Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Third District: Dismissal of Same-Sex Divorce Affirmed On Standing Grounds Where Parties Did Not Raise Constitutional Issues

In Oliver v. Stufflebeam (3D12-2159), the Third District addressed an issue that at first glance might appear to be the Court addressing the issue of same-sex marriage in Florida. However, in the end it is merely about standing as the parties did not challenge the constitutionality of Florida's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. 

This case involves "an appeal by a same-sex couple from a sua sponte order entered in the court below, dismissing their petition for dissolution of their out-of-state marriage on the authority of section 741.212 of the Florida Statutes which states that same-sex marriages 'are not recognized for any purpose in this state.'” 

However, the parties "do not challenge the validity of the statute...[and] it is quite apparent on the face of the record in this case that there is no controversy over the point on appeal between these parties. For this reason, we affirm the dismissal of this case in that the petition for dissolution of marriage lacks a case or controversy requiring the expenditure of judicial labor."  
The facts of this case are undisputed and can be succinctly stated. Sarah Oliver and Heather Stufflebeam, both female, were married under the laws of Iowa on August 17, 2009. Sometime thereafter, they moved to Florida, where on May 29, 2012, Oliver filed an uncontested petition in the family court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, alleging their marriage was irretrievably broken and praying for a decree of dissolution. On July 12, 2012, after a hearing on the petition, the trial court sua sponte dismissed the petition with prejudice on the authority of section 741.212 of the Florida Statutes, which prohibits the recognition of a marriage between persons of the same-sex entered into in any jurisdiction “for any purpose.” Oliver, in an appeal in which her appellee partner joins, challenges that decision
The court "begin[s] by stating what this case is not about. This case is not about the constitutionality or merits of same-sex marriage. The parties did not raise the constitutionality of section 741.212 in the trial court or as a point on appeal before us. In fact, they urge us to reverse the decision below in order to avoid constitutional issues." In a footnote, the court stated:
This position is legally puzzling. It would be a disingenuous court indeed that would “avoid” an issue to reach a particular result. We have no difficulty deciding a constitutional issue when properly raised. The parties did not raise the constitutionality of the statute either before this court or the trial court; thus, we do not reach any constitutional issues here. 
The court continued by stating that "given Florida’s exclusive right, subject only to the confines of our Federal Constitution, to define both marriage and its dissolution within this state and Florida’s recognition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, samesex couples do not have standing to seek in our courts the dissolution of a marriage that by Florida law does not exist." Finally, the court noted that "Oliver and Stufflebeam reply that our decision traps them into the very marriage Florida seeks to prohibit. That is not so. An action for annulment of their marriage may well lie in the trial court."

The Court also "acknowledge[d] that the nation is presently engaged in a great national conversation on the subject of same-sex marriage. However, this is neither the time nor the place for this court to insert itself into that discussion." 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Supreme Court: Notice of Removal Requires Only A Short and Plain Statement Regarding the Basis for Jurisdiction

In Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, a divided United States Supreme Court answered one question regarding the evidence needed to sustain a removal to federal court. The question was stated by the Court as follows:
To assert the amount in controversy adequately in the removal notice, does it suffice to allege the requisite amount plausibly, or must the defendant incorporate into the notice of removal evidence supporting the allegation? 
"That is the single question argued here and below by the parties and the issue on which we granted review,” and to answer that question the Court stated:
The answer, we hold, is supplied by the removal statute itself.  A statement “short and plain” need not contain evidentiary submissions.
(emphasis supplied). 

As for the comment above regarding it being a divided Court, the concurring and dissenting justices are shown below:
  • GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and BREYER, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined.
  • SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KENNEDY and KAGAN, JJ., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined as to all but the final sentence.
  • THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.