Inniss v. Aderhold
Case #: 15-90002 (11th Circuit); 1:2014cv01180 (Federal District Court)
Court Level: Federal District Court
Date Filed: 22 April 2014
Date of Appeal: 9 February 2015
- Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in Federal District Court (11th) for the Northern District of Georgia on behalf of a widow and three same-sex couples challenging Georgia’s discriminatory marriage ban.
- The case was filed on behalf of Christopher Inniss and Shelton Stroman of Snellville, Rayshawn Chandler and Avery Chandler of Jonesboro, Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas of Atlanta, and Jennifer Sisson of Decatur.
- 14 August 2014, the plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint.
- 6 October 2014, the plaintiffs filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority informing the district court of the Oct. 6th cert denials from SCOTUS. Georgia is in the 11th Circuit, so this district court is not bound by any of the appeals courts decision that became final on Oct. 6th. However, the plaintiffs state, "The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari confirms that Baker v. Nelson is nugatory."
- 22 October 2014, the defendants filed their Reply in support of motion to dismiss.
- 24 November 2014, plaintiffs filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority.
- 27 November 2014, Lambda Legal cites Arkansas, Mississippi decisions in Georgia gay marriage case - By Patrick Saunders, GA VOICE
- 8 January 2015, an Opinion and Order were issued, denying the defendants' motion to dismiss.
- 11 January 2015, from Kathleen Perrin of Equality Case Files regarding the 8 January 2015 ruling: During the 9 January 2015 Marriage Equality USA community call, we had a question about the order that was issued denying the motion to dismiss. Unfortunately, no one on the panel had read the opinion yet and so couldn't say much about it. I'm offering a brief synopsis of what it says and what the implications are.
BAKER v. NELSON
First, Judge Duffey decides that the Supreme Court's 1972 summary dismissal of Baker v. Nelson does not require dismissal of the case here - that is, the case may go forward. He then turns to the Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection claims, analyzing the nature of the claims asserted and what standards of review are required.
DUE PROCESS CLAIM (burdening the fundamental right to marriage)
Judge Duffey concludes that all of the case law establishing a right to marry applies only to a fundamental right to marry a member of the opposite sex whereas here, the Plaintiffs are asserting a fundamental right to marry a person of the same sex. Then, having determined that the nature of the right asserted is a right to “same-sex marriage,” he analyzes whether this right is fundamental, i.e., whether it is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed,” and concludes it is not:
“The Court concludes that Georgia’s marriage laws do not implicate a fundamental right to marry a person of the same sex. Because Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right, under the Due Process Clause, to marry a person of the same sex, the Court is required to review Georgia’s marriage laws under the rational basis standard.”
WINDSOR'S HEIGHTENED SCRUTINY
As a separate matter, Judge Duffey does an analysis of the standard of review in Windsor and looks at whether the Windsor decision requires him to apply some form of heightened scrutiny to the Georgia law. While he agrees that Windsor uses a balancing test not consistent with mere rational basis review, he also concludes that:
“Windsor simply does not hold that sexual orientation is a suspect class subject to heightened scrutiny, and the Supreme Court did not express an opinion on whether a State law that limits marriages to opposite-sex couples should be subjected to heightened scrutiny. The Court declines to divine from Windsor a fundamental right to same-sex marriage or import Windsor’s balancing test, applied to the unique impact of DOMA, on a State’s marriage statute.”
EQUAL PROTECTION CLAIM (discrimination based on sex, sex stereotypes, and sexual orientation)
As to sex, he states, “Georgia’s marriage laws prevent a person from marrying someone of the same sex. They do not discriminate against men or women as a class” so do not constitute sex discrimination.
As to sex stereotypes, he says, “With the exception of a concurring opinion from the Ninth Circuit, federal courts have not embraced that sexual orientation discrimination should be viewed as a form of sex stereotyping.” And “Even if the Court entertained the theory advanced by Plaintiffs, the Amended Complaint does not plead factual content to support that Georgia’s marriage laws perpetuate sex stereotypes.”
Thus, Judge Duffey concludes Georgia laws discriminate only on the basis of sexual orientation and further, that in the Eighth Circuit, such laws need to only pass rational basis review:
“In our Circuit, classifications based on sexual orientation are scrutinized under the rational basis standard, and the Court is required to analyze whether laws that differentiate based on sexual orientation are rationally related to a legitimate State interest.”
RATIONAL BASIS REVIEW
The State claims that Georgia laws further the State's interest in encouraging procreation and child welfare. Judge Duffey notes that, while the State asserts these interests in its motion to dismiss, the State didn't include in its motion any specific facts to back up the assertion. He states, “[a]t a minimum, the Court is required to 'insist on knowing the relation between the classification adopted and the object to be obtained' to 'ensure that classifications are not drawn for the purpose of disadvantaging the group burdened by the law.'” (citing Romer)
Judge Duffey did not dismiss the case outright, but makes it clear that Plaintiffs will ultimately prevail only if they can show that the Georgia marriage bans, which discriminate based on sexual orientation, fail rational basis review, i.e., are not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.
Noting that some courts have struck down bans based only on a failure to pass rational basis review, Judge Duffey notes, “Each State is entitled to the court’s consideration of the reasons the State advances for the laws it enacts in determining if they are rationally related to the law passed.” and also says, (in fn 16, pg 43), “The Court, however, does not express a view on whether Georgia’s prohibition on same-sex marriage meets the rational basis test because, at this stage in the proceedings, Defendants have failed to explain the claimed relationship between its asserted interests and Georgia’s marriage laws.”
The case was formally stayed pending this decision on the motion to dismiss. This order means the case is not dead and will now move forward, but where it will go from here and at what pace is difficult to tell at present.
Georgia is in the 11th Circuit, and any decision reached in the Florida appeal will become binding precedent that Judge Duffey must follow. Also, as we all know, the Supreme Court may take up a marriage case this term. Judge Duffey has certainly demonstrated no sense of urgency in moving this case along and now, with one or more higher courts poised to make decisions relatively soon (soon in “litigation time") he – and possibly one or more parties – may want to take a wait-and-see approach before the next substantive step.
My guess is that we will see something on the docket soon that gives us a better idea of what to expect next and, as always, EQCF will keep you up to date.
- 20 January 2015, the State defendants asked that proceedings in this case be put on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the marriage cases, and submitted a proposed order.
- 23 January 2015, the Judge called for responses to the state defendants' motion to put the case on hold. Responses due 28 January 2015.
- 26 January 2015, Gwinnett County Probate Court Clerk joined in the request to stay proceedings until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issues.
- 27 January 2015, the plaintiffs filed their response to the state's motion to put the case on hold until the Supreme Court rules on the marriage cases. "Plaintiffs are keenly aware that every passing day without access to marriage inflicts profound harms on same-sex couples in Georgia." But given that the defendants want at least four months of discovery if the case were to proceed now and that the SCOTUS ruling will influence - perhaps decide - this case, plaintiffs agree to the stay.
- 29 January 2015, an Order was issued on the motion to stay the proceedings: Granted as to discovery; Denied as to any non-discovery pleadings, including the state's obligation to answer the plaintiffs' complaint; and the court of its own accord certifies its earlier order on the motion to dismiss for immediate appeal. Per the rules, the parties now have 10 days to initiate that appeal.
Per Kathleen Perrin of EQCF: "As to the last item, usually an order that denies a motion to dismiss is not something that can be appealed until the case comes to a final conclusion. The court can, however, give the parties permission to appeal the order sooner. That is what happened here, the court - on its own - certified the order as one that is subject to immediate appeal."
- 9 February 2015, the parties filed petitions with the 11th Circuit asking permission to appeal the order denying dismissal: the plaintiffs' petition; and, the defendants' petition.
Per Kathleen Perrin at EQCF: "An order denying a motion to dismiss is not one that would usually be appealable before the case comes to an end - that is, it would not be an order subject to "interlocutory" appeal, but the district court judge certified it so that it could be appealed immediately. However, even with the certification for interlocutory appeal, this is not an appeal that a Circuit Court of Appeals is required to take up, so parties are required to petition the 11th Circuit for permission to appeal."
- 13 February 2015, the State Defendants filed their Answer to the Plaintiffs' 14 August 2014 Amended Complaint. NOTE this Correction: In a prior order, the judge put discovery on hold in this case, but the deadline for this answer remained. The judge also certified his earlier order denying the motion to dismiss as one that could be immediately appealed. A̶l̶l̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶t̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶l̶e̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶d̶e̶a̶d̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶s̶u̶c̶h̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶a̶p̶p̶e̶a̶l̶ ̶p̶a̶s̶s̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶f̶i̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶i̶c̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶a̶p̶p̶e̶a̶l̶,̶ ̶m̶o̶s̶t̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶l̶y̶ ̶b̶e̶c̶a̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶1̶1̶t̶h̶ ̶C̶i̶r̶c̶u̶i̶t̶ ̶i̶n̶d̶i̶c̶a̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶s̶u̶c̶h̶ ̶a̶p̶p̶e̶a̶l̶ ̶w̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶t̶a̶k̶e̶n̶ ̶u̶p̶ ̶u̶n̶t̶i̶l̶ ̶a̶f̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶S̶u̶p̶r̶e̶m̶e̶ ̶C̶o̶u̶r̶t̶ ̶i̶s̶s̶u̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶r̶u̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶r̶r̶i̶a̶g̶e̶ ̶c̶a̶s̶e̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶t̶e̶r̶m̶. CORRECTION: Parties have petitioned for permission to appeal the certified order.
- 17 February 2015, the 11th Circuit put consideration of the petitions on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the marriage cases.