Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Copas v. Lee

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

July 19, 2019

BLEU COPAS, Plaintiff,
BILL LEE, in his official capacity as GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, Defendant.



         Pending before the court are a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 35) filed by the defendant, the Governor of the State of Tennessee, Bill Lee, [1] as well as a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 38) filed by the plaintiff, Bleu Copas. For the reasons set forth herein, Copas's motion will be denied, Lee's motion will be granted, and the case will be dismissed for lack of standing.


         Tennessee regularly adopts the Code of Ethics promulgated by the American Counseling Association (the “ACA”) as the State's official Code of Ethics governing licensed counselors and therapists.[2] (Docket No. 40-1 at 4.) In 2014, the ACA amended its Code of Ethics to provide, in relevant part:

Values Within Termination and Referral
Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor's personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor's values are inconsistent with the client's goals or are discriminatory in nature.[3]

(Docket No. 40-2 at 6.)

         In response to the ACA's amendment, Tennessee Senator Jack Johnson introduced Senate Bill 1556 (the “Bill”) on January 11, 2016.[4] (Docket No. 35-1 at 3.) One of Senator Johnson's constituents-a faith-based counselor-brought the amendment to Johnson's attention and urged Johnson to safeguard the “personally-held beliefs” of counselors. (Id. at 4.) The constituent was concerned that, under the amendment, he might be subjected to state board discipline (such as license suspension) or to private litigation, were he to refer a patient due to his own religious or personally-held beliefs. (Id.) A group of counselors and therapists from across the state raised similar concerns. (Id. at 69.) Early versions of the resulting legislation protected counselors' “sincerely-held religious belief[s]” by immunizing counselors who refused to counsel clients as to “goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict[ed]” with such beliefs. (Id. at 71.)

         Legislative committees deliberated on the Bill from early January to late March 2016. (Docket No. 45 at 6.) On March 16, 2016, the Bill was amended to replace the phrase “sincerely held religious belief[s]” with “sincerely held principles.” (Docket No. 35-1 at 173.) Governor Haslam signed the Bill into law on April 27, 2016. (Docket No. 22 at 2.) The final version is codified at Tennessee Code Annotated Section 63-22-302 and provides:

(a) No. counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.
(b) The refusal to provide counseling or therapy services as described in subsection (a) shall not be the basis for:
(1) A civil cause of action; or
(2) Criminal prosecution.
(c) Subsections (a) and (b) shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.

Tenn. Code. Ann. § 63-22-302.

         Copas is a gay Tennessean and a distinguished army veteran. (Docket No. 45 at 26-27.) He resides just outside of Knoxville in Powell, Knox County, Tennessee. (Docket No. 35-9 at 2 (Deposition of Bleu Copas).) He works in Knoxville. (Id.) He was honorably but involuntarily discharged in 2006 pursuant to “Don't Ask, Don't Tell, ” a military policy that prohibited openly gay Americans from serving. (Docket No. 45 at 27.) He has a master's degree in counseling and is a certified peer recovery specialist. (Docket No. 35-9 at 6.) As a peer recovery specialist, he teaches, leads peer support groups, and provides one-on-one mentoring sessions. (Id. at 7-8.) He is currently in the process of obtaining a license to practice as a professional counselor. (Id. at 6- 7.)

         Copas first sought therapy in his early college years. (Docket No. 45 at 26.) He has engaged in various forms of therapy with multiple practitioners over the course of his adult life. (Docket No. 35-9 at 13.) He suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and Chronic Adjustment Disorder (“CAD”), for which he saw therapist Dr. Dan Williams from 2014 to 2016. (Docket No. 45 at 28.) Copas has not sought therapy since 2016. (Docket No. 42 at 29.)

         Copas alleges that the Bill was conceived to protect religious counselors and therapists. (Docket No. 40-6 at 2 (Declaration of Bleu Copas).) He notes that several Christian advocacy organizations supported and promoted the Bill and asserts that the Bill comports with a history of state-sponsored discrimination against the Tennessee LGBT community. (Id.) He states that he knows “from [his] activism” that the Bill “is part of a widespread reaction to the national focus on same-sex marriage and transgender rights.” (Id.) His activism includes work with the Tennessee Equality Project (“TEP”), an organization founded for the advancement of LGBT rights. (Docket No. 42 at 31.) He has worked with TEP for many years and previously served as the organization's vice president (Id. at 32), but he has distanced himself recently due to the organization's failure to support him in bringing this lawsuit (Docket No. 35-9 at 27).

         Copas alleges that he has not engaged in therapy since 2016 because the Bill's passage has inflicted stigmatic and psychological harm on him. (Docket No. 35-9 at 53.) He claims that the Bill's passage has “affected [his] trust in the State's ability to protect [him] as a gay man.” (Id. at 54.) The Bill's passage makes him feel unworthy of protection and causes him to question his ability to walk down the street holding his husband's hand.[5] (Id. at 54.) He “want[s] to re-engage in therapy, but fear[s] that a therapist will refuse to treat [him] because of [his] sexuality.” (Docket No. 40-6 at 2.) He claims that prior, to the Bill's passage, he knew that, if he required treatment, a counselor could not refuse to treat him based solely on his sexuality. (Id. at 3.) However, “[n]ow that the Bill has passed, unlike all other Tennesseans, LGBT persons (like [Copas]) no longer know that a counselor will not discriminate against them.” (Id.) He elaborates:

As the Bill does not require counselors to publicly disclose whether they treat patients who seek outcomes that conflict with their sincerely held principles (i.e. whether the counselors refuse to treat members of the LGBT Community because of the counselor's sincerely held principles), neither I, nor any other LGBT person in Tennessee has the security of knowing that, after summoning the courage to seek treatment and make an appointment with a counselor, the counselor will actually provide the necessary treatment.

(Id. at 3-4.) He states that the Bill's passage increased his fear of referral due to his sexuality from zero to some positive, unspecified level. (Docket No. 40-11 at 26.).

         Copas has never been denied treatment by a counselor or therapist. (Docket No. 35-9 at 56.) He does not know of anyone who has been rejected for treatment since the Bill's passage. (Id.) He states that he spends “probably every moment of [his] life imagining that at any point [he] will be discriminated against because [he is] gay.” (Id. at 14.) He acknowledges that, because of his fear of discrimination, he has always been reticent in initially seeking treatment. (Id. at 15.) He describes his fear as being derived, at least in part, from internalized homophobia that he has dealt with all his life. (Id. at 43.)

         Copas has made little, if any, attempt to find a new therapist since the Bill's passage. He states that he has “started that process internally to see if [he is] ready to start with a [new] therapist” (Id. at 24), and that he has “flirted with the idea and talked [himself] out of” it (Id. at 32). He has sought referrals for other patients but has not reached out to any of those therapists on his own behalf, because he knows them personally and does not feel comfortable asking them for help. (Id.) He has not asked any of his former therapists for referrals, despite Dr. Williams' offer to provide him one. (Id. at 24.) Copas's reluctance to ask for recommendations stems from what he describes as the “stigma” associated with mental illness. (Id. at 37.) He explains:

I don't feel comfortable, one, calling and saying I need therapy. I mean, there is a stigma that's still embedded in me in terms of my own mental illness. And I like to pretend that I have it all together, and like the fact that people imagine I can help them, but I am not always the best at helping myself.

(Id. at 31.) Likewise, he does not feel comfortable asking his LGBT friends for help because it is hard for him, as a visible member of his local LGBT circle, to talk about his need for mental health care. (Id.) In addition, Copas is wary of investing in a new therapy relationship that might end in referral because he finds it difficult to educate therapists on his background and to place himself in emotionally vulnerable situations. (Id. at 52-53.) He describes these feelings as “paralysis by analysis” and as being “crippled by [his] paranoia.” (Id.) He has not availed himself of a United States Department of Veterans Affairs program-the Choice program, which arranges therapy sessions for veterans with third-party practitioners-because he has heard negative reactions from veterans who have participated. (Id. at 35.)

         Copas has not made any other efforts to find LGBT-friendly therapists. (Id. at 30.) Despite being “computer literate” and familiar with internet search engines, he has conducted no research related to LGBT-friendly therapists in the region where he lives and works. (Id. at 28.) At his deposition, Copas was questioned about various resources with which he stated that he had no prior familiarity. (Id. at 26-32.) The first was a TEP initiative called ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.