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Ermold v. Davis

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 2, 2017

David Ermold and David Moore, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Kim Davis, Individually and in her Official Capacity as Rowan County Clerk, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: March 8, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Ashland. No. 0:15-cv-00046-David L. Bunning, District Judge.

         COUNSEL

         ARGUED:

          Michael J. Gartland, DELCOTTO LAW GROUP, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellants. Roger K. Gannam, LIBERTY COUNSEL, Orlando, Florida, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Michael J. Gartland, DELCOTTO LAW GROUP, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, Thomas Paul Szczgielski, Joseph D. Buckles, CHANEY BUCKLES SZCZYGIELSKI PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellants. Roger K. Gannam, Matthew D. Staver, Horatio G. Mihet, LIBERTY COUNSEL, Orlando, Florida, A.C. Donahue, DONAHUE LAW GROUP, P.S.C., Somerset, Kentucky, for Appellee.

          MOORE, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which SILER and GRIFFIN, JJ., joined. SILER, J. (pg. 8), delivered a separate concurrence. Before: SILER, MOORE, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiffs-Appellants David Ermold and David Moore sought a marriage license from Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis. Upon being denied the license, Ermold and Moore filed this damages-only 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Davis in both her individual and official capacities. The district court sua sponte dismissed Ermold's and Moore's case after we ordered the district court to vacate a preliminary injunction order in an entirely separate action. See Miller v. Davis, 667 F.App'x 537, 538 (6th Cir. 2016) (mem.). For the reasons stated below, we REVERSE the district court's judgment dismissing this case and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584, 2605 (2015), that Kentucky's definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, "to the extent [it] exclude[s] same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples." That same day, then-Governor of Kentucky, Steven Beshear, ordered all of Kentucky's county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. R. 1-1 (Gov. License Directive) (Page ID #7). On July 6, 2015, David Ermold and David Moore, two male residents of Rowan County, Kentucky, who had by that time been in a committed relationship for seventeen years, applied for a marriage license at the Rowan County Clerk's Office. R. 1 (Compl. at 2) (Page ID #2). Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis denied Ermold's and Moore's application, citing her personal religious beliefs about the origin of marriage. Id. at 3 (Page ID #3).

         On July 10, 2015, Ermold and Moore filed a federal civil-rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Davis both individually and in her official capacity as the Rowan County Clerk. R. 1 (Compl. at 1-3) (Page ID #1-3). The complaint alleged a violation of Ermold's and Moore's clearly established right to marry each other under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 3-6 (Page ID #3-6). Because a putative class action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief had been filed against Davis one week earlier, Ermold and Moore sought only damages (both actual and punitive). Id. at 6 (Page ID #6). See Miller v. Davis, No. 0:15-cv-00046 (E.D. Ky. July 2, 2015).

         Davis filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on August 4, 2015, arguing, inter alia, that Ermold's and Moore's constitutional rights were not violated because they could have traveled to other Kentucky counties to obtain marriage licenses and that Davis was protected by qualified immunity because Ermold and Moore had not pleaded a violation of a clearly established right. R. 11 (Mot. to Dismiss at 1) (Page ID #34); R. 11-1 (Mem. on Mot. to Dismiss at 9-12) (Page ID #51-54). R. 13 (Order) (Page ID #74). On August 25, Ermold and Moore filed their response in opposition to Davis's motion to dismiss their complaint. R. 12 (Resp. in Opp. to ...


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