United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
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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, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Family Law Consulting, Charlottesville, VA.
Chris Sevier, Movant, Pro se, Charleston, SC.
For Nimrata Randhawa Haley, in her official capacity as Governor of South Carolina, also known as Nikki Haley, Alan M Wilson, In his official capacity as Attorney General of South Carolina, Defendants: Alan Wilson, James Emory Smith, Jr, Robert Dewayne Cook, LEAD ATTORNEYS, SC Attorney General's 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 against Defendants Nimrata Randhawa Haley, in her official capacity as Governor of South Carolina; and Alan M. Wilson (individually " Defendant" ), in his official capacity as Attorney General, 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 on Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (ECF No. 75.) Defendant opposes Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment asserting that the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014), which invalidated a Virginia statute and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, was wrongly decided, and therefore this court should decline to follow it. (ECF No. 79.) For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment.
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 a 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.) Defendants further filed a Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment on October 28, 2014. (ECF No. 79.) On October 31, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Response to Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, to which Defendants filed a Reply to Return to Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on November 4, 2014. (ECF Nos. 82, 85.)
Although Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Summary Judgment first in this case, the court found it more prudent to rule first on Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings since such a motion is based solely on the pleadings. On November 10, 2014, this court issued an Order and Opinion (the " November Order" ) granting in part and denying in part Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (ECF No. 89.) In the November Order, this court found that Plaintiffs have standing to bring this suit seeking legal recognition of their same-sex marriage in the State of South Carolina, but did not find that Plaintiffs have sufficiently established standing to seek relief regarding the application and issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in South Carolina. (Id. at 11-13.) The court barred the suit as to Governor Haley under the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed her from the suit, but found that Defendant falls under the Ex parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity and is not shielded by immunity in this action. (Id. at 16-20.) The court further found that Plaintiffs had sufficiently stated plausible allegations of constitutional violations, and thus their claim survives a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Id. at 13-15.)
Plaintiffs filed a Reply to Defendants' Return to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment on November 10, 2014. (ECF No. 88.) Also on November 10, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Stay pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 62, requesting that the court grant a stay pending appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit should the court decide to grant summary judgment to Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 91.)
On November 12, 2014, the Honorable Richard M. Gergel, United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, issued an order in the case of Condon v. Haley, finding that " S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-10(B)-(C), S.C. Code Ann. § 20-1-15 and S.C. Constitution art. XVII, § 15, to the extent they seek to prohibit the marriage of same sex couples who otherwise meet all other requirements for marriage in South Carolina, unconstitutionally infringe on the rights of Plaintiffs under the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and are invalid as a matter of law." Condon v. Wilson, Civil Action No. 2:14-4010-RMG, 21 F.Supp.3d 572, 2014 WL 5897175, at *11 (D.S.C. Nov. 12, 2014). In the Condon order, Judge Gergel also issued a permanent injunction, enjoining Defendant and Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin G. Condon and " their officers, agents, servants and employees" from enforcing the provisions, from " [i]nterfering in any manner with Plaintiffs' fundamental right to marry or in the issuance of a marriage license to Plaintiffs," and from " [r]efusing to issue Plaintiffs a marriage license if, but for their sex, they are otherwise qualified to marry under the laws of South Carolina." Id.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment should be granted " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment " should be granted only where it is perfectly clear that no issue of fact is involved and inquiry into the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law . . . [a]nd this is true even where there is no dispute as to the evidentiary facts in the case but only as to the conclusions to be drawn therefrom." Stevens v. Howard D. Johnson Co., 181 F.2d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 1950) (internal citations omitted). " [T]he fact that there exists an important, difficult or complicated question of law is not a bar to a summary judgment where it is clear there is no genuine issue of a material fact." Lewis v. Coleman, 257 F.Supp. 38, 40 (D.C. W.Va. 1966). " Resolution of the legal issues will not be rendered easier by going through the trial when there is no issue of fact to be tried." Id. (citation omitted). In this regard, summary judgment is appropriate when the parties merely " dispute the significance of the events . . . but do not dispute which events actually occurred." Transamerica Delaval Inc. v. Citibank, N.A., 545 F.Supp. 200, 203 (D.C.N.Y. 1982) (internal citation omitted).
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123-24 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party may not oppose a motion for summary judgment with mere allegations or denials of the movant's pleading, but instead must demonstrate a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). " Mere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ennis v.
Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).