Dierlam v. Trump, No. 18-20440 (5th Cir. Oct. 15, 2020) (Clement, Haynes, Willett)
John Dierlam, a Roman Catholic, was enrolled in his employer-provided health-insurance plan. After learning about the changes to the plan's coverage of contraceptives and "abortion services" mandated by the Affordable Care Act, however, Dierlam dropped his insurance to avoid "support[ing] these services through payment of premiums and fees." Unable to find alternative insurance services consistent with his faith, Dierlam went without insurance and paid the ACA's shared-responsibility payment in 2014 and 2015.
In 2016, Dierlam sued the Government pro se, bringing a slew of statutory and constitutional claims. He sought both retrospective relief (a refund of his shared-responsibility payments) and prospective relief (an injunction of the individual and contraceptive mandates, a declaration that the mandates are unconstitutional, and a simpler exemption process).
The Government moved to dismiss Dierlam’s claims. A magistrate judge recommended granting the Government’s motion in its entirety. At the hearing on objections to the magistrate judge’s report, the district court dismissed with prejudice all of Dierlam’s claims.
The Fifth Circuit's opinion focused on whether changes to the ACA while Dierlam's case was progressing mooted his claims for prospective relief and whether the district court erred in refusing to permit him to amend his complaint to cure jurisdictional deficiencies relevant to his claims for retrospective relief. In an opinion for a unanimous panel, Judge Willett explains that the magistrate judge and district court's mootness analysis was "incomplete and incorrect":
The Court also vacated and remanded Dierlam's claim for retrospective relief in which he seeks a refund of his 2014 and 2015 shared-responsibility payments. The panel agreed with the parties that the district court erred by dismissing with prejudice.
Judge Willett's opinion concludes with a mandate that any subsequent appeal in this case "should be assigned to the same panel." (citing Constructora Subacuatica Diavaz, S.A. v. M/V Hiryu, 718 F.2d 690, 693 (5th Cir. 1983)).