University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Brown v. Buhman FA-UT-0002
Docket / Court 2:11-cv-00652-CW-BCW ( D. Utah )
State/Territory Utah
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Case Summary
On July 13, 2011, a Mormon man and four Mormon women cohabitating and engaged in a polyamorous relationship filed a lawsuit in the U.S District Court of Utah against the State of Utah under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court to declare that Utah Code ... read more >
On July 13, 2011, a Mormon man and four Mormon women cohabitating and engaged in a polyamorous relationship filed a lawsuit in the U.S District Court of Utah against the State of Utah under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court to declare that Utah Code Ann. §76-7-101 ("Utah Statute"), which makes it a crime when a person, "knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person was a husband or wife . . . purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person," violated their Constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, plaintiffs had recently starred on a television program called "Sister Wives," which documented their lifestyle and religious beliefs. They argued that they had been prosecuted under the Utah Statute solely because of their religious practices.

On May 31, 2012, plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. On December 13, 2013, District Court Judge Clark Waddoups granted plaintiffs' motion and declared the Utah Statute facially unconstitutional. 947 F.Supp.2d 1170 (2013). The court found that while the cohabitation prong of the statute was facially neutral, it was not operationally neutral and had been used, through a pattern of enforcement, to specifically target religious cohabitations. The court then found that because the cohabitation prong was not operationally neutral it was subject to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection clause, which it failed. The court further found that the cohabitation prong violated the Due Process clause under the right to privacy as articulated in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). Finally, the court found that the cohabitation prong of the Statute was not articulated with a reasonable degree of clarity and was therefore void for vagueness.

In order to preserve the remainder of the Utah Statute, the court severed the phrase "or cohabits with another person" from the law. The court then narrowed the construction of the terms "marry" and "purports to marry," as a broad understanding of these terms would once again give rise to the constitutional dilemmas posed by the cohabitation prong. The court thus ordered a narrowing construction of the terms to "prohibit[] bigamy in the literal sense--the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage." The court did not address Plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

On December 20, 2012, the judgment of the court on these issues was vacated because the case was mistakenly closed before hearing the plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Over the course of the next year and a half a hearing was scheduled. On August 27, 2014, District Court Judge Waddoups renewed his ruling that the cohabitation prong violated the constriction as outlined above. 2014 WL 4249865. The Court further awarded plaintiffs their attorney's fees, costs, and expenses incurred under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

On September 24, 2014, the State appealed the district court's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Richard Jolly - 10/14/2014


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Discrimination-basis
Family discrimination
Religion discrimination
General
Disparate Treatment
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Attorney General of the State of Utah
County Attorney for Utah County
Governor of Utah
Plaintiff Description A Mormon man and four Mormon women cohabitating and engaged in a polyamorous relationship
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Source of Relief Litigation
None yet
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
2:11-cv-652 (D. Utah) 08/27/2014
FA-UT-0002-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Civil Rights Complaint 07/13/2011
FA-UT-0002-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Decision Order 02/03/2012 (850 F.Supp.2d 1240) (D. Utah)
FA-UT-0002-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Decision and Order [Denying Defendant's Motion to Dismiss] 08/17/2012 (2012 WL 3580669) (D. Utah)
FA-UT-0002-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 12/13/2013 (947 F.Supp.2d 1170) (D. Utah)
FA-UT-0002-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Decision and Judgment [Ruling Utah Code Unconstitutional] 08/27/2014 (43 F.Supp.3d 1229) (D. Utah)
FA-UT-0002-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Waddoups, Clark (D. Utah)
FA-UT-0002-0001 | FA-UT-0002-0005 | FA-UT-0002-0006 | FA-UT-0002-0007 | FA-UT-0002-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alba, Adam (Utah)
FA-UT-0002-0002 | FA-UT-0002-9000
Turley, Jonathan (District of Columbia)
FA-UT-0002-0002 | FA-UT-0002-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Jensen, Jerrold S. (Utah)
FA-UT-0002-9000
Roberts, Thomas D. (Utah)
FA-UT-0002-9000
Other Lawyers Parker, Ryan B. (District of Columbia)
FA-UT-0002-9000
Swent, Jeannette F. (Utah)
FA-UT-0002-9000

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