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Miller v. Caudill

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 23, 2019

April Miller; Karen Ann Roberts; Shantel Burke; Stephen Napier; Jody Fernandez; Kevin Holloway; L. Aaron Skaggs; Barry W. Spartman, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
Elwood Caudill, Jr., in his official capacity as Rowan County Clerk, Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, Rowan County, Kentucky, Defendant-Appellee, Matthew G. Bevin, in his official capacity as Governor of Kentucky; Terry Manuel, in his official capacity as State Librarian and Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Third Party/Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

          Argued: January 31, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Ashland. No. 0:15-cv-00044-David L. Bunning, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Palmer G. Vance, II, STOLL KEENON OGDEN, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Matthew G. Bevin and Terry Manuel.

          William E. Sharp, BLACKBURN DOMENE & BURCHETT, PLLC, Louisville, Kentucky, for April Miller, et al. Roger K. Gannam, LIBERTY COUNSEL, Orlando, Florida, for Elwood Caudill, Jr.

         ON BRIEF:

          Palmer G. Vance, II, William M. Lear, Jr., STOLL KEENON OGDEN, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Matthew G. Bevin and Terry Manuel.

          William E. Sharp, BLACKBURN DOMENE & BURCHETT, PLLC, Louisville, Kentucky, James D. Esseks, Ria Tabacco Mar, Daniel Mach, Heather L. Weaver, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, New York, New York, Daniel J. Canon, Laura E. Landenwich, CLAY DANIEL WALTON & ADAMS, Louisville, Kentucky, Amy D. Cubbage, ACLU OF KENTUCKY, Louisville, Kentucky, for April Miller, et al.

          Roger K. Gannam, Mathew D. Staver, Horatio G. Mihet, Kristina J. Wenberg, LIBERTY COUNSEL, Orlando, Florida, for Elwood Caudill, Jr.

          Jeffrey C. Mando, ADAMS, STEPNER, WOLTERMANN & DUSING, PLLC, Covington, Kentucky, for Rowan County.

          Before: GRIFFIN, WHITE, and BUSH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          GRIFFIN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Under the "American Rule," parties typically pay their own attorney's fees. Congress created an exception, though, for plaintiffs who win cases against government officials over civil-rights violations. Here, plaintiffs applied for marriage licenses only to find that Kim Davis, who oversaw marriage licensing for Rowan County, Kentucky, wouldn't issue them. So they sued her for infringing their constitutional right to marry, and the district court ordered Davis to give them what they wanted. Once they obtained licenses (or chose not to seek them again), they chose not to pursue the lawsuit any further. But they did pursue attorney's fees, which the district court awarded and required the Commonwealth of Kentucky to pay. The Commonwealth, Rowan County, and the official who replaced Davis now contend that plaintiffs didn't win and thus can't recover attorney's fees. They also dispute who must pay the fee award. And Davis's successor challenges the amount of the award. We reject all the issues the parties raise on appeal and therefore affirm.

         I.

         In the summer of 2015, Kim Davis was the County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky. One of her responsibilities was to issue marriage licenses. But same-sex marriage offended her religious beliefs, so when the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015), Davis took matters into her own hands.

         One day after the Supreme Court released Obergefell, Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses. She didn't discriminate against same-sex couples, though; she stopped issuing licenses altogether. That meant that when plaintiffs-two same-sex couples and two different-sex couples who lived in Rowan County-sought marriage licenses from the Clerk's Office, they couldn't get them.

         With a constitutional right to marry yet no ability to obtain marriage licenses within Rowan County, plaintiffs sued Rowan County and Davis, in her individual capacity and in her official capacity as County Clerk. They sought injunctive relief, a declaratory judgment, and damages.

         Plaintiffs promptly moved for a preliminary injunction. The district court granted the motion, enjoining Davis from enforcing her policy against plaintiffs. Davis asked our court and the Supreme Court to stay the injunction, but she didn't prevail. Davis v. Miller, 136 S.Ct. 23 (2015); Miller v. Davis, No. 15-5880, 2015 WL 10692640 (6th Cir. Aug. 26, 2015).

         The morning after the Supreme Court rejected her request for a stay, Davis decided to resist the injunction, so she told her deputy clerks to continue enforcing her no-license policy. Two of the plaintiffs again sought a marriage license but were rebuffed. Plaintiffs then moved for the district court to hold Davis in contempt of the injunction and to expand the injunction's scope to prevent Davis from enforcing her policy against other couples. The district court did both. And after Davis's deputy clerks told the court they would issue marriage licenses, the court gave Davis a ...


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