Articles Posted in Family Law

by
Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, Christine Brown, and Robyn Sullivan (“the Browns”) form a “plural family.” Kody Brown is legally married to Meri Brown and “spiritually married” to the other three women, whom he calls “sister wives.” When the family became the subject of a TLC reality television show in 2010, the Lehi Police Department opened an investigation of the Browns for violating Utah’s bigamy statute, Utah Code Annotated section 76-7-101. The Browns then filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action in federal district court against the Governor and Attorney General of the State of Utah and the Utah County Attorney. Claiming the Statute infringed their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Browns sought declaratory relief and a permanent injunction enjoining enforcement of the Statute against them. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of this matter that the district court erred by proceeding to the merits: "[f]ollowing adoption of the [Utah County Attorney’s Office] UCAO Policy, the Browns’ suit ceased to qualify as an Article III case or controversy. Their suit was moot before the district court awarded them relief, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to decide the Browns’ claims." View "Brown v. Buhman" on Justia Law

by
This appeal was brought by the Court Clerk for Tulsa County, Oklahoma, asking the Tenth Circuit to overturn a decision by the district court declaring unenforceable the Oklahoma state constitutional prohibition on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The issues presented to the Tenth Circuit in this appeal were: (1) whether plaintiffs could attack state constitutional provisions without simultaneously attacking state statutes to the same effect; and (2) whether the Court Clerk was a proper defendant as to the non-recognition portion of the Oklahoma constitutional prohibition. The Tenth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to directly attack the constitutionality under the United States Constitution of Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban even though their claim did not reach Oklahoma's statutory prohibitions on such marriages. Under Oklahoma law, a constitutional amendment "takes the place of all the former laws existing upon the subject with which it deals." Because the statutory prohibitions were subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter's enforcement will redress the claimed injury. An earlier appeal of this same case involving the standing inquiry led to a decision by a panel of the Tenth Circuit that dismissed proceedings brought against the Governor and Attorney General of Oklahoma. That panel ruled that "recognition of marriages is within the administration of the judiciary." ("Bishop I"). The Tenth Circuit concluded that the law of the case doctrine applied to Bishop I, but that the doctrine was overcome by new evidence demonstrating that the Tulsa County Court Clerk could not redress the non-recognition injury, thereby depriving Gay Phillips and Susan Barton of standing to sue. The Court affirmed the district court's ruling. View "Bishop, et al v. Smith, et al" on Justia Law

by
Several Utah residents and same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Utah and were denied. They filed suit against the Governor, the Attorney General of Utah and the Clerk of Sale Lake County, all in their official capacities, challenging provisions of Utah law relating to same-sex marriage. Utah Code 30-1-2(5) included among the marriages that were "prohibited and declared void," those "between persons of the same sex." The Legislature referred a proposed constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 3, to Utah's voters (Amendment 3 passed with approximately 66% of the vote and became section 29 of Article I of the Utah Constitution). Plaintiffs alleged that Amendment 3 violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving them of the fundamental liberty to marry the person of their choosing and to have such a marriage recognized. They also claimed that Amendment 3 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs raised their claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking both a declaratory judgment that Amendment 3 was unconstitutional and an injunction prohibiting its enforcement. On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, concluding that "[a]ll citizens, regardless of their sexual identity, have a fundamental right to liberty, and this right protects an individual's ability to marry and the intimate choices a person makes about marriage and family." Furthermore, the court held that Amendment 3 denied plaintiffs equal protection because it classified based on sex and sexual orientation without a rational basis. It declared Amendment 3 unconstitutional and permanently enjoined enforcement of the challenged provisions. The Governor and Attorney General filed a timely notice of appeal and moved to stay the district court's decision. Both the district court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a stay. The Supreme Court, however, granted a stay of the district court's injunction pending final disposition of the appeal by the Tenth Circuit. Having heard and carefully considered the argument of the litigants, the Tenth Circuit concluded that, consistent with the United States Constitution, the State of Utah may not deny a citizen benefit of the laws based solely on the sex of the person the citizen chooses to marry. View "Kitchen, et al v. Herbert, et al" on Justia Law

by
A Kansas jury convicted David Fuller of willfully failing to pay more than $50,000 of past-due child support. Both after the government's case-in-chief and at the close of all evidence, Fuller moved for acquittal. The district court reserved ruling on the motions and then, several weeks after the verdict, issued a single order denying both. On appeal, argued the district court erred in denying his first motion: (1) that the court erred by relying on an unconstitutional statutory presumption of his "ability to pay" child support, and (2) that without the presumption the government's evidence was insufficient to prove that he “willfully” failed to pay. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not rely on the presumption and that the government presented sufficient evidence that Fuller had willfully failed to pay his child-support obligation. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Fuller" on Justia Law

by
Legina and Todd Thomas, parents of M.T., a twelve-year-old girl at the time of the events at issue in this case, placed M.T. in the University of New Mexico Children's Psychiatric Center after she revealed suicidal tendencies during a police investigation of a potential sexual assault. Doctors diagnosed her as exhibiting several serious psychiatric problems and recommended a prescription of psychotropic drugs. The Thomases resisted the doctors' diagnoses and recommendations. M.T. was evaluated for several weeks until Mrs. Thomas decided to remove her from the hospital. Concerned about her safety, M.T.'s doctors and therapist placed M.T. on a medical hold and pursued an involuntary residential treatment petition in state court. After a seven-day hold, M.T. was released before the involuntary commitment proceedings began. The Thomases claimed the doctors and the hospital violated their constitutional right to direct M.T.'s medical care and their right to familial association when they placed a medical hold on M.T. and when they filed the petition for involuntary residential treatment in state court. The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting absolute and qualified immunity. The district court granted the motion on qualified immunity grounds, and the Thomases appealed. The Court of Appeal agreed with the district court that the Thomases did not stated a claim for a violation of their right to direct M.T.'s medical care. But the Court held that the Thomases stated a claim for a violation of the right to familial association for the defendants' placing a medical hold on M.T. and seeking an order for involuntary residential treatment in state court. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Thomas, et al v. Kaven, et al" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Charles Dahl and Ms. Kim Dahl divorced in 2010. Ms. Dahl filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, alleging federal-law and state-law claims stemming from the terms of the divorce: (1) that Dr. Dahl improperly administered the pension trust of his medical practice to deny her funds and an accounting and (2) that her telephone conversations with the Dahls’ minor children were unlawfully monitored, recorded, and disclosed by Dr. Dahl, his attorney, and the children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) in the divorce proceedings. The district court dismissed the federal-law pension claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and granted summary judgment against Ms. Dahl on the federal-law wiretapping claims. It then declined to exercise jurisdiction on the state-law claims. Ms. Dahl appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit: affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ms. Dahl’s pension claims on the ground that the pension trust did not qualify as an employee benefit plan under ERISA, but that the claim should have been on the merits rather than for lack of jurisdiction. The Court affirmed the district court in all other respects. View "Dahl v. Dahl, et al" on Justia Law

by
Hoping to remain in the United States from her native Jamaica, Defendant-Appellant Shannakay Hunter married a United States citizen. The government regarded the marriage as a sham and charged defendant with conspiracy and participation in a fraudulent marriage. A jury found her guilty on both charges. Defendant appealed, arguing that: (1) the district court should have required proof that defendant had married solely to evade the immigration laws; (2) the evidence of guilt was insufficient; (3) the marriage was “void” under state law; (4) the application of 8 U.S.C. 1325(c) resulted in a denial of equal protection, and (5) section 1325(c) is overbroad. Rejecting each argument, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Hunter" on Justia Law

by
Cross-Appellee/Appellant Eloisa Taylor appealed a decision of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Tenth Circuit (BAP) that affirmed a United States Bankruptcy Court decision. The bankruptcy court granted summary judgment in favor of Eloisa’s former spouse, Matthew Taylor. The bankruptcy court determined that a $50,660.59 debt Eloisa owed to Matthew for overpayment of spousal support was nondischargeable because Eloisa incurred the debt “in connection with a separation agreement.” Matthew’s assertion that the debt was nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(5) as a “domestic support obligation” was previously dismissed by the bankruptcy court for failure to state a claim. Matthew filed a cross appeal from that ruling and from the BAP’s ruling that neither it, nor the bankruptcy court, had authority under the parties’ divorce settlement agreement to award Matthew attorney fees that he incurred during the bankruptcy proceeding. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the bankruptcy court’s ruling that the debt was nondischargeable under section 523(a)(15). With regard to Matthew’s cross appeal, the Court affirmed both the bankruptcy court’s ruling that the debt was not excepted from discharge under 523(a)(5), and the BAP’s denial of Matthew’s request for attorney fees. View "Taylor v. Taylor" on Justia Law

by
Respondent Stanislav Dobrev from sought a custodial arrangement from a Utah State court more favorable than the arrangement he received from a French court a few weeks prior. Petitioner and Respondent divorced in France; Petitioner found work in Belgium, Respondent found work in Utah. Petitioner was granted leave to move with her children to Belgium by the French court. Prior to waiving his right to appeal the French order, Respondent picked up the children and brought them to the United States for a pre-approved vacation. The children were scheduled to return to Belgium, but Respondent instead filed for “Emergency Jurisdiction and Custody” in Utah to challenge the French court’s order. A week after holding a preliminary hearing, the district court, pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and its implementing legislation, The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), summarily granted Petitioner petition for return of the children. On top of that, the district court awarded Petitioner fees, costs, and expenses. Respondent appealed to the Tenth Circuit, generally claiming a denial of due process based on the district court’s refusal to provide him an evidentiary hearing. The Tenth Circuit noted that Respondent alleged or could have alleged before the French court many of the facts he alleged in his state petition. Given the facts of this case, the Tenth Circuit saw “nothing to suggest the district court stepped beyond the bounds of its discretion in awarding Petitioner her fees, costs, and expenses. Based upon all [the Court has] written [. . .], much of which certainly suggests Respondent [was] not blameless for the current state of affairs,” the Court could not say the award was “clearly inappropriate.” The judgment of the district court was affirmed in all respects. View "West v. Dobrev" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from the death of a minor child, 23-month-old Brooklyn Coons (BIC) at the hands of her father's girlfriend. Plaintiffs-Appellants, Larry and Mary Crosetto and the Estate of BIC, filed an action alleging that a social worker, Defendant-Appellee Linda Gillen, created the danger that resulted in the death of their granddaughter and denied them their rights to familial association. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ms. Gillen, and declined to hear a supplemental state law claim. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that qualified immunity was unwarranted on their state danger-creation and familial association claims. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that qualified immunity was not appropriate on the state danger-creation claim given genuine issues of material fact. Thus the Court reversed in part. The Court affirmed summary judgement on the familial association claims. View "The Estate of B.I.C., et al v. Gillen" on Justia Law