TN Court of Appeals rejects lawsuit brought by same-sex marriage opponents

The state Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by opponents of same-sex marriage with David Fowler, a former state senator and current chairman of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, acting as attorney for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, originally filed in Williamson County Chancery Court, contended that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision declaring that states must recognize same-sex marriages, known as Obergefell v. Hodges, had the legal effect of invalidating all Tennessee marriage laws.

The appeals court said the plaintiffs – ministers and interested citizens – lack legal standing to bring a lawsuit, basically because none of them have suffered any injury or had any rights violated.

“None of the citizen plaintiffs alleged that they were denied a marriage license; instead, they complain of the issuance of marriage license to others,” says the 15-page opinion at one point.  The three-judge panel’s decision was unanimous with the opinion written by Judge Neal McBrayer.

The plaintiffs’ attorney had cited a law recently enacted by the state legislature in arguing on the issue of legal standing. The statute says:

“Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a cause of action shall exist under this chapter for any affected person who seeks declaratory or injunctive relief in any action brought regarding the legality or constitutionality of a governmental action.” 

But the appeals court said that “any affected person” doesn’t really change the current requirement that the plaintiffs have to show they suffered some kind of injury before a court can take up an issue.

“The language of the new statute is sufficiently similar to the standing provision of the Tennessee Declaratory Judgments Act, which grants standing to ‘[a]ny person . . . whose rights, status, or other legal relations are affected by a statute.’ As such, we conclude that the new statute retains a particularized injury requirement.”

The full opinion is HERE.

Update/Note: Text of an email sent Tuesday (May 29) by Fowler to Family Action Council of Tennessee supporters:

Today I finally received a copy of the decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals on the appeal we had taken from the dismissal by Judge Joseph Woodruff of the lawsuit we had filed in Williamson County over the effects of the Obergefell decision on Tennessee’s marriage licensing statute.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, but the analysis employed in reaching that decision is essentially the same as that which Judge Pemberton rejected in the same type of case that was filed in Bradley County. We have asked Judge Pemberton this morning to either stick by his previous ruling or to allow us to argue to him the errors we believe the Court of Appeals made in its analysis.

At this time, I do not believe I should provide the reasons that I believe the Court of Appeals was in error, but I will say that its decision does not bring this matter to a conclusion. I will only say that with each ruling and each oral argument, the issues that remain after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling are clarified so that future appeals, pleadings, and lawsuits can be more focused in order that the unconstitutionality of the actions being taken in our state will be rectified.

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