Telescope Media Grp. v. Lindsey, Civil No. 16–4094 (JRT/LIB)

Citation271 F.Supp.3d 1090
Decision Date20 September 2017
Docket NumberCivil No. 16–4094 (JRT/LIB)
Parties TELESCOPE MEDIA GROUP, a Minnesota Corporation, and Carl Larsen and Angel Larsen, founders and owners of Telescope Media Group, Plaintiffs, v. Kevin LINDSEY, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, and Lori Swanson, in her official capacity as Attorney General of Minnesota, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Jeremy D. Tedesco and Jacob Paul Warner, ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM, 15100 North 90th Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85260, and Renee Carlson, CARLSON LAW, PLLC, 855 Village Center Drive, Suite 259, St. Paul, MN 55127, for plaintiffs.

Alethea M. Huyser and Janine Wetzel Kimble, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1100, St. Paul, MN 55101, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, Chief Judge

Plaintiffs Carl and Angel Larsen and Telescope Media Group ("TMG")1 bring a pre-enforcement challenge to the ban on sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations and contracting in the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA"). The Larsens operate a videography business, and they plan to expand into the wedding video business as a public accommodation. They argue that the MHRA's requirement that they serve same-sex couples seeking wedding video services violates the Larsens' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, free exercise, equal protection, and due process. The Larsens move for a preliminary injunction, seeking an order from the Court preventing enforcement of the MHRA against them in their future wedding video business. Defendants Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights Kevin Lindsey ("Commissioner Lindsey"), and Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson ("Attorney General Swanson") (collectively "Defendants") move for dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.

The Court finds that contrary to Defendants' arguments, Attorney General Swanson is not currently entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. However, the Court also finds that to the extent the Larsens claim that the MHRA would require them to publicize videos of same-sex weddings online, the Larsens have no standing because the alleged injury-in-fact is too abstract and hypothetical to present a genuine Article III case or controversy. As to the Larsens' claims regarding the MHRA's requirement that they serve same-sex couples in their wedding video business, the Larsens have standing and their claims are ripe. But the Court will dismiss the Larsens' challenges to this application of the MHRA because all of the Larsens' claims fail as a matter of law. Thus, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss and will deny the Larsens' motion for preliminary injunction as moot.

BACKGROUND
I. THE MINNESOTA HUMAN RIGHTS ACT (MHRA)

Minnesota has outlawed invidious discrimination in public accommodations since 1885.2 While the early antidiscrimination law was aimed at protecting African–Americans from denials of equal opportunity in public accommodations and the "stigmatizing injury" that resulted from such discrimination, the MHRA's scope has "progressively broadened" to outlaw discrimination against a number of historically disadvantaged groups. Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees , 468 U.S. 609, 624–25, 104 S.Ct. 3244, 82 L.Ed.2d 462 (1984). The Minnesota Legislature added "sexual orientation" to the list of protected characteristics more than two decades ago. Act of Apr. 2, 1993, ch. 22, 1993 Minn. Laws 121 (codified as amended at Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.01 – 363A.44 ).

Two types of "unfair discriminatory practice" defined in the MHRA are relevant to this case. First, the Public Accommodations Provision: "It is an unfair discriminatory practice ... to deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation3 because of ... sexual orientation ...." § 363A.11, subd. 1(a)(1). Second, the Business Discrimination Provision:

It is an unfair discriminatory practice for a person engaged in a trade or business or in the provision of a service ... to intentionally refuse to do business with, to refuse to contract with, or to discriminate in the basic terms, conditions, or performance of the contract because of a person's ... sexual orientation ..., unless the alleged refusal or discrimination is because of a legitimate business purpose.

§ 363A.17(3).

Commissioner Lindsey leads the Minnesota Department of Human Rights ("MDHR") and is charged with interpreting and enforcing the MHRA's substantive provisions. See § 363A.06. MDHR investigates allegations of MHRA violations and may pursue administrative enforcement actions to ensure compliance with the MHRA. See § 363A.28. MDHR and private parties may also bring civil actions "seeking redress for an unfair discriminatory practice," § 363A.33, subds. 1, 6, and may pursue declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, and costs and fees, id. , subd. 6 (citing § 363A.29, subds. 3–6). In addition to civil enforcement mechanisms, an unfair discriminatory practice in violation of the MHRA is a misdemeanor.4 § 363A.30, subd. 4.

II. LEGALIZATION OF SAME–SEX MARRIAGE

In 2013 Minnesota enacted legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. Act of May 14, 2013, ch. 74, 2013 Minn. Laws (codified as amended at Minn. Stat. §§ 363A.26, 517.01 –23, 518.07). Subsequently, MDHR publicly announced interpretive guidance for businesses providing wedding-related services, stating:

[State law] does not exempt individuals, businesses, nonprofits, or the secular business activities of religious entities from non-discrimination laws based on religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage.
Therefore, a business that provides wedding services such as cake decorating, wedding planning or catering services may not deny services to a same-sex couple based on their sexual orientation.
To do so would violate the protections for sexual orientation laid out in the [MHRA]. The individuals denied services could file a claim with [MDHR] against the entity that discriminated against them.

(First Am. Verified Compl. for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief ("Am. Compl.") ¶ 61, Jan. 13, 2017, Docket No. 13 (quoting Minn. Dep't of Human Rights, Minnesota's Same–Sex Marriage Law , https://mn.gov/mdhr/yourrights/who-is-protected/sexual-orientation/ same-sex-marriage/ (last visited Jan. 10, 2017))); see also id. ¶¶ 62–64 (citing similar publicly available MDHR guidance).)

III. THE LARSENS' BUSINESS

The Larsens are Minnesota residents; they operate TMG, a for-profit Minnesota company incorporated in 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 22–25, 79.) The Larsens create films and other media for clients. (Id. ¶¶ 80–82, 89.) The parties do not dispute that because TMG offers videography services to the general public, it is a "place of public accommodation" as defined in § 363A.03, subd. 34.

The Larsens are Christian. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 72–78.) In their work at TMG, the Larsens generally exert a large amount of editorial and creative control over the media they produce for clients. (Id. ¶¶ 88, 90–91, 100–07.) The Larsens seek to create products that both satisfy their clients' needs and also are consistent with their religious beliefs. (Id. ¶¶ 84–85, 89, 93, 109.) The Larsens allege that they will "gladly work with all people" regardless of sexual orientation or religious belief, but they decline requests for their creative services unless "they can use their story-telling talents and editorial control to convey only messages they are comfortable conveying given their religious beliefs." (Id. ¶¶ 92, 95.) This means that the Larsens decline requests to work on projects that "promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman." (Id. ¶ 96.) The Larsens also decline some client requests because they receive more requests than they have capacity to complete. (Id. ¶ 98.)

The Larsens allege that they are planning to expand their videography services to include wedding video services with the purpose of "counteract[ing] the current powerful cultural narrative undermining the historic, biblically-orthodox definition of marriage as between one man and one woman" and expressing their opposition to same-sex marriage. (Id. ¶ 122; see also id. ¶¶ 3–5, 113–21, 123–30, 154–56, 159, 174.) They plan to publicly promote their wedding videos to a broad audience on their website and on "other internet mediums, like Twitter and Facebook," in order "to achieve maximum cultural impact" and to "affect the cultural narrative regarding marriage." (Id. ¶¶ 135–36.) The Larsens allege that "[p]ublic promotion of the wedding videos ... will be mandatory in every wedding videography contract into which the Larsens enter." (Id. ¶ 138.)

The Larsens maintain that the only way that they will be able to achieve their desired expressive goal—to create videos promoting their view of marriage—is if they operate as a provider of wedding video services for paying clients. They argue that (1) "[i]t is not financially feasible ... to tell stories about marriage with the frequency and quality they desire if they cannot charge for their work"; and (2) "[g]iven the nature of the wedding industry and the fact that weddings are typically not open to the general public, the Larsens would not have access to and be able to capture weddings if couples did not hire them for their weddings." (Id. ¶¶ 144, 147.)

The Larsens allege that they are unable to start offering their services "until they know whether they can operate in the wedding industry in accordance with their religious beliefs." (Id. ¶ 156.) They claim that if they operate a wedding video service, they will be forced to choose between violating the MHRA—and facing the associated civil and/or criminal consequences—or offering wedding video services to same-sex couples in violation of their religious beliefs. (...

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