Cutler v. HHS, No. 14-5183 (D.C. Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit challenging the religious exemption in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. No. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119, as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Plaintiff also argued that the Administration’s decision to temporarily suspend enforcement of some of the Act’s requirements for a transitional period deprived him of the equal protection of the laws. The district court granted the government's motion to dismiss and held that plaintiff lacked standing to bring either claim. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff lacks standing to assert his equal protection claim because nothing in the transitional policy requires him to buy insurance. In this case, plaintiff's inability to maintain his old plan was the independent choice of his insurer. The court concluded, however, that plaintiff did have standing to bring his Establishment Clause challenge. On the merits, the court concluded that the claim fails because the qualifications for exemption are not drawn on sectarian lines. Rather, they simply sort out which faiths have a proven track record of adequately meeting the statutory goals. Moreover, the exemption promotes the Establishment Clause’s concerns by ensuring that those without religious objections do not bear the financial risk and price of care for those who exempt themselves from the tax. As configured by this specific statutory framework, that is an objective, non-sectarian basis for cabining the exemption’s reach.