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Collier v. Fox

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

February 22, 2018

CHRISTINE COLLIER, also known as Christine Parkinson; VICTORIA “VICKI” COLLIER; and NATHAN COLLIER, Plaintiffs,
v.
TIM FOX, in his official capacity as Attorney General of Montana; STEVE BULLOCK, in his official capacity as Governor of Montana; SCOTT TWITO, in his official capacity as Yellowstone County Attorney, and TERRY HALPIN in her official capacity as Clerk of the Yellowstone County District Court, Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          TIMOTHY J. CAVAN United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiffs Christine Collier, Vicki Collier, and Nathan Collier (the “Colliers”) bring this action against Tim Fox, in his official capacity as Attorney General of Montana; Steve Bullock, in his official capacity as Governor of Montana; Scott Twito, in his official capacity as Yellowstone County Attorney, and Terry Halpin, in her official capacity as Clerk of the Yellowstone County District Court.[1] As outlined below, the Colliers allege several claims against the Defendants under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 33.)

         Now pending are the State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 67) (“Defendants' Motion”), in which the County Defendants join (Doc. 72), and the Colliers' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 75) (“Colliers' Motion”). Having reviewed the motions, associated briefing and exhibits, and the applicable law, the Court makes the following findings and recommendations.

         I. Pertinent Facts

         The parties generally agree upon the following pertinent facts. Nathan and Vicki[2] were legally married in Dillon, South Carolina, on April 26, 2000. (Doc. 79 at ¶ 3.) They have been married continuously since that date. (Doc. 69 at ¶ 2.) Nathan also is in a committed romantic relationship with Christine, and they desire to legally marry. (Doc. 79 at ¶ 1.) Vicki and Christine are aware of Nathan's relationship with one another, and each consents to be married to Nathan simultaneously. (Id.) The Colliers have “committed to raise, support, nurture, and care for one another's children, including [Christine's] children from a prior marriage.” (Id. at ¶ 4.) The Colliers have parented their eight children jointly for several years. (Id. at ¶ 5.) There is no evidence to suggest that either of Nathan's romantic relationships - with Vicki or with Christine - involves dishonesty, coercion, fraud, abuse, or violence. (Id. at ¶ 16.)

         On June 30, 2015, Nathan and Christine went to the Yellowstone County Clerk of District Court Marriage License Division to apply for a marriage license; the application was denied. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) The Yellowstone County Attorney's office subsequently sent a letter (the “Denial Letter” or “Letter”) to the Colliers on July 14, 2015, formally denying the request for a marriage license. (Doc. 22-1.) The Denial Letter informed the Colliers that their request for a marriage license could not be granted because granting the license would place the Colliers in violation of Montana law, citing Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 and 612. (Id.) Those statutes respectively criminalize entering into multiple marriages, and marrying a person knowing that the person is married to another. Though the Denial Letter identifies Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 and 612 as statutes that criminalize bigamy, the Denial Letter does not threaten prosecution of the Colliers. (Id.)

         The Colliers responded by bringing this action, challenging the validity of what they characterize as Montana's anti-polygamy statutes.

         The Court will discuss additional facts below as necessary.

         II. Parties' Arguments

         A. Colliers' Claims and Requested Relief

         The Colliers' Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 43) contains the following seven claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution: (1) that Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 and 612 violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment (Doc. 43 at ¶¶ 52-66); (2) that Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 and 612 criminalize the exercise of fundamental liberty interests protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Id. at ¶¶ 67-74); (3) that “State anti-polygamy criminal statutes, and State unequal legal treatment of polygamous marriage, ” violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (Id. at 75-78); (4) that “State anti-polygamy criminal statutes, and State unequal legal treatment of polygamous marriage, ” violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment (Id. at ¶¶ 79-83); (5) that Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 and 612 violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Id. at ¶¶ 84-96); (6) that “State anti-polygamy laws, and State unequal legal treatment of polygamous marriage, ” violate the right of free association under the First Amendment (Id. at ¶¶ 97-99); and (7) that Defendants' enforcement of Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 and 612, acting under color of State law, deprives the Colliers of “numerous rights secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendment, ” in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Id. at 100-101).

         As relief for the foregoing claims, the Colliers request (1) an order finding that Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 and 612 violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Id. at ¶ 102); (2) that the Court enjoin, both preliminarily and permanently, Defendants' enforcement and application of Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-611 or 612 and applicable civil laws (Id. at ¶¶ 103-104); (3) that Defendants issue a marriage license to Christine and Nathan (Id. at ¶ 105); and (4) award the Colliers attorney fees and costs (Id. at ¶ 108).

         B. The Parties' Motions

         The Colliers have filed a motion for summary judgment, generally arguing that Montana's criminal and civil anti-polygamy statutes are unconstitutional and violate their First and Fourteenth Amendments rights.

         The State responds that the constitutionality of state anti-polygamy statutes was established in Reynolds v. U.S., 98 U.S. 145 (1878), which directly controls the outcome of this case. The State maintains that the Colliers have failed to establish either the Court's authority to disregard Reynolds or, assuming the Court has such authority, legal justification for doing so. (Id. at 7-14.) The County Defendants also oppose the Collier's motion for summary judgment, and similarly argue that Montana's anti-polygamy laws do not violate the United States Constitution.

         The State Defendants have also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the Colliers lack standing to challenge the anti-polygamy laws at issue. (Doc. 68 at 10-16.) In this regard, Defendants argue that the Colliers' claims are purely hypothetical, because the Colliers have never been threatened with any prosecution and their claims therefore are not ripe. The County Defendants have joined in the State Defendants' motion.

         III. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. “Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).

         The party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322-23. If the moving party fails to discharge this initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1970).

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party must “go beyond the pleadings and by ‘the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The opposing party cannot defeat summary judgment merely by demonstrating “that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995) (“The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position is not sufficient.”) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         “Where the parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must consider each party's evidence, regardless under which motion the evidence is offered.” Las Vegas Sands, LLC v. Nehme, 632 F.3d 526, 532 (9th Cir. 2011). “It is well-settled in this circuit and others that the filing of cross-motions for summary judgment, both parties asserting that there are no uncontested issues of material fact, does not vitiate the court's responsibility to determine whether disputed issues of material fact are present. A summary judgment cannot be granted if a genuine issue as to any material fact exists.” U.S. v. Fred A. Arnold, Inc., 573 F.2d 605, 606 (9th Cir. 1978).

         IV. Analysis

         A. ...


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