On April 13, 2010, several employees of the State of California with same-sex domestic partners or spouses recognized under California law filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702, against the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Board of Administrators of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). The plaintiffs, represented by private and public interest counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a provision of the federal tax code violate the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and substantive due process by barring the same-sex legal spouses and registered domestic partners of California public employees from enrollment in the CalPERS long-term care plan, even though opposite-sex legal spouses are permitted to enroll.
The plaintiffs’ initial complaint included only claims by same-sex married couples and none by same-sex domestic partners. On January 18, 2011, the Court (Judge Claudia A. Wilken) denied a defense motion to dismiss these claims, finding that the plaintiffs had “sufficiently stated a claim that the laws at issue…do not bear a rational relationship to a legitimate government interest.” Dragovich v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, 764 F. Supp. 2d 1178 (N.D. Cal. 2011).
Shortly after this, on February 25, 2011, the Department of Justice, representing the federal defendants, notified the court that it had come to the conclusion that § 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and that it would thus cease to defend that provision. In response, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group intervened to provide a defense.
On September 17, 2011, plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint including claims by same-sex domestic partners. The Department of Justice, while no longer opposing the claims of the same-sex married couples, moved to dismiss these new claims. On January 26, 2012, however, the Court (Judge Wilken) denied this motion, finding plaintiffs had sufficiently stated a claim for domestic partners as well. Dragovich v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, No. C 10–01564 CW, 2012 WL 253325 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 26, 2012).
Meanwhile, on January 19, 2012, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, and the Department of Justice submitted a brief supporting the motion as it pertained to same-sex married couples. It made a cross-motion for summary judgment as to the domestic partnership claims, and defendant-intervenors cross-moved for summary judgment as to all claims.
On May 24, 2012, the District Court (Judge Wilken) granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and denied the cross-motions of defendants and defendant-intervenors. It held that Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex spouses and that Section 7702B9(f)(C) of the Internal Revenue Code violates the equal protection rights of registered domestic partners, and issued an injunction prohibiting CalPERS from denying enrollment to same-sex spouses or registered domestic partners based on those provisions. It also enjoined the Treasury from disqualifying CalPERS’s plan from beneficial tax treatment for following its order. The order was stayed pending appeal. Christopher Schad - 05/29/2012