United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
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For Marsha Caspar, Glenna DeJong, Clint McCormack, Bryan Reamer, Frank Colasonti, Jr., James Barclay Ryder, Samantha Wolf, Martha Rutledge, James Anteau, Jared Haddock, Kelly Callison, Anne Callison, Bianca Racine, Carrie Miller, Martin Contreras, Keith Orr, Plaintiffs: Andrew A. Nickelhoff, Sachs Waldman, Detroit, MI; Brooke A. Merriweather-Tucker, Daniel S. Korobkin, American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Detroit, MI; John A. Knight, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Chicago, IL; Julian Davis Mortenson, Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, MI; Michael J. Steinberg, Jay Kaplan, American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan, Detroit, MI.
For Rick Snyder, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Michigan, Maura Corrigan, in her official capacity as Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, Phil Stoddard, in his official capacity as Director of the Michigan Office of Retirement Services, James Haveman, in his official capacity as Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, Defendants: Christina M. Grossi, Michigan Dept of Attorney General, Lansing, MI; Joshua O. Booth, State of Michigan, Department of Attorney General, Lansing, MI; Michael F. Murphy, MI Dept of Attorney General, State Operations Division, Lansing, MI.
For Erin Dawn Blankenship, Shayla Blankenship, Objectors: Alec S. Gibbs, Law Offices of Gregory T. Gibbs, Flint, MI.
OPINION AND ORDER (1) GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION (Dkt. 17), AND (2) DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR A STAY (Dkt. 20), TO DISMISS (Dkt. 21), AND TO CONSOLIDATE CASES (Dkt. 27)
HON. MARK A. GOLDSMITH, United States District Judge.
The fundamental question in this case is whether officials of the State of Michigan are violating the United States Constitution by refusing to recognize the marital status of same-sex couples whose marriages were solemnized pursuant to Michigan marriage licenses issued in accordance with Michigan law in effect at the time of the marriages. This Court concludes that the continued legal validity of an individual's marital status in such circumstances is a fundamental right comprehended within the liberty protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Even though the court decision that required Michigan to allow same-sex couples to marry has now been reversed on appeal, the same-sex couples who married in Michigan during the brief period when such marriages were authorized acquired a status that state officials may not ignore absent some compelling interest -- a constitutional hurdle that the defense does not even attempt to surmount. In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder.
For the reasons discussed fully below, the Court grants a preliminary injunction requiring the recognition of such marriages and rejects the defense efforts to dismiss, stay, or consolidate this case.
Plaintiffs are eight same-sex couples who were married during a brief window of time -- lasting only a few hours on March 22, 2014 -- one day after the decision of another judge of this District holding that Michigan's refusal to authorize same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. See DeBoer v. Snyder, 973 F.Supp.2d 757 (E.D. Mich. 2014) (Friedman, J.). That district court decision followed a nine-day bench trial addressing whether Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage violated the due-process and equal-protection guarantees of the United States Constitution. The ban is embodied in a state constitutional amendment adopted by a voter referendum in 2004, as well as in earlier-adopted state statutory provisions. Applying
rational-basis review, the district court concluded that the ban denied same-sex couples the equal protection of the laws, because the ban did not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest. Id. at 768. The district court did not address the DeBoer defendants' conditional request for a stay pending appeal in the event of an adverse ruling, which was orally made at the close of the trial.
That late Friday-afternoon decision prompted four local county clerks to open their offices the next day, waive the traditional three-day waiting period, and immediately issue marriage licenses. Plaintiffs were among some 300 same-sex couples who received licenses and solemnized their marriages that Saturday. The window during which same-sex marriage was lawful in Michigan closed abruptly on Saturday afternoon, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a temporary stay (later converted to a full stay pending appeal) of the district court's decision. See DeBoer v. Snyder, No. 14-1341, 3/22/14 Order at 1 (Dkt. 11-2) (" To allow a more reasoned consideration of the motion to stay, it is [ordered] that the district court's judgment [be] temporarily stayed until Wednesday, March 26, 2014." ); id., 3/25/14 Order at 3 (Dkt. 22-1) (granting the defendants' " motion to stay the district court's order pending final disposition of [the defendants'] appeal by this court" ).
Following issuance of the full stay, Michigan Governor Richard Snyder, a defendant in both DeBoer and this action, announced a policy of refusing to recognize the marriages for any purpose under the law, while conceding that the marriages had been lawfully entered into in accordance with Michigan law in effect at the time of the marriages:
After comprehensive legal review of state law and all recent court rulings, we have concluded that same-sex couples were legally married at county clerk offices in the time period between U.S. District Judge Friedman's ruling and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporary stay of that ruling.
In accordance with the law, the U.S. Circuit Court's stay has the effect of suspending the benefits of marriage until further court rulings are issued on this matter. The couples with certificates of marriage from Michigan courthouses last Saturday were legally married and the marriage was valid when entered into. Because the stay brings Michigan law on this issue back into effect, the rights tied to these marriages are suspended until the stay is lifted or Judge Friedman's decision is upheld on appeal.
Compl. ¶ 36 (3/26/14 Written Statement of Governor's Office) (Dkt. 1). The Governor reiterated the policy at a press conference shortly after his written statement was issued:
[F]irst of all, in respect to the marriages themselves, the 300 marriages on that Saturday, we believe those are legal marriages and valid marriages. The opinion had come down. There had not been a stay in place. So with respect to
the marriage events on that day, those were done in a legal process and were legally done.
The stay being issued that next night really makes it more complicated and that's why I asked you to bear with me-- is, although the marriages were legal, what the stay does is reinstate Michigan law, and under Michigan law, it says the State of Michigan will not recognize the fact that they're married because they're of the same sex. So what we have is a situation here where the legal marriages took place on Saturday but, because of the stay that the operation of law is such that we won't recognize the benefits of that marriage until there's a removal of the stay or there's an upholding of the judge's OPINION of Appeals or a higher court.
Compl. ¶ 37.
Plaintiffs then filed this action alleging due-process and equal-protection violations against four state officials in their official capacities: the Governor and the heads of three executive departments with responsibilities over benefits that Plaintiffs claim will be impaired by the non-recognition policy. Plaintiffs allege intangible harms, such as loss of dignity,
id. ¶ 98, feelings of " uncertainty and anxiety," id. ¶ 46, " disappointment,"
id. ¶ 60, loss of " peace of mind," id. ¶ 71, as well as " hurt" and " dishearten[ment],"
id. ¶ 77. They also allege more tangible harms. Several Plaintiffs applied for health-insurance benefits based on their marital status, only to be told by their employers that the applicants could not be recognized as married under their insurance plans because of the state's non-recognition policy. Id. ¶ ¶ 65, 75. Other Plaintiffs allege impairment of their efforts to adopt children together, because Michigan will not allow two single persons to adopt jointly the same child. Id. ¶ ¶ 54, 73. Still others allege loss of spousal-pension benefits,
id. ¶ 59, state income-tax benefits, id. ¶ 70, and financial-aid benefits,
id. ¶ 83.
Plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction (Dkt. 17), seeking an order requiring Defendants to recognize their marriages and the marriages of the other same-sex couples who were married before the issuance of the Sixth Circuit stay. Defendants opposed the motion (Dkt. 22), claiming principally that the Sixth Circuit stay reinstituted Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage, and that the continued validity of Plaintiffs' marriages was tied to the ultimate appellate disposition of DeBoer. Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) (Dkt. 21), raising several other defenses, including Eleventh Amendment immunity, standing, ripeness, failure to state a claim, and the absence of sufficient grounds for declaratory relief. In addition, Defendants filed a motion for a stay of this action until resolution of the appeal in DeBoer (Dkt. 20), as well as a motion to consolidate this case with a separate case pending before another judge of this District, Blankenship v. Snyder, No. 14-12221 (Dkt. 27).
The Sixth Circuit has now spoken in DeBoer. DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014). It reversed the district court's decision and upheld Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage (as well as the bans in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio). It concluded that the Supreme Court has already held that same-sex couples have no constitutional right to marry, by virtue of the Supreme Court's one-line order in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810, 93 S.Ct. 37, 34 L.Ed.2d 65 (1972), which dismissed the appeal of a lawsuit challenging a Minnesota same-sex marriage ban because it did not raise " a substantial federal question."
DeBoer, 772 F.3d at 400 (quotation marks omitted). Rejecting the theory that United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675, 186 L.Ed.2d 808 (2013) overturned Baker when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act
of 1996 for the act's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages allowed in some states, the Sixth Circuit examined numerous grounds urged in support of same-sex marriage and found all lacking. Notably, for purposes of our case, the Sixth Circuit did not address the question presented here: whether same-sex couples who were married pursuant to Michigan marriage licenses issued under Michigan law -- as it stood at the time their marriages were solemnized -- may, consistent with the Constitution, be stripped by the state of their marital status. The plaintiffs in DeBoer have filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014), petition for cert. filed, No. 14-571 (U.S. Nov. 14, 2014), which remains pending at this time.
The preliminary injunction motion and the motion to dismiss are discussed below in tandem, as they both require inquiry into the viability of Plaintiffs' claims. Defendants' motions to stay and to consolidate are discussed thereafter.
A. Motions for a Preliminary Injunction and to Dismiss
1. Standards of Decision
The standard for a preliminary injunction is well known: " A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20, 129 S.Ct. 365, 172 L.Ed.2d 249 (2008). Typically, no one factor is dispositive; rather they are to be considered as an integrative whole. Liberty Coins, L.L.C. v. Goodman, 748 F.3d 682, 690 (6th Cir. 2014) (" Each of these factors should be balanced against one another and should not be considered prerequisites to the grant of a preliminary injunction." (quotation marks and brackets omitted)). However, where a plaintiff demonstrates a likelihood of success on a claimed constitutional violation, a preliminary injunction is nearly always appropriate. Obama for Am. v. Husted, 697 F.3d 423, 436 (6th Cir. 2012) (" When a party seeks a preliminary injunction on the basis of a potential constitutional violation, the likelihood of success on the merits often will be the determinative factor." (quotation marks omitted)). As the discussion below demonstrates, all of the factors point decidedly in favor of granting an injunction in this case.
In a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), " the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction." Moir v. Greater Cleveland Reg'l Transit Auth., 895 F.2d 266, 269 (6th Cir. 1990). Challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction fall into two general categories: " facial attacks" -- which argue that the pleading allegations are insufficient -- and " factual attacks" -- which challenge the factual veracity of the allegations. United States v. Ritchie, 15 F.3d 592, 598 (6th Cir. 1994). On a motion raising a facial attack, " the court must take the material allegations of the petition as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id. In reviewing a motion raising a factual attack, " the court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case." Id.
In evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), " [c]ourts must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, accept all well-pled factual allegations as true, and determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief." Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks, brackets, and
citations omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead specific factual allegations, and not just legal conclusions, in support of each claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). A complaint will be dismissed unless, when all well-pled factual allegations are accepted as true, the complaint states a " plausible claim for relief." Id. at 679.
With these standards in mind, the Court begins by examining the four factors for a preliminary injunction.
2. Likelihood of Success on the Merits
a. Due Process
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that no person shall be deprived of " life, liberty or property without due process of law," protects more than fair process. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Tex., 503 U.S. 115, 125, 112 S.Ct. 1061, 117 L.Ed.2d 261 (1992). The doctrine of substantive due process safeguards individual liberty against " certain government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them." Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 331, 106 S.Ct. 662, 88 L.Ed.2d 662 (1986). Determining which spheres of human endeavor deserve protection under the Due Process Clause from which types of government encroachment is a query that has occupied the judicial mind since the late 19th century. See McDonald v. City of Chicago, Ill., 561 U.S. 742, 759, 130 S.Ct. 3020, 177 L.Ed.2d 894 (2010).
Because an overly expansive view of substantive due process heightens the risk that judges may impose their own legislative preferences in the guise of interpreting the Due Process Clause, courts must exercise " caution and restraint." Moore v. City of E. Cleveland, Ohio, 431 U.S. 494, 502, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 52 L.Ed.2d 531 (1977). Restraint, however, " does not counsel abandonment." Id.
The admonishment of restraint is illustrated by the Court's general disinclination to afford heightened judicial scrutiny under the Due Process Clause to routine legislation touching on economic and social affairs. McDonald, 561 U.S. at 879 (Stevens, J., dissenting) (" Ever since the deviant economic due process cases were repudiated, our doctrine has steered away from laws that touch economic problems, business affairs, or social conditions . . . ." (quotation marks, brackets, and citations omitted)). Rather, heightened judicial scrutiny under the Due Process Clause is afforded to those claimed ...