United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For Katherine Bradacs, Tracie Goodwin, Plaintiffs: Carrie A Warner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Warner Payne and Black, Columbia, SC; John Shannon Nichols, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bluestein and Nichols, Columbia, SC; Laura W Morgan, PRO HAC VICE, LEAD ATTORNEY, Family Law Consulting, Charlottesville, VA.
For Don Boyd, Movant, Pro se, Columbia, SC.
For Alan M Wilson, In his official capacity as Attorney General of South Carolina, Defendant: Alan Wilson, Brendan McDonald, James Emory Smith, Jr, Robert Dewayne Cook, LEAD ATTORNEYS, SC Attorney General's Office, Columbia, SC; Ian Parks Weschler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of Attorney General (SC), Columbia, SC.
For Lawyers' Committee for Children's Rights, Amicus: Alexander M Sanders, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Sanders and Nettles, Columbia, SC; Bert Glenn Utsey, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick, Walterboro, SC; John D Elliott, LEAD ATTORNEY, John D Elliott Law Office, Columbia, SC.
ORDER AND OPINION
J. Michelle Childs, United States District Judge.
Plaintiffs Katherine Bradacs (" Bradacs" ) and Tracie Goodwin (" Goodwin" ) (collectively " Plaintiffs" ) filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking " to challenge the constitutionality of South Carolina's laws and constitutional provisions that deny legal recognition in South Carolina to the marriages of same-sex couples who are married in one of the many states and numerous foreign countries where same-sex marriages are legal." (ECF No. 41 at 1 ¶ 1 (citing S.C. Const. Art. XVII, § 15; S.C. Code § 20-1-15 (1976)).)
This matter is before the court pursuant to a Motion by Defendants Nimrata Randhawa Haley (" Defendant Haley" ), in her official capacity as Governor of South Carolina; and Alan M. Wilson (" Defendant Wilson" ), in his official capacity as Attorney General, (collectively " Defendants" ) for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). (ECF No. 78.) Plaintiffs oppose Defendants' Motion asserting that they have failed to establish that they are entitled to judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). (ECF No. 82.) For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO THE PENDING MOTION
Plaintiffs, who are both female, were married in the District of Columbia on April 6, 2012. (ECF No. 41-1.) Despite that their marriage is legally recognized by the federal government pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, U.S., 133 S.Ct. 2675, 186 L.Ed.2d 808 (2013), Plaintiffs' marriage is not recognized in the State of South Carolina. As a result, Plaintiffs filed a Verified Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Other Relief on August 28, 2013, seeking relief for claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of due process, claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of equal protection under the United States Constitution on the basis of sexual orientation and on the basis of sex, and claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of due process and equal protection by failing to honor the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, all in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the South Carolina statutes and constitutional provisions disallowing the recognition of their same-sex marriage violate their rights to due process and equal protection under the laws, a preliminary and permanent injunction against Defendants and others enforcing the application of these allegedly illegal laws and directing the State of South Carolina to recognize Plaintiffs' marriage and those marriages validly entered into by other same-sex couples outside of the State of South Carolina. (Id.)
Defendants filed their Answer on November 14, 2013. (ECF No. 29.) In their Answer, Defendants deny that Plaintiffs' suit
has any legal merit or that Plaintiffs are entitled to any relief or that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right. Defendants further assert that Plaintiffs lack standing to raise any claims on behalf of themselves or as to other same-sex couples, that the State of South Carolina is not required to give recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions and that such recognition would be contrary to the Tenth Amendment and the sovereign interests of the State, and that Defendants are entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity. (Id.)
On January 23, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint to add an additional cause of action regarding due process and equal protection under the Constitution of South Carolina. (ECF No. 37.) In their Verified Amended Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Other Relief, Plaintiffs also requested that the court enjoin Defendants from denying Plaintiffs and all other same-sex couples the right to marry. (ECF No. 37-1.) Defendants consented to the motion. (ECF No. 38.) Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed Verified Amended Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Other Relief on February 21, 2014. (ECF No. 41.) Defendants filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint on March 14, 2014, asserting essentially the same or similar defenses as stated in the Answer to the original Complaint. (ECF No. 45.)
On April 3, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion to Stay and Hold Cross-Motions Deadline in Abeyance in which they requested that the court stay the proceedings in this case until the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued its final opinion in the appeal of the same-sex marriage decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Bostic v. Rainey, 970 F.Supp.2d 456 (E.D. Va. Feb. 13, 2014). (ECF No. 47.) The court granted Defendants' Motion to Stay on April 22, 2014. (ECF No. 54.) The Fourth Circuit issued its ruling in the Bostic case on July 28, 2014. Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014). Thereafter, on October 6, 2014, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in the companion matters of Rainey v. Bostic, 135 S.Ct. 286, 190 L.Ed.2d 140 (2014), Schaefer v. Bostic, 135 S.Ct. 308, 190 L.Ed.2d 140 (2014), and McQuigg v. Bostic, 135 S.Ct. 314, 190 L.Ed.2d 140 (2014). By denying certiorari in these cases, the Supreme Court, in effect, did not overturn the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014). In Bostic, the Fourth Circuit held that marriage laws prohibiting legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Virginia " violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent that they prevent same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples' lawful out-of-state marriages." Id. at 384. On October 7, 2014, the court sua sponte lifted the stay in this case and directed the parties to submit a proposed Amended Scheduling Order and/or Briefing Schedule to the court by October 15, 2014. (ECF No. 70.) The parties consented to a Scheduling Order which required that the dispositive motions in this case be filed by October 23, 2014, with responses and replies to follow thereafter in accordance with the scheduling order. (ECF No. 71.).
On October 20, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment requesting that the court declare as unconstitutional the South Carolina statutes and constitutional provisions precluding persons from entering same-sex marriages or having their out-of-state valid same-sex marriages recognized in South Carolina and enter
judgment in their favor. (ECF No. 75.) On October 23, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings arguing that this action is barred by federalism and the Eleventh Amendment, and that Plaintiffs lack standing to sue Defendants. (ECF No. 78.) On October 31, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, to which Defendants filed a reply in support of their motion on November 4, 2014. (ECF Nos. 82, 85.)
Although Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Summary Judgment first in this case, the court finds it more prudent to rule first on Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings since such a motion is based solely on the pleadings.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) provides that " [a]fter the pleadings are closed--but early enough not to delay trial--a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Id. " A fairly restrictive standard" is applied in ruling on a Rule 12(c) motion, as " hasty or imprudent use of this summary procedure by the courts violates the policy in favor of ensuring to each litigant a full and fair hearing on the merits of his or her claim or defense." Greenwich Ins. Co. v. Garrell, Civil Action No. 4:11-cv-02743-RBH, 2013 WL 869602, at *4 (D.S.C. Mar. 7, 2013) (quoting 5C Charles A. Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1368 (3d ed. 2011)). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is intended to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint and will operate to dispose of claims " where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noted facts." Cont'l Cleaning Serv. v. UPS, No. 1:98CV1056, 1999 WL 1939249, at *1 (M.D.N.C. Apr. 13, 1999) (citing Herbert Abstract v. Touchstone ...