A federal court in Louisiana has dismissed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction, although attorneys say they’ll amend the complaint to continue the litigation.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee, dismissed the lawsuit, known as Robicheaux v. Caldwell, on Wednesday because plaintiffs named only Attorney General James Caldwell as a defendant and he hasn’t denied them the recognition of their marriage.
“The Attorney General’s sweeping responsibility to enforce the laws of the State of Louisiana lacks the Ex parte Young specificity nexus between the Attorney General and the alleged unconstitutional provisions that is essential to defeat sovereign immunity,” Feldman writes.
Scott Spivey, an attorney in New Orleans, filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Jon Robicheaux and Derek Pinton, who married in Iowa last year and are seeking the recognition of their marriage in their home state of Louisiana. Another Louisiana same-sex couple who married in Iowa, Nadine and Courtney Blanchard, later joined as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
James Hartman, a spokesperson for the plaintiffs, say they don’t believe the decision is “a fatal blow to the case” and plan to amend the complaint.
“On Monday, pending no objection from the attorney general, Mr. Spivey will seek to amend the suit, naming Secretary Tim Barfield of the State Department of Revenue as the defendant,” Hartman said. “Failing acceptance of that amendment or denial of that motion, Mr. Spivey will file an appeal with the Fifth Circuit.”
An individual is unable to sue a state under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because of sovereign immunity — unless the plaintiff is suing a state actor who’s acting in an unconstitutional way.
Feldman denies the attorney general is the appropriate state actor in the lawsuit, dismissing arguments that Caldwell is essentially responsible for enforcing the laws in Louisiana and sovereign immunity cannot apply in the case because plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief and not monetary damages.
The judge also takes note the attorney general has requested the lawsuit be dismissed or transferred for improper venue, but says this request is moot because the judge has dismissed the lawsuit for other reasons.
Suzanne Goldberg, a lesbian and co-director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said the plaintiffs would be in a stronger position in the case if they sought recognition and then alleged in their amended complaint that the recognition was denied.
“If the couples had asked for recognition and been denied, the court would not have dismissed the suit on the same grounds,” Goldberg said.
The Robicheaux case isn’t the only marriage-related lawsuit in Louisiana. Private lawyers have filed another lawsuit in state court, known as In Re Costanza and Brewer, on behalf of another same-sex couple seeking to have their marriage recognized by Louisiana. Judge Edward Broussard ruled against the couple in July. The case is now being appealed.
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article indicated that James Hartman was a spokesperson for attorney Scott Spivey. The Blade regrets the error.