who lives in Houston, bought the company in 1999. As a deacon, he is not paid by the Galveston-Houston archdiocese and must support his family by other means.

The case is strong “particularly because of the substantial burden [Hall] has taken in his vow of fidelity to the Church,” Kaardal said. “He may have trouble with secular remuneration if he can’t continue to run his business the same way.”

In early February, the Obama administration refined the criteria by which some non-profit religious organization can be exempted or accommodated to opt out of the mandate. For-profit secular companies still must provide and pay for the coverage directly.

Recent injunction

Stuart Lind, owner of the Minnetonka-based medical device company Annex Medical, who is also seeking relief from the HHS mandate, late last month was granted a preliminary injunction enabling him to continue offering his employees health insurance without contraception coverage while the lawsuit he and co-plaintiff businessman Tom Janas is being decided.

The appeal was granted after an earlier motion was denied in U.S. District Court in January. The appeals decision came very close to the date Lind would have been required to either provide the contraception coverage as part of the company’s health plan or drop coverage entirely.

In its decision, the appeals court interpreted a recent Missouri case differently than the district court. Lind’s and Janas’ lawsuit will go before the appeals court this summer or fall, according to Kaardal, who also represents the two businessmen.

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