University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Donaldson v. State of Montana PB-MT-0001
Docket / Court BDV-2010-702 ( State Court )
State/Territory Montana
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Same-Sex Marriage
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Case Summary
Plaintiffs are private individuals in committed same-sex relationships who brought suit against the State of Montana in 2010 complaining that they are unable to obtain various benefits available to opposite-sex, married couples. Represented by the ACLU, plaintiffs expressly challenged only the ... read more >
Plaintiffs are private individuals in committed same-sex relationships who brought suit against the State of Montana in 2010 complaining that they are unable to obtain various benefits available to opposite-sex, married couples. Represented by the ACLU, plaintiffs expressly challenged only the benefits aspects of marriage-like relationships, and did not seek the right to marry or recognition of their relationships as marriages.

The State District Court denied Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and granted Defendant's motion to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiffs had failed to specify exactly which statutes they are challenging, and thus a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of such alleged discrimination would exceed the bounds of judicial power. The Montana Supreme Court, CJ Mike McGrath, upheld the judgment on this rationale, but remanded the case to the State District Court to allow for amendment of the complaint in line with the dismissal of their claims. Donaldson v. State of Montana, 292 P.3d 364 (Mont. 2012).

The case was decided 4-3, with the three dissenting justices (J. James C. Nelson) proposing to grant a declaratory judgment stating that Montana benefits and other law regarding married couples is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The dissent is extensive.

On July 13, 2013, plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint. They added reference to specific Montana statutes which exclude plaintiff from: receiving various types of financial protection; designating partners as beneficiaries; having authority over end-of-life decisions; and dissolution-of-relationship protections. They add that Montana's statutory definition of marriage "casts uncertainty on Plaintiffs' ability to protect their partners and their relationships and also stigmatizes their relationships." They claim that plaintiffs are excluded from those protections because they are prohibited from entering into marriage by the Montana Constitution, but specify that they do not seek the designation of marriage; rather they "simply seek statutory protections that are offered by the State to similarly situated different-sex couples and their families through the legal status of marriage."

In July 2014, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on their equal protection and related fundamental rights claims.

Carlos Torres - 05/18/2013
Nadji Allan - 11/09/2014


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Discrimination-basis
Sex discrimination
Sexual orientatation
General
Gay/lesbian/transgender
Marriage
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) State of Montana
Plaintiff Description Private individuals in committed same-sex relationships who complain that they are unable to obtain certain benefits that are available to opposite-sex couples.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted Moot
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Limited Partnership
http://www.limitedpartnershipmovie.com/
By: Thomas G. Miller
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  United States Government says L.A. Gay Couple‚Äôs 1975 Marriage is Valid
The Pride L.A.
Written: Jun. 07, 2016
By: Troy Masters
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Complaint 07/22/2010
PB-MT-0001-0004.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Opinion and Order 12/17/2012 (292 P.3d 364)
PB-MT-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: State Court Website
First Amended Complaint 07/15/2013
PB-MT-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Document Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
Judges McGrath, Mike Court not on record
PB-MT-0001-0001
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alke, Benjamin J (Montana)
PB-MT-0001-0003 | PB-MT-0001-0004
Besirof, Philip T (California)
PB-MT-0001-0004
Borenstein, Ruth N. (California)
PB-MT-0001-0003 | PB-MT-0001-0004
Ellingson, Jon (Montana)
PB-MT-0001-0003
Gill, Elizabeth O. (California)
PB-MT-0001-0003 | PB-MT-0001-0004
Goetz, James H (Montana)
PB-MT-0001-0003 | PB-MT-0001-0004
Griffing, Betsy (Montana)
PB-MT-0001-0004
Perry, Neil D (California)
PB-MT-0001-0004
Plunkett, Stuart Christopher (California)
PB-MT-0001-0003
Regier, Emily Friesen (California)
PB-MT-0001-0003
Ruiz, Ariel F (New York)
PB-MT-0001-0003
Defendant's Lawyers None on record
Other Lawyers None on record

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