Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla, Civil No. 14–1253 (PG).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtJUAN M. PÉREZ–GIMÉNEZ
Citation54 F.Supp.3d 157
PartiesAda CONDE–VIDAL, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Alejandro GARCIA–PADILLA, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date21 October 2014
Docket NumberCivil No. 14–1253 (PG).

54 F.Supp.3d 157

Ada CONDE–VIDAL, et al., Plaintiffs,
Alejandro GARCIA–PADILLA, et al., Defendants.

Civil No. 14–1253 (PG).

United States District Court,
D. Puerto Rico.

Signed Oct. 21, 2014.

[54 F.Supp.3d 158]

Gary W. Kubek, Harriet M. Antczak, Jing Kang, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Hayley Gorenberg, Jael Humphrey–Skomer, Omar Gonzalez–Pagan, Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc., New York, NY, Ryan M. Kusmin, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Washington, DC, Ada M. Conde–Vidal, Conde Law Office, San Juan, PR, Celina Romany–Siaca, Celina Romany Law Office, Guaynabo, PR, for Plaintiffs.

Idza Diaz–Rivera, P.R. Department of Justice–Federal Litigation, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.


JUAN M. PÉREZ–GIMÉNEZ, District Judge.

Article 68 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code defines marriage as “originating in a civil contract whereby a man and woman mutually agree to become husband and wife” and it refuses recognition of “[a]ny marriage between persons of the same sex or transsexuals contracted in other jurisdictions.” P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, § 221. This case challenges the constitutionality of Puerto Rico's codification of opposite-gender marriage.


The plaintiffs' case. The plaintiffs include three same-gender couples who live in Puerto Rico and are validly married under the law of another state; two same-gender couples who seek the right to marry in Puerto Rico; and Puerto Rico Para Todos, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite, and Transsexual (LGBTT) nonprofit advocacy organization.

[54 F.Supp.3d 159]

As the plaintiffs see it, the liberty guaranteed by the Constitution includes a fundamental right to freely choose one's spouse and Article 68 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code unlawfully circumscribes this fundamental right and violates Equal Protection and Due Process. Because the Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender, Puerto Rico would no more be permitted to deny access to marriage than it would be to permit, say, racial discrimination in public employment. And because the substantive component of the Due Process Clause protects fundamental rights from government intrusion, including issues of personal and marital privacy, see, e.g., Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 156 L.Ed.2d 508 (2003), the Commonwealth must articulate a compelling governmental interest that justifies its marriage laws—a burden that, according to the plaintiffs, simply cannot be met. The plaintiffs contend that recent developments at the Supreme Court, United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 2675, 186 L.Ed.2d 808 (2013), endorse their understanding of Equal Protection and Due Process. By recognizing only opposite-gender marriage, Commonwealth law deprives gay and lesbian couples of the intrinsic societal value and individual dignity attached to the term “marriage”.

The Commonwealth's case. Article 68 stands as a valid exercise of the Commonwealth's regulatory power over domestic relations. Because the federal Constitution is silent on the issue of marriage, Puerto Rico is free to formulate its own policy governing marriage. See Rodriguez v. Popular Democratic Party, 457 U.S. 1, 8, 102 S.Ct. 2194, 72 L.Ed.2d 628 (1982) (“Puerto Rico, like a state, is an autonomous political entity ‘sovereign over matters not ruled by the Constitution.’ ”) (citation omitted).

As Puerto Rico sees it, the Supreme Court has said as much: in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810, 93 S.Ct. 37, 34 L.Ed.2d 65 (1972), the Supreme Court held that it lacked jurisdiction over a constitutional challenge to Minnesota's marriage laws. The ancient understanding and traditional doctrine of marriage and family life expressed by Article 68 offends neither Equal Protection nor Due Process.

The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment invalidating Article 68. (Docket No. 7.) Puerto Rico moved to dismiss. (Docket No. 31.) The plaintiffs responded. (Docket No. 45.) Puerto Rico replied. (Docket No. 53.) The plaintiffs sur-replied. (Docket No. 55–1.)


To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's complaint must contain “ ‘a short and plain statement of the claim.’ ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ( quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)); see alsoFed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, Rodriguez–Vives v. Puerto Rico Firefighters Corps of Puerto Rico, 743 F.3d 278, 283 (1st Cir.2014), a plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (internal quotation marks omitted). In assessing a claim's plausibility, we must construe the complaint in the plaintiff's favor, accept all non-conclusory allegations as true, and draw any reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ( citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955); accord Maloy v. Ballori–Lage, 744 F.3d 250, 252 (1st Cir.2014). When reviewing a motion to

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dismiss, we “must consider the complaint in its entirety, as well as other sources ordinarily examined when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, in particular, documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322, 127 S.Ct. 2499, 168 L.Ed.2d 179 (2007). Finally, determining the plausibility of a claim for relief is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

A. Standing

Standing is a “threshold question in every federal case.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to “Cases” and “Controversies,” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. The doctrine of standing serves to identify those disputes that are of the “justiciable sort referred to in Article III” and which are thus “ ‘appropriately resolved through the judicial process,’ ” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) ( quoting Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155, 110 S.Ct. 1717, 109 L.Ed.2d 135 (1990)). In assessing standing, the Court focuses on the parties' right to have the Court decide the merits of the dispute. Warth, 422 U.S. at 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197.

To establish the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing, a plaintiff must prove that “he has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 2652, 2661, 186 L.Ed.2d 768 (2013) ( citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560–61, 112 S.Ct. 2130 (1992)).

The Commonwealth argues that the plaintiffs lack standing because they have no injury traceable to the defendants and because they never applied for a marriage license. But the plaintiffs have alleged a sufficient injury, and it is not necessary for them to apply for a marriage license given the clarity of Puerto Rican law. See Cook v. Dept. of Mental Health, Retardation, & Hosps., 10 F.3d 17, 26 (1st Cir.1993) (rejecting proposition “that the law venerates the performance of obviously futile acts”).

The plaintiffs have satisfied the Court of their standing to sue.

Each of the plaintiffs wishes to marry and obtain the Commonwealth's “official sanction” of that marriage—a form of recognition unavailable to them given that Article 68 permits “marriage” in Puerto Rico solely between one man and one woman. (Docket No. 7 at 3.) The plaintiffs have identified several harms flowing from Article 68, including the inability to file joint tax returns or to take advantage of certain legal presumptions, particularly as relates to adopting and raising children. (Id. at 18–21.) The plaintiffs have sued the Commonwealth officials responsible for enforcing Article 68. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 157, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908) (holding a state official sued in his official capacity must “have some connection with the enforcement” of a challenged provision). And should the plaintiffs prevail against these defendants, an injunction preventing the Commonwealth from enforcing Article 68 would redress their injuries by allowing them to marry as they wish and gain access to the benefits they are currently denied. All of that is sufficient to establish that the plaintiffs have a

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legally cognizable injury, redressable by suing these defendants.

B. Burford Abstention

The Burford abstention doctrine stands as a narrow exception to the rule that federal courts “have a strict duty to exercise the jurisdiction that is conferred upon them by Congress.” Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716, 116 S.Ct. 1712, 135 L.Ed.2d 1 (1996). Burford abstention is proper where a case involves an unclear state-law question of important local concern that transcends any potential result in a federal case. Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 332–34, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943). However, “abstention is ... ‘the exception, not the rule.’ ” Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 813, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976), and “there is, of course, no doctrine requiring abstention merely because resolution of a federal question may result in the overturning of a state policy.” Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 379 n. 5, 98 S.Ct. 673, 54 L.Ed.2d 618 (1978).

The Commonwealth contends that this Court should refrain from ruling on the constitutionality of Article 68 in the interest of allowing for the implementation of a coherent marriage policy. The Court is not persuaded.

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