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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 49
Federal court in Louisiana dismisses marriage suit
Section One
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Federal court in Louisiana dismisses marriage suit

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal district judge in Louisiana has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Gay couple seeking state recognition of their marriage.

Judge Martin Feldman ruled in the case of Robicheaux v. Caldwell that he lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit because the named defendant, Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell, had not actually denied the plaintiffs legal recognition of their marriage.

Consequently, Feldman said, the legal doctrine known as 'sovereign immunity' applies. In other words, states cannot be sued in federal courts over the effects of state laws.

'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 wrote in his decision.

Feldman said the Attorney General is not the appropriate state official to name in the lawsuit, dismissing the plaintiffs' arguments that Caldwell is essentially responsible for enforcing the laws in Louisiana.

The judge also noted that Caldwell has requested the lawsuit be dismissed or transferred for improper venue, but ruled that this request is moot because the suit has been dismissed for other reasons.

The case involves Jon Robicheaux and his husband, Derek Pinton, who married in Iowa in 2012. They live in Louisiana and want their home state to recognize their marriage. The suit was subsequently joined by a Lesbian couple, Nadine and Courtney Blanchard, who also married in Iowa.

James Hartman, a spokesperson for the plaintiffs, says they do not 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 [the plaintiffs' attorney] 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.'

Suzanne Goldberg, co-director of Columbia University's Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said the plaintiffs would have been in a stronger position if they first applied for recognition from state officials, and then sued on the grounds that 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.

Other attorneys have filed a suit 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.

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