University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Cozen O'Connor, P.C. v. Tobits EE-PA-0243
Docket / Court 2:11-cv-00045 ( E.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Special Collection Same-Sex Marriage
Attorney Organization National Center for Lesbian Rights
Case Summary
The plaintiff is a Pennsylvania-based law firm who employed the (female) decedent, Ellyn Farley, who married her wife, Jennifer Tobits, in Toronto in 2006. Farley died in 2010. The issue in this case is who should get Farley's death benefits, under an ERISA-covered plan, payable by her former ... read more >
The plaintiff is a Pennsylvania-based law firm who employed the (female) decedent, Ellyn Farley, who married her wife, Jennifer Tobits, in Toronto in 2006. Farley died in 2010. The issue in this case is who should get Farley's death benefits, under an ERISA-covered plan, payable by her former employer, Cozen O'Connor. Cozen filed this action on January 4, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, naming both Farley's parents and Tobits as defendants and seeking court guidance on which of those claimants should receive the benefits.

Cozen has asked to court to allow it to pay the contested benefits into some kind of registry or escrow account, and then exit the dispute while the claimants either settled or litigated the matter. (It also sought attorney's fees.) While it has taken no position on the constitutionality of DOMA, it has argued in court that its plan does not define spouse to mean something different than the federal definition--which, under DOMA, means that only opposite-sex spouses are included. (A different definition was possible, Cozen says, but its plan did not take that approach.) Thus, Cozen has argued, if DOMA is constitutional, the benefits should go to Farley's parents.

Tobits is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights; she takes the position that Tobits meets the definition of Farley's "spouse" in the firm's benefits plan, that the federal Defense of Marriage Act does not prevent private employers from respecting the marriages of same-sex couples, and that if DOMA did apply, it would be unconstitutional to deny plan benefits on that basis.

Both the United States and the "Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group" (which has been designated by the Speaker of the House to defend the constitutionality of DOMA, given the U.S.'s position that the statute is not, in fact, constitutional) have entered the case.

On September 25, 2012, the Court ordered that the case be put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether to grant the petition for a writ of certiorari in other cases challenging DOMA. According to NCLR's website, in November 2012, Tobits won the related issue in Pennsylvania Probate Court, and was recognized as the sole heir and legal representative of Farley's estate.

On July 8, 2013, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group submitted a consent motion to withdraw as an intervenor-defendant, following the Supreme Court's holding in Windsor that § 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional. The motion was granted by the Court on July 11, 2013.

On July 29, 2013, the Court found that pursuant to the benefits plan, meant to be governed by ERISA, designated benefits go to any surviving spouse, with no further definition of spouse. Following the outcome of Windsor, Tobits was the legally recognized spouse and was awarded Ms. Farley's death benefits. The Court also ordered that Cozen O'Connor deposit all money due under the plan into the registry of the court, and relieved it of any further liability to Tobits or the Farleys, but did not grant it attorneys' fees.

On August 23, 2013, the Farleys appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. On August 30, 2013, the Farleys moved to voluntarily dismiss their appeal, which was granted by the Court on September 23, 2013.

Darren Miller - 11/27/2012
Claire Lally - 03/16/2015

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Pay / Benefits
Sexual orientatation
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001
Defendant(s) David M. Farley
Jennifer Tobits
Joan F. Farley
Plaintiff Description The employer of a deceased woman, seeking judicial guidance on whether her death benefit should be paid to her wife or her parents.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations National Center for Lesbian Rights
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 2013
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Limited Partnership
By: Thomas G. Miller
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2:11-cv-45 (E.D. Pa.) 01/04/2013
EE-PA-0243-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Cozen O'Connor's First Amended Complaint for Interpleader 01/24/2011
EE-PA-0243-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff Cozen O'Connor, P.C.'s Response Brief in Opposition to Jennifer Tobits' Supplemental Brief Pursuant to the Court's October 27, 2011 Order and the Amici Curiae Brief of the Human Rights Campaign and the Equality Forum 12/21/2011
EE-PA-0243-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum 07/29/2013 (2013 WL 3878688) (E.D. Pa.)
EE-PA-0243-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order 07/29/2013 (E.D. Pa.)
EE-PA-0243-0004.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Jones, C. Darnell II (E.D. Pa.)
EE-PA-0243-0003 | EE-PA-0243-0004 | EE-PA-0243-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Caughie, Jill M. (Pennsylvania)
EE-PA-0243-0001 | EE-PA-0243-9000
Dorsch, Jay (Pennsylvania)
Fiebach, Robert H. (Pennsylvania)
EE-PA-0243-0001 | EE-PA-0243-9000
Kresge, Raymond A. (Pennsylvania)
Defendant's Lawyers Breen, Peter C. (Illinois)
Brejcha, Thomas (Illinois)
Jerner, Benjamin L. (Pennsylvania)
Lin, Jean (District of Columbia)
Michael, Jonathon W. (Illinois)
Minter, Shannon (California)
Renaker, Teresa S. (California)
Rowen, Melanie S. (California)
Stanton, Aaron H. (Illinois)
Stoll, Christopher Francis (California)
Wasow, Nina (California)
Wenger, Randalll (Pennsylvania)
Whelan, Amy (California)
Wilensky, Julie H. (California)
Other Lawyers Autry, Joshua M. (Pennsylvania)
Bartolomucci, H. Christopher (District of Columbia)
Bell, Emily M. (Pennsylvania)
Bonner, William A. (Pennsylvania)
Fox, Nathan Daniel (Pennsylvania)
George, Robert P. (New Jersey)
Hoffman, Susan Katz (Pennsylvania)
Kircher, Kerry W. (District of Columbia)
Littleton, Judson O. (District of Columbia)
EE-PA-0243-9000 | EE-PA-0243-9000
Proctor, Charles W. III (Pennsylvania)
Roper, Mary Catherine (Pennsylvania)
Schowengerdt, Dale (Arizona)

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