LARGESS v. SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT FOR THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS

317 F.Supp.2d 77 (2004) | Cited 1 time | D. Massachusetts | May 13, 2004

MEMORANDUM

This is a civil action challenging the validity of the decision inGoodridge v. Department of Public Health,1 a case in whichDefendant Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ("Defendant SJC"): (1)declared that the Massachusetts ban on same-sex marriages wasunconstitutional,2 (2) "construe[d the term] civil marriage to meanthe voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of allothers,"3 and (3) stayed "[e]ntry of judgment . . . for 180 days topermit the Legislature to take such action as it may deemappropriate. . . ."4 The stay expires on May 17, 2004.

Plaintiffs5 seek preliminary and permanent injunctive relief,declaratory judgment, and a temporary restraining order.6 With regardto preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, Plaintiffs urge thiscourt to "enjoin[] Defendants,7 . . . their agents, servants andemployees and those acting in active concert and with actual notice thereof, fromenforcing Goodridge. . . ."8 With regard to declaratoryjudgment, Plaintiffs seek to have this court decree that Defendant SJCviolated the United States Constitution by usurping the power of theMassachusetts Legislature, both when it exercised jurisdiction over theGoodridge case and when it redefined the concept of marriage inthe Goodridge opinion.9 Presently before this court isPlaintiffs' renewed motion for preliminary and permanent injunctiverelief, declaratory relief, and a temporary restraining order.10

Background

In Goodridge, Defendant SJC addressed the question of"whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, theCommonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligationsconferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wishto marry."11 It "conclude[d] that it may not"12: "We declare thatbarring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations ofcivil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution."13 But,rather than "striking down the marriage laws," which "no [party] argue[dwas] an appropriate form of relief," Defendant SJC "reformulat[ed]" theterm civil marriage to mean "the voluntary union of two persons asspouses, to the exclusion of all others."14 It also stayed "[e]ntryof judgment . . . for 180 days to permit the Legislature to take suchaction as it may deem appropriate. . . ."15

Plaintiffs allege that, on and after May 17, 2004, "Defendants [JudyA.] McCarthy[, the City Registrar for the City of Boston,] and Town andCity Clerks 1-350 will be required to issue [and, in fact, plan to issue]marriage licenses to same-sex couples. . . ."16 In addition,Plaintiffs assert that, on and after May 17, 2004, Defendant Christine C.Ferguson, the Commissioner of Defendant Massachusetts Department ofPublic Health, and the individual who "is responsible for recordingvalidly-issued marriage licenses[,] . . . will be required to recordmarriage licenses to same-sex couples. . . ."17

On May 11, 2004, Plaintiffs filed with this court their amendedcomplaint for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, declaratoryrelief, and a temporary restraining order.18 Also on May 11, 2004,Plaintiffs filed a renewed motion for preliminary and permanentinjunctive relief, declaratory relief, and a temporary restraining order.19Plaintiffs central argument, in both their complaint and their motion, isthat "the actions of [Defendant SJC] in exercising jurisdiction over theGoodridge case and, separately, in redefining marriage,constitute actions delegated to other branches of the government underthe Massachusetts constitution, thereby violating the federalconstitutional guarantee to the citizens of Massachusetts [of] arepublican form of government."20 On May 12, 2004, a hearing onPlaintiffs' motion was held.

Discussion

In deciding whether to grant a preliminary injunction, this court is toweigh the following four factors: "(1) the likelihood of the movant'ssuccess on the merits; (2) the potential for irreparable harm to themovant; (3) a balancing of the relevant equities, i.e., `thehardship to the nonmovant if the restrainer issues as contrasted with thehardship to the movant if interim relief is withheld'; and (4) the effecton the public interest of a grant or denial of the injunction."21Yet, "the 'sine qua non of [the preliminary injunction standard]is whether the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits."22Significantly, the abovementioned quadripartite standard is the same test that is to be used in determining whether to grant a temporaryrestraining order.23

At the outset, it is important to emphasize that this court has notbeen asked to judge, nor will it undertake to judge, "the wisdom of thedecision by the Goodridge court that denying marriage licensesto same-sex couples violated the state constitutional rights of thoseindividuals."24 What is more, this court has not been asked to vacatethe Goodridge decision.25 Rather, this court has been askedto enjoin enforcement of the Goodridge decision on the groundthat Defendant SJC violated the Guarantee Clause of the federalConstitution by depriving Plaintiffs of their right to a republican formof government.26

Defendants argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction todetermine whether the SJC's actions in connection with theGoodridge case contravened the federal Constitution's guaranteeof a republican form of government.27 Specifically, Defendants assertseriatim that: (1) this court lacks subject matter jurisdictionto review decisions of Defendant SJC,28 (2) "[b]y virtue of theEleventh Amendment, a federal court lacks jurisdiction to review stateofficials' compliance with state law or to order state officials to comply with statelaw,"29 (3) Plaintiffs lack standing, because they cannot identify acognizable injury that they will suffer as a result of the SJC's actionsor an injury that can be redressed by the relief that they haverequested,30 and (4) "Guarantee Clause claims brought by individualsagainst their state governments are non-justiciable."31

This court disagrees and holds that it does have subject matterjurisdiction over this action. First, as has already been pointed out,this court is not reviewing any substantive holding of the SJC withrespect to the Massachusetts constitutional issues that were at the heartof the Goodridge case. Rather, it is determining whether certainof the SJC's actions in connection with the Goodridge caseviolated the federal Constitution, specifically its Guarantee Clause.Second, although state officials cannot be sued in federal court based onviolations of state law,32 it does not follow that state officialscannot be sued in federal court based on violations of federal law. TheEleventh Amendment does not bar this court from ensuring, via prospectiveinjunctive relief, that the residents of Massachusetts are not deprivedof their federally guaranteed right to a republican form of government.Third, the deprivation of the right to a republican form of government,that is, the injury that Plaintiffs have alleged in this case, issufficient to establish standing. Moreover, there can be no question thatthe issuance of an order enjoining the enforcement of the Goodridge decision would serve toredress that injury.33 And fourth, the United States Supreme Court,in New York v. United States, refused to embrace "[t]he viewthat the Guarantee Clause implicates only non-justiciable politicalquestions. . . ."34 In fact, the Court recognized that it hadpreviously "suggested that perhaps not all claims under the GuaranteeClause present non[-]justiciable political questions."35 In view ofall of the above, this court will proceed under the assumption that ithas subject matter jurisdiction over this action.

The heart of the inquiry as to whether Plaintiffs are entitled to theinjunctive relief that they seek is whether they are likely to succeed onthe merits.36 Plaintiffs insist that the Goodridge courtviolated the separation of powers established in the Massachusettsconstitution and, therefore, violated the federal Constitution'sGuarantee Clause in two ways: (1) in hearing the Goodridge case,and (2) in redefining the term marriage.37 Again, this courtdisagrees.

First, the SJC did not "lack[] subject matter jurisdiction to . . .hear the [Goodridge] case,"38 even though the case "calledfor a redefinition of [the term] marriage."39 To be sure, the Massachusetts Constitution gives the political branches, not thejudicial branch, jurisdiction over all cases involving marriage, divorce,and alimony: "All causes of marriage, divorce, and alimony, and allappeals from the Judges of probate shall be heard and determined by theGovernor and Council, until the Legislature shall, by law, make otherprovision."40 But, as the preceding passage makes clear, theConstitution also provides a mechanism through which the Legislature cantransfer subject matter jurisdiction in all cases involving marriage,divorce, and alimony.41 And, the Legislature has, in fact,transferred subject matter jurisdiction to the judicial branch "in casesinvolving divorce, alimony, affirmation,[42] and annulment."43

Implicit in that transfer of jurisdiction to the judicial branch is thetransfer of authority to define the term marriage, as that terms appearsin the Massachusetts Constitution. There can be no question that, if thejudicial branch has jurisdiction over all questions involving divorce,alimony, affirmation, and annulment, it has the authority to determinewhether there has been a valid marriage. And, in order to determinewhether there has been a valid marriage, the judicial branch must havethe authority to interpret, and if necessary, reinterpret, the termmarriage. It is, therefore, immaterial that "there has been no statute orprovision by the Legislature granting jurisdiction to the court to hear acase which concerns the definition of marriage in the Commonwealth."44 It is similarly immaterial that "there [hasnot] been any general grant of jurisdiction concerning all causes ofmarriage to any court."45 The SJC had the authority to hear theGoodridge case.

Second, the SJC did not usurp the power of the MassachusettsLegislature in violation of the Guarantee Clause, when it"reformulat[ed]" the term marriage to mean "the voluntary union of twopersons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others."46 The SJC hasthe authority to interpret, and reinterpret, if necessary, the termmarriage as it appears in the Massachusetts Constitution. The SJC'sreformulation of the term marriage in its opinion in theGoodridge case was, therefore, not a legislative act. Rather, itwas a legitimate exercise of that court's authority and responsibility todecide with finality all issues arising under the MassachusettsConstitution.

Of significance as well is the fact that, after it reformulated theterm civil marriage, the SJC announced that the "[e]ntry of judgmentshall be stayed for 180 days to permit the Legislature to take suchaction as it may deem appropriate. . . ."47 The Legislature was,therefore, provided with an opportunity to act before entry of judgment.

Because "the 'sine qua non of [both the preliminary injunctionand temporary restraining order standard] is whether the plaintiffs arelikely to succeed on the merits,"48 and because this court has determined that Plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on themerits, it is unnecessary to consider the remaining elements of thequadripartite injunction standard.

Conclusion

Plaintiffs seek to have this court declare that Defendant SJC usurpedthe power of the Massachusetts Legislature and, in so doing, violated thefederal Constitution, both when it heard the Goodridge case,which called for a redefinition of the term marriage, and when itredefined that term. But, it is the exclusive function of the judicialbranch, and ultimately, of Defendant SJC, to decide issues that ariseunder the Massachusetts Constitution. And, there can be no question thatthe meaning of the term marriage is an issue that arises under thatConstitution. To rule that, through its actions in the Goodridgecase, Defendant SJC usurped the power of the Massachusetts Legislatureand violated the federal Constitution would be to deprive that court ofits authority and obligation to consider and resolve, with finality,Massachusetts constitutional issues.

Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief,declaratory relief, and a temporary restraining order is, therefore,DENIED.

AN ORDER WILL ISSUE.

1. 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003).

2. Id. at 969.

3. Id.

4. Id. at 970.

5. The following are the named Plaintiffs in this action: (1) RobertP. Largess, (2) Rep. Mark J. Carron, (3) Rep. Emile J. Goguen, (4) Rep.Robert S. Margraves, (5) Rep. Peter J. Larkin, (6) Rep. James R. Miceli,(7) Rep. Philip Travis, (8) Sen. Steven C. Panagiotakos, (9) Rep.Christopher P. Asselin, (10) Rep. Edward G. Connolly, (11) Rep. John A.Lepper, and (12) Rep. Elizabeth A. Poirier.

6. See Am. Compl. for T.R.O., Prelim. & PermanentInjunctive Relief & Declaratory Relief ("Am. Compl.") at 2.

7. The following are the named Defendants in this action: (1)Supreme Judicial Court for the State of Massachusetts, (2) Chief JusticeMargaret Marshall, (3) Justice Robert J. Cordy, (4) Justice Judith A.Cowin, (5) Justice John M. Greaney, (6) Justice Roderick L. Ireland, (7)Justice Martha B. Sosman, (8) Justice Francis X. Spina, (9) MassachusettsDepartment of Public Health, (10) Christine C. Ferguson, Commissioner ofthe Massachusetts Department of Public Health, (11) Judy A. McCarthy,City Registrar for the City of Boston, and (12) City and Town Clerks1-350.

8. Am. Compl. at 2.

9. See id.

10. See Pls.' Renewed Mot. for Declaratory Relief, T.R.O.,& Prelim. & Permanent Injunctive Relief ("Pls.' RenewedMot.").

11. Goodridge v. Dep't of Pub. Health, 798 N.E.2d 941, 948(Mass. 2003): see also id. (noting that the issue is "[w]hether the Commonwealth may use its formidable regulatory authority tobar same-sex couples from civil marriage"); id. at 953 ("Thelarger question is whether . . . government action that bars same-sexcouples from civil marriage constitutes a legitimate exercise of theState's authority to regulate conduct, or whether . . . this categoricalmarriage exclusion violates the Massachusetts Constitution.").

12. Id. at 948.

13. Id. at 969.

14. Id.

15. Id. at 970.

16. Am. Compl. at 6.

17. Id.

18. See id at 2. On May 10, 2004, the initialcomplaint was filed. See Compl. for T.R.O., Prelim. &Permanent Injunctive Relief, & Declaratory Relief.

19. Pls.' Renewed Mot. at 1. On May 10, 2004, the initial motion wasfiled. See Mot. for Prelim. Inj. & T.R.O.

20. Pls.' Renewed Mot. at 2. "[T]he [United States] Constitution'sGuarantee Clause . . . directs the United States to `guarantee to everyState in this Union a Republican Form of Government.'" New York v.United States, 505 U.S. 144, 183 (1992) (quoting U.S. Const, art.IV, § 4).

21. Gately v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2 F.3d 1221,1224 (1st Cir. 1993) (quoting Narragansett Indian Tribe v.Guilbert, 934 F.2d 4, 5 (1st Cir. 1991)) (internal citationomitted).

22. Id. at 1225 (quoting Weaver v. Henderson,984 F.2d 11, 12 (1st Cir. 1993)) (alteration in original).

23. See Merrill Lynch, Pierce. Fenner & Smith.Inc. v. Bishop, 839 F. Supp. 68, 70 (D. Me. 1993).

24. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pls.' Renewed Mot. for DeclaratoryRelief, T.R.O. & Prelim. & Permanent Injunctive Relief ("Pls.'Mem.") at 1.

25. See id.

26. See id.

27. Supreme Judicial Court & Justices' Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. forT.R.O. & in Supp. of Court & Justices' Mot. to Dismiss ("SJC'sOpp'n") at 1.

28. Id.; see Mem. of City of Boston & JudyA. McCarthy in Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. for Prelim. Inj. & T.R.O. ("Mem.of City of Boston") at 2-4.

29. SJC's Opp'n at 4; see Peimhurst State Sch. &Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 106 (1984).

30. SJC's Opp'n at 1; see Mem. of City of Boston at2-4.

31. SJC's Opp'n at 6 n.7; see Mem. of City of Boston at6-8.

32. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at106.

33. At the very least, the issuance of such an order would be thefirst step in redressing the constitutional injury that Plaintiffs haveidentified.

34. 505U.S. 144, 184(1992).

35. Id. at 185 (citing Reynolds v. Sims,377 U.S. 533, 582 (1964) ("[S]ome questions raised under the GuaranteeClause are non[-] justiciable.")). The Court has also recognized that"[contemporary commentators have . . . suggested that courts shouldaddress the merits of [Guarantee Clause] claims, at least in somecircumstances." Id.

36. Gately v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2 F.3d 1221,1225 (1st Cir. 1993).

37. Pls.' Mem. at 2.

38. Id. at 13.

39. Id. at 16.

40. Id. at 13 (citing Mass. Const, pt. 2, ch. Ill, art.V).

41. See id.

42. An affirmation is a legal declaration that the marriage inquestion is valid. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207, § 14 ("Ifthe validity of a marriage is doubted, either party may institute anaction for annulling such marriage, or if it is denied or doubted byeither party, the other party may institute an action for affirming themarriage. . . . Upon proof of the validity or nullity of the marriage, itshall be affirmed or declared void by a judgment of the court.").

43. Pls.' Mem. at 13-14 (citing 1785 Mass. Acts 69; Mass. Rev. Stat.76, §§ 3, 4 (1836)).

44. Id. at 14.

45. Id.

46. Goodridge v. Dep't of Pub. Health, 798 N.E.2d 941, 969(Mass. 2003).

47. Id. at 970.

48. Gately v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2 F.3d 1221,1225 (1st Cir. 1993) (quoting Weaver v. Henderson, 984 F.2d 11,12 (1st Cir. 1993)) (alteration in original).

Back to top