Wheaton College asks court to order U.S. to pay its $1.2M legal bills in Obamacare religious freedom case

By Cook County Record | Sep 14, 2018

CHICAGO – After obtaining a victory against the federal government over the question of whether the so-called contraceptive mandate violates its religious freedom, Wheaton College is asking a federal judge to order the government to pay its legal bills in the case.

The college filed a motion for attorney fees and nontaxable expenses on Sept. 7, seeking $1.2 million in fees. 

As stated in the motion, Wheaton College "seeks fees for services performed by its lead counsel, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and by Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, which is Wheaton’s long-time outside counsel and which served as co-counsel (and local counsel) for the litigation." 

In February, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. ended years of litigation over the matter, issuing a permanent injunction barring the federal government from attempting to force the prominent evangelical Christian college in Chicago’s western suburbs from having to pay for its employees’ contraception, which the college had argued would violate its religious rights.

In ordering the injunction, Dow noted “Wheaton has demonstrated, and (the federal government) defendants now concede, that enforcement of the contraceptive mandate against Wheaton would violate Wheaton’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” adding “the public interest in the vindication of religious freedom favors the entry of an injunction.”

Wheaton College and the federal government had been litigating the question since 2014, when the college first faced the prospect of having to pay fines of $100 per person per day if they chose to not abide by the mandate promulgated by the Obama Administration under the Affordable Care Act law, also known as Obamacare. 

In its motion for fees, Wheaton noted objections from the federal government to its request, but asserted those objections come "too little and too late." Wheaton asserts the government waived all objections, by, among other reasons, "failing to provide any evidentiary support for its contention that Wheaton’s billing rates are unreasonable." 

Wheaton also claimed in the motion the same waived objections were "meritless," pointing that "the Government has little ground to argue that the involvement of several attorneys over a five-year period of litigation is too many."

The government, per the motion, proposed Wheaton "recover for only 30 percent of the hours its counsel actually worked to win the case."

In addition to the fees, Wheaton was also requesting agreed legal fees of $22,282, and agreed expenses of $2,550.

Wheaton is represented in the motion by attorneys Mark Rienzi and Diana Vern, of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and by Christian Poland, of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP of Chicago. 

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Case number 1:13-cv-08910

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Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Wheaton College

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