Hard v. Bentley et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: It is ORDERED that Governor Bentley's 48 Motion to Dismiss id GRANTED and that all claims against Governor Bentley are DISMISSED with prejudice as further set out in the opinion and order. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 3/10/2015. (dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ROBERT BENTLEY, et al.,
CASE NO. 2:13-CV-922-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is Defendant Governor Robert Bentley’s motion to dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), to which Plaintiff has
responded. (Docs. # 48, 53.)1 Upon consideration of the parties’ arguments, the
Complaint, and relevant law, the court finds that the motion to dismiss is due to be
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
The court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331
and 1343. Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.
Rule 12(b) motions “must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). However, subject-matter jurisdiction is not a waivable 12(b) defense, and
“[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must
dismiss the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). Hence, Governor Bentley’s motion must be
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may assert either a factual attack or
a facial attack to jurisdiction. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov’t of Augusta–Richmond
Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). In a facial attack, the court examines
whether the complaint “sufficiently allege[s] a basis of subject matter jurisdiction.”
Id. As when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim, on a Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack the court construes the complaint in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff and accepts all well-pleaded facts in the complaint
as true. Id.
This suit challenges the constitutionality of two provisions of Alabama law –
the “Marriage Protection Act,” Ala. Code § 30-1-19, and the “Sanctity of Marriage
Amendment,” Ala. Const. Amend. No. 774 (collectively the “Marriage Sanctity
Laws”). (Compl. at 7.) Plaintiff Paul Hard alleges he married David Fancher
under the laws of Massachusetts, and the two made a life together in Alabama.
When David passed away in a tragic accident in 2011, his Estate became entitled to
the proceeds of a wrongful death suit. Under Alabama law, the proceeds of
wrongful death actions are distributed without respect to the decedent’s will and
according to the laws of intestate succession. Plaintiff is not a surviving spouse
under Alabama law. Plaintiff therefore seeks, among other relief, a declaratory
judgment that the provisions of the Marriage Sanctity Laws violate the Due
Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent
that they prevent Alabama from recognizing same-sex marriages entered in other
states, and an injunction requiring “Alabama state officials” to recognize as
marriages the unions of same-sex couples married under the laws of other states.
(Compl. at 16–17.)2
Governor Bentley is named as a defendant in his official capacity only. The
Alabama Attorney General, Luther Strange, is also a defendant in his official
capacity, but he has not raised sovereign immunity as a defense, and he has chosen
to defend the State of Alabama’s interests in defining marriage as between one
man and one woman. Governor Bentley is alleged to have the supreme executive
power in state government and to maintain and exercise “enforcement authority in
connection with the [Marriage] Sanctity Laws” of Alabama. (Compl. at ¶ 16.) The
Complaint particularly identifies Governor Bentley’s announcement in September
2013 that he would defy a federal directive requiring the Alabama National Guard
to provide benefits to same-sex spouses of its members.
(Compl. at ¶ 16.)
Since the filing of this suit, a sister federal court has declared Alabama’s Marriage
Sanctity Laws unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal
Protection Clauses. Searcy v. Strange, ___ F. Supp. 3d ____, No. CIV.A. 14-0208-CG-N, 2015
WL 328728, at *5 (S.D. Ala. Jan. 23, 2015). This court is not bound by Searcy. As that court
acknowledged, see id. at *3 n.1., the constitutionality of marriage laws like Alabama’s will be
“definitively decided by the end of the current Supreme Court term” in an appeal from the Sixth
Circuit’s opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014).
Governor Bentley admitted these allegations in his Answer.
(Ans. at ¶ 16.)
However, in his motion to dismiss, Governor Bentley references media reports that
the Alabama National Guard has complied with the Pentagon’s directives. (Doc.
# 48, at 4.)3
The Complaint also joins as defendants the Alabama State Registrar of Vital
Statistics, the Probate Judge of Montgomery County, and Richard I. Lohr, the
Administrator of the Estate of David Fancher.
Those three defendants were
voluntarily dismissed by Plaintiff early in this litigation, but Mr. Lohr recently has
appeared and intervened as a defendant for the limited purpose of depositing
wrongful death settlement proceeds into the court’s registry pending the court’s
resolution of pending cross-motions for summary judgment.
claimant for the settlement funds, David Fancher’s mother, Pat Fancher, has also
been allowed to join this case as an intervenor-defendant.
Governor Bentley’s motion to dismiss (Doc. # 48) was filed on July 24,
2014, over four months after he filed his answer, and within weeks of the end of
the period allowed to conduct discovery.
Although Governor Bentley has referenced news stories not identified on the face of
Plaintiff’s Complaint to rebut one of the Complaint’s allegations about the National Guard, (see
Doc. # 48, at 4 n. 1), that news report contradicts Governor Bentley’s Answer which admits
Paragraph 16 of the Complaint. For that reason, the court gives no weight to the Governor’s
reference to the news report, and the motion is treated as a facial attack on subject-matter
jurisdiction rather than a factual attack.
Legal Basis and Standard for Granting Sovereign Immunity
Governor Bentley, who is sued in his official capacity only, argues that he
should be dismissed as a defendant on the basis of Alabama’s sovereign immunity.
The Eleventh Amendment states that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States
shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or
prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by
Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. “While the
Amendment by its terms does not bar suits against a State by its own citizens, th[e
Supreme] Court has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune from
suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another
Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662–63 (1974).
Amendment prohibits suits against state officials where the state is, in fact, the real
party in interest.” Summit Med. Assocs., P.C. v. Pryor, 180 F.3d 1326, 1336 (11th
However, state officials may be sued for prospective injunctive relief to stop
continuing violations of federal law, per the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S.
123 (1908). Id. The doctrine is a “legal fiction” insofar as “it creates an imaginary
distinction between the state and its officers, deeming the officers to act without
the state’s authority, and, hence, without immunity protection, when they enforce
state laws in derogation of the Constitution.” Id. at 1336–37. But Ex parte Young
requires that the joined state official “have some connection with the enforcement
of the [allegedly unconstitutional] act.” Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 157 (1908)
(emphasis added). Therefore,
unless the state officer has some responsibility to enforce the statute
or provision at issue, the ‘fiction’ of Ex parte Young cannot operate.
Only if a state officer has the authority to enforce an unconstitutional
act in the name of the state can the Supremacy Clause be invoked to
strip the officer of his official or representative character and subject
him to the individual consequences of his conduct.
Summit Med. Assocs., 180 F.3d at 1341 (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. at 159–
An examination of cases applying these principles is helpful. In an action
involving several alleged violations of constitutional rights arising from systemic
deficiencies in Georgia’s criminal justice system, the Eleventh Circuit held that
Georgia’s governor was a proper defendant because he was, under Georgia law,
“responsible for law enforcement,” was “charged with executing the laws
faithfully,” and because he possessed authority “to commence criminal
prosecutions” and to direct Georgia’s attorney general “to ‘institute and
prosecute’” actions on the state’s behalf. Luckey v. Harris, 860 F.2d 1012, 1016
(11th Cir. 1988) (citing various provisions of Georgia’s Constitution and Code).
But in contrast, in Women’s Emergency Network v. Bush, 323 F.3d 937, 949–50
(11th Cir. 2003), the Eleventh Circuit held that Florida’s governor was not a proper
defendant to a suit challenging the constitutionality of a state law authorizing
“Choose Life” specialty license plates and providing for the distribution of fees
collected from the license plate sales. The governor’s purported connection to the
license plate program was through his responsibility over the Department of
Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, but the court found this connection “too
attenuated to establish” his responsibility for the distribution of revenue generated
by the specialty license plates. Id. at 949. The court explained further that “[a]
governor’s ‘general executive power’” does not provide a sufficient connection to
a state law to permit a federal court to exercise jurisdiction over him or her,
particularly “[w]here the enforcement of a statute is the responsibility of parties
other than the governor.” Id. at 949–50 (citing Harris v. Bush, 106 F. Supp. 2d
1272, 1276–77 (N.D. Fla. 2000)).
In C.M. ex rel. Marshall v. Bentley, 13 F. Supp. 3d 1188, 1205–06 (M.D.
Ala. 2014), this court granted Governor Bentley’s motion to dismiss on sovereign
immunity grounds after finding that his asserted connection to the enforcement of
the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013, through the oversight of state education
funds and budgets, was too attenuated to support his joinder as a defendant. And
in Searcy, a similar same-sex marriage case in the Southern District of Alabama,
the court found that the plaintiffs “failed to allege, specifically, that Governor
Bentley is responsible for the challenged action of enforcing or implementing the
Marriage Sanctity Laws.” Searcy v. Strange, No. CIV.A. 14-0208-CG-N, 2014
WL 4322396, at *4 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 28, 2014) (internal quotation marks and
Governor Bentley’s motion to dismiss is based on most of the precedents
discussed supra. Additionally, he argues that Plaintiff lacks standing to sue him
The plaintiffs in Searcy were represented by different counsel than Plaintiff, and their
arguments and pleading were likely different than Plaintiff’s. However, Searcy aligns with the
opinions of several other federal courts faced with sovereign immunity defenses raised by state
governors and attorneys general joined as defendants in constitutional actions for state
recognition of same-sex marriages. See Searcy, 2014 WL 4322396, at *4 n.7.
For example, in Bishop v. Oklahoma, 333 F. App’x 361, 365 (10th Cir. 2009), the court
held that a same-sex couple could not sue Oklahoma’s governor and attorney general because the
“generalized duty to enforce state law, alone, is insufficient to subject them to a suit challenging
a constitutional amendment they have no specific duty to enforce.” See also Kitchen v. Herbert,
755 F.3d 1193, 1202 (10th Cir. 2014) (distinguishing Bishop on the basis of Bishop’s facts that
Oklahoma marriage recognitions were “within the administration of the judiciary” as opposed to
the executive branch of Oklahoma government). The Bishop panel also reasoned that standing
was lacking because the plaintiffs’ alleged injury was not caused by either the governor or the
attorney general and could not be redressed by an injunction against either of them. 333
F. App’x at 365.
In Harris v. McDonnell, 988 F. Supp. 2d 603, 609 (W.D. Va. 2013), the Western District
of Virginia concluded that Virginia’s governor was not a proper defendant to a same-sex
marriage constitutional challenge because “Virginia’s marriage laws do not expressly refer to the
Governor, there is no allegation that the Governor has taken steps to enforce the same-sex
marriage ban, and there is no dispute that the suit may continue against” another state official
In Robicheaux v. Caldwell, 986 F. Supp. 2d 749, 752 (E.D. La. 2013),
reconsideration denied (Jan. 13, 2014), the Eastern District of Louisiana dismissed the state
attorney general from the plaintiff’s same-sex marriage action because his “sweeping
responsibility to enforce” state law did not furnish the “Ex parte Young specificity nexus
between [him] and the alleged unconstitutional provisions.”
These authorities are persuasive support for Governor Bentley’s motion to dismiss, but
the resolution of the motion depends primarily upon Governor Bentley’s authority under
Alabama law and his conduct with respect to the Marriage Sanctity Laws as they impact
because Governor Bentley is not the cause of Plaintiff’s legal injury and because
Governor Bentley could take no action to redress that injury.
See Lujan v.
Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61 (1992) (requiring the plaintiff to show
that he suffers an injury in fact, causal connection between the plaintiff’s injury
and the defendant’s complained-of conduct, and the likelihood that the injury is
redressable by the court’s decision in the plaintiff’s favor).
Plaintiff opposes Governor Bentley’s request for immunity, arguing that
“[f]or the last four years, Governor Bentley has publicly and emphatically stated
. . . that he does have the authority and will exercise that authority to enforce
Alabama’s marriage restrictions.” (Doc. # 53, at 2.) Plaintiff maintains that he
named Governor Bentley as a defendant not merely because of his supreme
executive power, but because of Governor Bentley’s expressed intention to follow
the Marriage Sanctity Laws. Plaintiff cites five instances of public declarations by
Governor Bentley that he “will fight” this suit and other similar suits challenging
the Marriage Sanctity Laws and that he “ha[s] to defend,” “execute,” “protect,” and
“uphold” the Constitution” and “the laws of the state.” (Doc. # 53, at 4–5 (citing
Exhibits A–E to Decl. of David Dinielli).)
In response to Governor Bentley’s suggestion that Plaintiff’s allegations
regarding the Alabama National Guard are unsubstantiated, Plaintiff stresses that
Governor Bentley did not deny the allegations in his Answer. Plaintiff asserts that
Governor Bentley’s admission of his allegation concerning the denial of benefits to
same-sex spouses in the Alabama National Guard “at the very least, make[s]
‘plausible’ the proposition that Plaintiff will be able to prove his claims against
Governor Bentley.” (Doc. # 53, at 2 (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 682
2009)).) Further, Plaintiff says that Governor Bentley’s change of mind only
confirms his exercise of authority and discretion to defend the Marriage Sanctity
Plaintiff also argues that former Governor Fob James entered an executive
order in 1996 prohibiting probate judges in Alabama from issuing marriage
licenses to same-sex couples, declaring that same-sex marriages entered under the
laws of other states must be disregarded, and directing the divisions of the
Alabama executive branch to enforce his order.
According to Plaintiff, that
executive order arguably is still in effect and sets a precedent for Governor Bentley
to take similar actions either in favor of or against the recognition of same-sex
marriages in Alabama.
Plaintiff relies on the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Kitchen v. Herbert, 755
F.3d 1193, 1202 (10th Cir.) cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 265 (2014), where the court
looked to the state official’s “actual exercise of supervisory power.” (Emphasis
added). In Kitchen, the Governor and the Attorney General of Utah, but not the
Salt Lake County Clerk responsible for issuing marriage licenses, appealed the
district court’s order declaring unconstitutional Utah’s amendment defining
marriage as between couples of the opposite sex. The Tenth Circuit sought to
ensure that the Governor and Attorney General were proper appellants in the
absence of the County Clerk. Id.
The Tenth Circuit distinguished the facts in Kitchen from the facts in Bishop,
noting that marriage licenses are issued in Utah not by court clerks – who are part
of the judicial branch of state government – but by executive branch “county
clerks.” The Governor and Attorney General of Utah “ha[d] explicitly taken the
position in th[e] litigation that they ‘have ample authority to ensure that’ the Salt
Lake County Clerk” complied with the traditional practice of limiting the issuance
of marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples. Id. The Tenth Circuit found that the
defendants’ position was supported by Utah’s statutes, which charged the
Governor with “supervising the official conduct of all executive and ministerial
officers” and “seeing that all offices are filled and the duties thereof performed.”
Id. (citations and alterations omitted). The court further found that the Attorney
General could direct a deputy state attorney to prosecute a county clerk for a
misdemeanor offense of knowingly issuing a prohibited marriage license, and the
Governor could direct the Attorney General to participate in such a prosecution.
Id. at 1202–03. Finally, the court observed that Utah cabinet officials overseeing
state agencies had been directed by the Governor to consult with the Attorney
General’s deputies and about any conflicting laws not clearly answered by the
ruling of the federal district court. Id. at 1203.
For all these reasons, the court held “that the Governor’s and the Attorney
General’s actual exercise of supervisory power and their authority to compel
compliance from county clerks and other officials provide[d] the requisite nexus
between them and [the challenged constitutional amendment].
Id. at 1204
(emphasis added). The Tenth Circuit clarified that the Governor and the Attorney
General would be proper parties even if they were not “specifically empowered”
by statute to act, so long as they had assisted or were assisting in giving effect to a
On this authority, Plaintiff asks this court to exercise
jurisdiction over Governor Bentley because he, and a predecessor, Governor
James, have actually exerted their authority to enforce Alabama’s marriage laws.
Plaintiff acknowledges that his standing is implicated if the Governor’s
arguments in favor of immunity are accepted. Plaintiff contends that “if Governor
Bentley can be named as a Defendant under Ex parte Young, Plaintiff has standing
to name him as a Defendant.” (Doc. # 53, at 10 n.4.) And so Plaintiff admits the
converse is likewise true. If Governor Bentley is entitled to immunity, the reasons
supporting his sovereign immunity undercut Plaintiff’s standing to sue Governor
Governor Bentley replies that “it is true that [he] personally supports [the
Marriage Sanctity L]aws, and that as Chief Executive[,] he will enforce them to the
same extent that all valid laws are enforced.” (Doc. # 56, at 2.)5 However, the
Governor contends that he has not taken any action to prevent the recognition of
same-sex marriages in Alabama, to alter the existing laws, or to otherwise directly
connect him to the State’s “on-the-ground enforcement” of the law. (Doc. # 56,
Upon consideration of the parties’ arguments and relevant case authorities,
the court concludes that Governor Bentley is due to be dismissed from this suit on
grounds of sovereign immunity and because Plaintiff lacks standing to sue him.
First, there is no dispute from Plaintiff that the Governor’s general authority
as Alabama’s chief executive official does not warrant his joinder as a defendant,
and Eleventh Circuit case law precludes any contrary conclusion. See Women’s
Emergency Network, 323 F.3d at 94. (“A governor’s ‘general executive power’ is
not a basis for jurisdiction in most circumstances.”).
Second, with respect to Plaintiff’s allegation, admitted by Governor Bentley,
that Governor Bentley intended to contradict federal directives to extend benefits
to same-sex spouses of members of the Alabama National Guard, Governor
Document 56 specifically involves Governor Bentley’s motion for protective order, but
the argument cited goes to the merits of his motion to dismiss.
Bentley’s oversight of the Alabama National Guard has no direct relation to
Plaintiff’s desire for state recognition as the surviving spouse of David Fancher.
Even if Governor Bentley had followed through with his public statement and
defied the Pentagon’s directives with respect to the members of the Alabama
National Guard, Plaintiff would be unaffected. Plaintiff is not affiliated with the
Alabama National Guard, nor is this an action to receive spousal employment
benefits from any other state entity.
By Plaintiff’s own allegations in the
Complaint, the state officials possessing authority to redress Plaintiff’s situation
are the State Registrar for Vital Statistics and the Montgomery County Probate
(See Compl. at ¶¶ 18–19.)
Plaintiff’s injury is not directly caused by
Governor Bentley or redressable by Governor Bentley.
Third, with respect to Governor Bentley’s public comments cited in
opposition to Governor Bentley’s motion that he supports the defense and
enforcement of Alabama’s Marriage Sanctity Laws and that he opposes Plaintiff’s
suit, these comments reflect Governor Bentley’s personal convictions and
constitute commentary on litigation impacting the State he governs, but his words
have not been accompanied by official actions. Plaintiff has not alleged or shown
that Governor Bentley has taken any actual actions in his capacity as Governor to
prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages in Alabama. Plaintiff has not
alleged or demonstrated that Governor Bentley has intervened in, directed, or
superintended the work of the Alabama officials who would be capable of
providing Plaintiff (or persons similarly situated) with the legal recognition of
same-sex marriage that is requested in the Complaint.
Further, Plaintiff has not shown that Governor Bentley has specific statutory
or constitutional responsibility to provide relief to Plaintiff. Plaintiff offers no
statute authorizing Governor Bentley’s involvement in matters of marriage or
responsibility to superintend or command probate judges or the state registrar of
vital statistics.6 Governor James’s nineteen-year-old executive order concerning
same-sex marriages is not a sufficient justification for joining Governor Bentley as
a party in the absence of Governor Bentley’s reliance upon that order, enforcement
of that order, or promulgation of his own similar directive to state officials and
For all these reasons, this court finds that Governor Bentley lacks the
connection required by Ex parte Young to support joinder as a defendant to this
suit. Governor Bentley’s motion to dismiss is due to be granted on the basis of his
entitlement to sovereign immunity and because Plaintiff lacks Article III standing
to sue the Governor.
And events that have transpired in January and February of 2015, and the Governor’s
response thereto, after the parties briefed the motion to dismiss, confirm that the Governor has
taken no such action other than to state publicly his disagreement with the recognition of samesex marriage.
Consistent with the foregoing analysis, it is ORDERED that Governor
Bentley’s motion to dismiss (Doc. # 48) is GRANTED and that all claims against
Governor Bentley are DISMISSED with prejudice.
DONE this 10th day of March, 2015.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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