Loder et al v. McKinney
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that Defendant's 19 Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss is DENIED, as further set out. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 9/13/12. (scn, ) (Main Document 32 replaced on 9/13/2012) (scn, ).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CHARELLE LODER, et al.,
REESE MCKINNEY, JR.,
CASE NO. 2:11-CV-979-WKW [WO]
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This case is brought by several individuals who challenge Defendant Probate
Judge Reese McKinney’s marriage license policy. Plaintiffs contend that the policy
requires applicants to present proof of legal residence in the United States and a valid
Social Security card in order to receive a marriage license. Plaintiffs allege that this
denies the right of marriage to certain non-citizens and to United States citizens
whose intended spouse is unable to provide the required documentation. Plaintiffs
seek prospective relief through 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of their Fourteenth
Amendment rights to substantive due process and equal protection. Defendant has
moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging that Plaintiffs do not have standing to
challenge the policy. The case is pending on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc.
# 19), which is opposed (Doc. # 24). Defendant has replied (Doc. # 26). The motion
has been fully briefed and is ready for resolution. After careful consideration of the
parties’ briefs, arguments, and the applicable law, the Motion to Dismiss is due to be
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
Subject matter jurisdiction is exercised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343,
and 2201–02. Personal jurisdiction and venue are not contested, and there are
adequate allegations in support of both.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Defendant challenges the court’s subject matter jurisdiction under Rule
12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that Plaintiffs do not have
standing to challenge his policy regarding marriage licenses. A Rule 12(b)(1) motion
to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction asserts either a facial or factual
challenge to the complaint. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov’t of Augusta-Richmond
Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d
404, 412 (5th Cir. May 20, 1981)1); accord Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525,
1528–29 (11th Cir. 1990). Defendant has made a facial attack on the Complaint,
asserting that Plaintiffs have not alleged an adequate basis for subject matter
jurisdiction because they lack standing to challenge his policy. See Fla. Ass’n of
In Bonner v. City of Prichard, the Eleventh Circuit adopted as binding precedent all
decisions of the former Fifth Circuit issued prior to October 1, 1981. See 661 F.2d 1206, 1209
(11th Cir. 1981) (en banc).
Rehab. Facilities, Inc. v. State of Fla. Dep’t of Health & Rehab. Servs., 225 F.3d
1208, 1227 n.14 (11th Cir. 2000) (noting that standing “raises an even more basic
question of jurisdiction that cannot be waived and goes to the very heart of the ‘case
or controversy’ requirement of Article III”).
A facial attack challenges the complaint on its face and “require[s] the court
merely to look [to] see if [the] plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject
matter jurisdiction.” McElmurray, 501 F.3d at 1251 (quoting Lawrence, 919 F.2d
at 1529). In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of standing pursuant to Rule
12(b)(1), courts must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and
construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Kendall v.
Thaxton Rd. LLC, No. 10-14634, 2011 WL 3903400, at *3 (11th Cir. Sept. 7, 2011)
(unpublished); cf. Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 379 & n.21 (1982)
(distinguishing between the motion to dismiss stage, at which well-pleaded
allegations establishing injury in fact, causation, and redressability suffice, and a
plaintiff’s burden of proof at trial). The Supreme Court of the United States has said
in the context of a standing determination that “[a]t the pleading stage, general factual
allegations of injury resulting from the defendant’s conduct may suffice, for on a
motion to dismiss we presume that general allegations embrace those specific facts
that are necessary to support the claim.” United States v. Baxter Int’l, Inc., 345 F.3d
866, 881 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Nat’l Org. for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S.
249, 256 (1994)).
In Alabama, no person may formally marry without a license. Ala. Code
§ 30-1-9. Alabama Code § 22-9A-17 requires the probate judge to prepare and
forward a completed marriage license form to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The
probate judge must complete the marriage license “upon the basis of information
obtained from the parties to be married.” Ala. Code § 22-9A-17(b).
The Complaint alleges that as Probate Judge of Montgomery County,
Defendant has adopted and implemented a marriage licensing policy that states in
relevant part: “Non-citizens of the United States must provide proof of legal presence
in the United States in the form of valid immigration documents or passport.” (Doc.
# 1 (“Compl.”) at 11–12.)
Neither the Code of Alabama nor the Alabama
Constitution requires applicants to provide proof of legal presence in the United
States to secure a marriage license. The Alabama Attorney General has explicitly
stated that “a marriage license can be issued to an applicant who is not a United States
citizen.” (Compl. at 10.)
This lawsuit was filed by couples who reside in Alabama and desire to obtain
a license to marry in Montgomery County, but are barred from doing so based on an
inability to provide the required documentation. Plaintiffs argue that Defendant has
adopted a policy that requires applicants for marriage licenses to show proof of legal
residence in the United States before they can receive a marriage license. Plaintiffs
allege that they are otherwise qualified to receive a marriage license and intend to be
married. Plaintiffs request to represent a putative class of all persons in Alabama who
seek a marriage license, but who cannot receive one based on an inability to provide
the documentation required by the probate court. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and
injunctive relief against Defendant for violations of their Fourteenth Amendment
rights to due process and equal protection. In response to the Complaint, Defendant
filed the instant Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss.
Defendant makes three arguments in support of his Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to
Dismiss, all of which involve Plaintiffs’ standing to bring this suit. First, Defendant
contends that the lawsuit should be dismissed because Plaintiffs’ characterization of
the policy is erroneous. Defendant urges the court to adopt a reading of the policy
that would not require non-citizen applicants to show proof of legal presence in the
United States. Defendant argues that under this reading, Plaintiffs have not been
denied the right to marry and, thus, have not been injured and have no standing to
challenge the policy. Defendant further contends that Plaintiffs lack standing because
they have not applied for a marriage license in Montgomery County and therefore
have not been injured.
Finally, Defendant argues that because common-law
marriages are recognized in Alabama, Plaintiffs have not suffered an injury in fact.
The requirement of Article III standing is both a constitutional limitation on
federal court jurisdiction and a prudential limitation on its exercise. See Lujan v.
Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). This case concerns constitutional
standing. Constitutional standing requires that Plaintiffs have a “‘personal stake in
the outcome’ in order to ‘assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the
presentation of issues’ necessary for the proper resolution of constitutional
questions.” Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101 (1983) (quoting Baker v. Carr,
369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962)).
The test for evaluating constitutional standing includes three elements. First,
the plaintiff must have suffered an “injury in fact.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (internal
quotation marks omitted); see also Jackson v. Okaloosa Cnty., Fla., 21 F.3d 1531,
1537 (11th Cir. 1994) (citing E. F. Hutton & Co. v. Hadley, 901 F.2d 979, 984 (11th
Cir. 1990)). An injury in fact is “an invasion of a legally protected interest which is
(a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or
hypothetical.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (internal citations and quotation marks
omitted). “Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the
conduct complained of – the injury has to be ‘fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged
action of the defendant, and not . . . th[e] result [of] the independent action of some
third party not before the court.’” Id. (quoting Simon v. E. Ky. Welfare Rights Org.,
426 U.S. 26, 41–42 (1976)). “Third, it must be ‘likely,’ as opposed to merely
‘speculative,’ that the injury will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.’” Id. (quoting
Simon, 426 U.S. at 38, 43). The burden is on the party invoking federal jurisdiction
to demonstrate each element of standing. Bischoff v. Osceola Cnty., Fla., 222 F.3d
874, 878 (11th Cir. 2000).
Plaintiffs have alleged each of the three elements of Article III standing:
(1) actual injury, in that they are barred from obtaining a marriage license under
Defendant’s policy; (2) that their injury is traceable to Defendant’s policy; and
(3) that their injury would be redressed by the relief requested, namely an injunction
against enforcement of Defendant’s policy and a declaration that the policy is
Interpretation of the Policy
Defendant first argues that Plaintiffs’ characterization of the policy is incorrect.
(Doc. # 19 at 5.) Defendant claims that his policy does not bar non-citizens who are
in the country illegally from obtaining a marriage license. The challenged policy in
effect when the Complaint was filed provided as follows:
Non-citizens of the United States must provide proof of legal
presence in the United States in the form of valid immigration
documents or passport.
Each applicant must provide one of the following:
An official Picture ID (passport, military ID, State issued ID,
An original certified copy of the state issued birth certificate
(hospital copy not acceptable) and original social security card.
U. S. Government issued Immigration Services Picture ID Card
(green card, visa, alien resident card, etc.).
(Compl. ¶ 44 (emphasis added); see also Compl., Ex. A (printout of policy on Def.’s
website, dated Nov. 17, 2011).)
Notwithstanding the word “must” in the first paragraph of the policy,
Defendant asserts that the policy does not require non-citizens to provide proof of
legal presence in the United States.2 (Doc. # 19 at 6.) Defendant claims that the
requirement set forth in paragraph one may be disregarded if the applicant satisfies
paragraph two with any form of identification that would fall within one of the
enumerated categories. (Doc. # 19 at 6–7.)
While Defendant seems utterly sincere in his reading of his own policy, for his
interpretation to control, the entire first paragraph would be rendered superfluous.
In other words, there would be absolutely no purpose to the first paragraph if an
The bolded sentence of the policy will be referred to as “paragraph one,” and the
remainder of the policy will be referred to as “paragraph two.”
applicant merely had to satisfy the second paragraph. Nor does the policy contain any
language in the second paragraph that creates a condition to avoid the requirement of
proof of legal presence in the United States or that serves as an alternative means of
satisfying the requirements in the first paragraph. Indeed, the second paragraph
imposes additional requirements of what kinds of acceptable identification are
required for the issuance of a license.
“It is a cardinal principle of statutory construction that a statute ought, upon the
whole, to be so construed that, if it can be prevented, no clause, sentence, or word
shall be superfluous, void, or insignificant.” TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19, 31
(2001) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Gonzales v. McNary, 980 F.2d
1418, 1420 (11th Cir. 1993) (“A statute should be construed so that effect is given to
all its provisions, so that no part of it will be inoperative or superfluous, void or
insignificant.”). While Defendant’s policy is not a state statute, the court deems it
appropriate to construe the policy according to this recognized principle of statutory
construction, absent any contrary argument or authority having been offered by the
The second paragraph of the policy is not redundant of the first paragraph
because the second paragraph applies to all applicants, while the first paragraph
applies to non-citizen applicants. There is nothing inconsistent between the first and
second paragraphs. The second paragraph requires applicants to provide proof of
their identity through at least one document that reflects lawful immigration status,
a requirement that is wholly consistent with paragraph one’s legal presence mandate.
Giving the first paragraph of the policy its full and plain meaning, that non-citizens
must show proof of legal presence, is entirely consistent with the second paragraph.
The second paragraph of the policy imposes additional, not alternative, requirements
and explains what forms of identification are sufficient for applicants. There is no
reason to read the second paragraph of the policy as altering the express requirement
for non-citizens of the United States to provide proof of legal presence in the United
States in the form of valid immigration documents or passport. Defendant’s argument
cannot stand against the plain language of the policy and must be rejected.
Finally, Defendant asserts that the Plaintiffs who are not United States citizens
have identification that would satisfy the marriage license requirements. But
speculation about an ambiguous reference to an Alabama Resident Identification Card
held by one of the Plaintiffs, which Defendant argues might be sufficient to
demonstrate legal presence in the United States, would require analyzing documents
and evidence outside of the complaint, and is not appropriate on a Rule 12(b)(1)
facial attack. Plaintiffs have sufficiently pled that the policy bars certain non-citizens
from successfully securing a marriage license.
Actual Injury and Futility
Defendant also seeks to dismiss the Complaint because Plaintiffs have not
applied and been rejected for a marriage license in Montgomery County. But
“[c]ourts have long recognized circumstances in which a failure to apply may be
overcome by facts which demonstrate the futility of such application.” Terry v. Cook,
866 F.2d 373, 378 (11th Cir. 1989); see also LeClerc v. Webb, 419 F.3d 405, 413 (5th
Cir. 2005) (noting that “strict adherence to the standing doctrine may be excused
when a policy’s flat prohibition would render submission futile”); Int’l Bhd. of
Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 365 (1977) (“If an employer should
announce his policy of discrimination by a sign reading ‘Whites Only’ on the
hiring-office door, his victims would not be limited to the few who ignored the sign
and subjected themselves to personal rebuffs.”); Long v. Aronov Realty Mgmt., 645
F. Supp. 2d 1008, 1025 n.35 (M.D. Ala. 2009) (recognizing the futile gesture doctrine
in the context of employment and housing discrimination).
Here, the Complaint has adequately pleaded facts which demonstrate the
futility of Plaintiffs’ applications for marriage licenses. Each Plaintiff has pleaded
that at least one member of the couple is a non-citizen and cannot provide proof of
legal presence in the United States. All Plaintiffs have pled that, but for Defendant’s
policy, they would obtain a marriage license from Montgomery County and get
married. The policy requires that “[n]on-citizens of the United States must provide
proof of legal presence in the United States in the form of valid immigration
documents or passport.” Because of the use of the word “must” and Plaintiffs’
allegations that they lack the required documentation, the policy facially prevents
Plaintiffs from obtaining a marriage license. Under the doctrine of futility, a plaintiff
need not have applied for a right if the defendant’s policy would have made such a
gesture futile or even if the policy merely discouraged the plaintiff from applying.
Terry, 866 F.2d at 378; Long, 645 F. Supp. 2d at 1025. Based on the plain reading
of Defendant’s policy, and the reading most favorable to Plaintiffs as non-moving
parties, Plaintiffs adequately have pleaded that applying for marriage licenses would
have been a futile gesture and have sufficiently demonstrated that the failure to apply
should be properly excused.
Common Law Marriage and Injury in Fact
Defendant argues that Plaintiffs have not suffered an injury in fact because the
affected couples could simply enter into a common-law marriage. Defendant
contends that once the evidentiary requirements of establishing a common-law
marriage are satisfied, a common-law marriage has “all the rights, and [is] subject to
all the duties, flowing from a marriage in strict conformity to the statute.” Piel v.
Brown, 361 So. 2d 90, 93 (Ala. 1978). Defendant is correct that a common-law
marriage is equivalent in bare validity to a solemnized, licensed marriage. However,
Defendant’s argument fails to address meaningfully the authorities raised by Plaintiffs
regarding the injuries that result from being unable to pursue a solemnized marriage
through the licensing process.
Denial of a permit or a license pursuant to a state or federal administrative
scheme is an Article III injury. See Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370, 376
(D.C. Cir. 2007), aff’d sub nom District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).
The law is clear that plaintiffs affected by a discriminatory policy have suffered an
injury in fact sufficient to confer standing, despite the ability to overcome the
challenged barrier. Common Cause/Georgia v. Billups, 554 F.3d 1340, 1352 (11th
Cir. 2009). The relevant inquiry on standing is whether Plaintiffs have suffered
unlawful treatment under Defendant’s policy, not whether the unlawful treatment is
insurmountable or the benefit can be realized through alternative means. As the
Supreme Court of the United States has explained,
When the government erects a barrier that makes it more difficult for
members of one group to obtain a benefit than it is for members of
another group, a member of the former group seeking to challenge the
barrier need not allege that he would have obtained the benefit but for
the barrier in order to establish standing.
Ne. Fla. Chapter of Ass’n Gen. Contractors of Am. v. City of Jacksonville, Fla., 508
U.S. 656, 666 (1993). The injury in fact is the “denial of equal treatment resulting
from the imposition of the barrier, not the ultimate inability to obtain the benefit.”
Id.; see also Common Cause/Georgia, 554 F.3d at 1351 (“For purposes of standing,
a denial of equal treatment is an actual injury even when the complainant is able to
overcome the challenged barrier[.]”); Virdi v. Dekalb Cnty. Sch. Dist., 216 F. App’x
867, 872 (11th Cir. 2007) (noting that the injury caused by discrimination is not the
inability to obtain the sought-after benefit, “but rather the barrier set up by the illicit
condition”). For purposes of standing, a plaintiff need only adequately allege that the
challenged policy or act creates an unlawful barrier, not that the barrier is
insurmountable. Plaintiffs have succeeded in passing that threshold.
Additionally, common-law marriage does not enjoy the same presumption of
validity, and consequently the same level of certainty to the parties, as a solemnized
marriage. A solemnized marriage enjoys a “strong presumption [that] immediately
arises in favor of its validity,” Fuquay v. State, 114 So. 892, 894 (Ala. Ct. App. 1927),
rev’d on other grounds, 114 So. 898 (Ala. 1927), but “[t]here is no presumption in
favor of a common-law marriage.” Id. at 893. Instead of enjoying the presumption
of validity, parties seeking recognition of their common-law marriage or who find
their common-law marriage challenged must provide “clear and convincing” evidence
of their marriage. See, e.g., Lofton v. Estate of Weaver, 611 So. 2d 335, 336 (Ala.
1992). The Alabama Supreme Court has warned that “[c]ourts of this state closely
scrutinize claims of common law marriage and require clear and convincing proof
thereof.” Id. (quoting Baker v. Townsend, 484 So. 2d 1097, 1098 (Ala. Civ. App.
1986)); see also Reese v. Holston, 67 So. 3d 109, 112 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011) (rejecting
claim of common-law marriage where the evidence was “insufficient to show by clear
and convincing evidence that the parties’ relationship” met the required common law
elements). The differences between the elements of proof deny Plaintiffs a real and
tangible benefit: the additional security that arises from the presumption of validity
that attaches to a solemnized marriage.
Finally, Defendant admits that the inability to secure a marriage license
prevents solemnization of the marriage. (See Doc. # 19 at 10); see also Ala. Code
§ 30-1-9 (“No marriage shall be solemnized without a license.”). This has the effect
of denying Plaintiffs a wedding ceremony performed by an officiant. Weddings can,
and very often do, hold great levels of religious and personal significance for couples
and their families. Common-law marriage provides no alternative avenue for a
traditional wedding. In fact, without a license, conducting a wedding is against the
law. The policy denies certain non-citizen individuals the ability to take marriage
vows legally in a house of worship, in front of friends, family, an officiant, and God.
Common-law marriage offers no alternative to being able to legally experience one
of the most important events in the lives of many people.
On the Complaint’s allegations, Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they have
suffered an injury in fact based upon Defendant’s policy that bars them from
obtaining marriage licenses. Common-law marriage does not negate that injury in
For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that Plaintiffs have standing to
proceed on their claims challenging the constitutionality of Defendant’s policy that
precludes non-citizens without proof of legal presence in the United States from
obtaining a marriage license. Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Defendant’s Rule
12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 19) is DENIED.
DONE this 13th day of September, 2012.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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