Foster v. Stanek

Docket Number18-2552-DDC-KGG
Decision Date31 August 2023
PartiesNYLA FOSTER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. JANET STANEK, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas


Sometimes parties agree to settle a dispute and ask the court to enter a mutually-agreeable consent judgment manifesting their settlement. But, when a consent judgment remains in force for years, circumstances can change. Recognizing that possibility, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit parties to ask for relief from a judgment-including a consent judgment-if applying the judgment “prospectively is no longer equitable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5).

Plaintiffs Nyla Foster, Luc Bensimon, Jessica Hicklin, C.K., and the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project[1] filed this lawsuit in 2018. They alleged that defendants[2] had violated their constitutional rights by categorically barring transgender Kansans from acquiring birth certificates listing their true sex, consistent with their gender identity. In 2019, defendants agreed to remedy the violation alleged by plaintiffs, and the parties jointly asked the court to enter a Consent Judgment encompassing their agreement. The court adopted the jointly proposed Consent Judgment, which required defendants to provide transgender Kansans with birth certificates these Kansans viewed as accurate.

Now defendants ask the court for relief from that Consent Judgment. They base their request on a new Kansas law-Senate Bill 180. SB 180, effective July 1, 2023, requires all Kansas birth certificates to identify a person's sex as the one assigned to the person at birth. Invoking Fed.R.Civ.P 60(b)(5), defendants have filed a motion seeking relief from the 2019 Consent Judgment because SB 180 conflicts with it. The court agrees that defendants have invoked Rule 60(b)(5) properly and, as explained below, grants their Motion for Relief from Judgment (Doc. 36).

I. Background

On October 15, 2018, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against several state officials. They challenged the state's birth certificate policy. See Doc. 1. Plaintiffs alleged that the State of Kansas categorically bar[red] transgender people from obtaining birth certificates that reflect their true sex, consistent with their gender identity[.] Id. at 3 (Compl. ¶ 5). At the time, they alleged that no “specific statute or regulation prohibit[ed] the correction of the gender marker on a birth certificate in order to accurately reflect the sex of a transgender person.” Id. at 14 (Compl. ¶ 63). Plaintiffs claimed that the state's policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, violated its Due Process Clause by infringing on substantive rights to privacy, autonomy, and liberty, and violated the First Amendment by impermissibly compelling speech. Doc. 1 at 34-41 (Compl. ¶¶ 173-214).

On June 21, 2019, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Entry of Consent Judgment. Doc. 31. As an exhibit in support of their motion, the parties submitted a Proposed Consent Judgment. Doc. 32. Acting on the parties' joint request, the court adopted the parties' Proposed Consent Judgment and entered it that same day. Doc. 33. In relevant part, it provides:

1. Kansas statutes and regulations hereinafter referred to as “Kansas's Birth Certificate Policy”, which prohibit[] transgender people born in Kansas from obtaining birth certificates reflecting their true sex, consistent with their gender identity, violate[] the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution;
2. Defendants, their officers, employees, and agents; all persons acting in active concert or participation with any Defendant, or under any Defendant's supervision, direction, or control; and all other persons within the scope of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65, are permanently enjoined from enforcing the Birth Certificate Policy, and shall provide certified copies of birth certificates to transgender individuals that accurately reflect their sex, consistent with their gender identity, without the inclusion of information that would, directly or indirectly, disclose an individual's transgender status on the face of the birth certificate;
3. Defendants, their officers, employees, and agents; all persons acting in active concert or participation with any Defendant, or under any Defendant's supervision, direction, or control; and all other persons within the scope of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65, shall adopt and enforce a policy whereby a transgender person born in Kansas may obtain a certified copy of that person's birth certificate that reflects a change in sex designation, reflecting their true sex, consistent with their gender identity, by submitting a sworn statement requesting such change and accompanied by: (1) a passport that reflects the person's true sex; or (2) a driver's license that reflects the person's true sex; or (3) a certification issued by a healthcare professional or mental health professional with whom the person has a doctor-patient relationship stating that based on his or her professional opinion the true gender identity of the applicant and that it is expected that this will continue to be the gender with which the applicant will identify in the future[;]
4. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Office of Vital Statistics shall issue certified copies of birth certificates that reflect the change in sex designation to plaintiffs Nyla Foster, Luc Bensimon, Jessica Hicklin, and C.K. that reflect their true sex, consistent with their gender identity, respectively.
5. The obligations and this Consent Judgment apply to and are binding upon the Defendants and any successors charged with enforcing laws regarding birth certificates.

Doc. 33 at 2-4. Now, four years later, defendants ask the court to revisit its Consent Judgment.

On June 23, 2023, the Attorney General of Kansas entered his appearance on defendants' behalf and filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5). Doc. 36. Defendants' filings argue that circumstances have changed in unanticipated fashion since the court entered the Consent Judgment. Doc. 37 at 1. Specifically, they report that the Kansas legislature passed SB 180-and this new statute that, according to defendants, “fundamentally changes the circumstances under which the consent judgment was issued.” Id. at 2.

SB 180 took effect on July 1, 2023. See S.B. 180, 2023 Leg. Sess. (Kan. 2023). Two provisions of SB 180 are pertinent here. Section 1(a)(1) defines an individual's “sex” as an “individual's biological sex, either male or female, at birth[.] Id. at § 1(a)(1). And § 1(c) provides that any

school district, or public school thereof, and any state agency, department or office or political subdivision that collects vital statistics for the purpose of complying with anti-discrimination laws or for the purpose of gathering accurate public health, crime, economic or other data shall identify each individual who is part of the collected data set as either male or female at birth.

Id. at § 1(c) (emphasis added). Based on these provisions in SB 180, defendants argue they cannot comply with both the Consent Judgment and SB 180. Doc. 37 at 3.

Plaintiffs oppose defendants' motion. Doc. 40. Separately, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has filed an amicus brief offering her own interpretation of SB 180. Doc. 39-1. And defendants have filed a Reply. Doc. 46. But, before the court can addresses the merits of the parties' dispute, it must address defendants' Motion to Exceed Page Limit (Doc. 45).

II. Motion to Exceed Page Limit

Defendants have asked to exceed the page limit adopted in our court's local rule, D. Kan. Rule 7.1(d)(3). For motions like the one at issue here, the rule establishes a five-page limit for reply briefs. D. Kan. Rule 7.1(d)(3). Defendants assert that they need 14 pages to respond to plaintiffs' Opposition (Doc. 40) and a 13-page Amicus Curiae Brief (Doc. 39-1), which the court, without opposition, permitted Governor Kelly to file. See Doc. 41 (granting Unopposed Motion to File). Plaintiffs haven't responded to defendants' Motion to Exceed.

While less than enthusiastic about the way defendants have chosen to present their request, the court nonetheless grants their motion.[3] Defendants' filing adequately explains their need for additional pages, and this case presents disputes of broad public interest. The court thus grants defendants' Motion to Exceed Page Limit (Doc. 45).

With that motion decided, the court now turns to the substance of the current dispute, beginning with the legal standard governing Rule 60 motions, generally, and Rule 60(b)(5) motions, specifically.

III. Legal Standard

“A Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment is an extraordinary remedy and may be granted only in exceptional circumstances.” Jackson v. Los Lunas Cmty. Program, 880 F.3d 1176, 1191-92 (10th Cir. 2018). This rule “gives the court a grand reservoir of equitable power to do justice in a particular case.” Compama de Inversiones Mercantiles S.A. v. Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua S.A.B. de C.V., 58 F.4th 429, 446 (10th Cir. 2023) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

More specifically, defendants here invoke Rule 60(b)(5). Rule 60(b)(5) permits relief from a judgment or order if [1] the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; [2] it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or [3] applying it prospectively is no longer equitable.' Jackson, 880 F.3d at 1192 (emphasis omitted) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5)). Defendants' current motion relies on the third...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT