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Case Name ACLU of Kentucky v. McCreary County, Kentucky FA-KY-0003
Docket / Court 6:99-cv-00507-JBC ( E.D. Ky. )
State/Territory Kentucky
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
On November 18, 1999 the ACLU of Kentucky and several individuals filed a lawsuit against McCreary, Harlan, and Polaski Counties in Kentucky in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The Plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and private counsel, sought declaratory and ... read more >
On November 18, 1999 the ACLU of Kentucky and several individuals filed a lawsuit against McCreary, Harlan, and Polaski Counties in Kentucky in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The Plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and private counsel, sought declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the Defendants' display of the Ten Commandments in public schools and county courthouses violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction, requesting McCreary County and Pulaski County’s Ten Commandment displays in their courthouses be removed. Prior to resolution of this motion, the counties altered their displays. This second display included additional documents that were largely religious in nature. On May 5, 2000, the Court (Judge Jennifer B. Coffman) denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss and granted the plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction, on the grounds that the altered displays did not serve a secular purpose and therefore violated the Establishment Clause. The injunction ordered the defendants to remove their displays from their Courthouses and to refrain from erecting similar displays in the future. 96 F.Supp.2d 679 (E.D.KY. 2000).

The county defendants complied with the injunction and, for the third display, added other historical documents to the display that included the Ten Commandments. The counties did not repeal or overrule the resolutions that authorized the second displays on the grounds of religious importance when they erected this third display. In response to this third display, the plaintiffs sought to extend the injunction to McrCeary County’s current display, as well as Pulaski County’s courthouse display and the displays in Harlan County schools. On June 22, 2001, Judge Jennifer B. Coffman granted this request on similar grounds and ordered all the displays to be removed. 145 F.Supp.2d 845 (E.D.Ky. 2001). On December 18, 2003, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge Eric L. Clay) affirmed the District Court's preliminary injunction on the grounds that the plaintiffs showed a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the defendants’ displays lacked a secular purpose. 354 F.3d 438, 462 (6th Cir. 2003).

The counties appealed the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion to the Supreme Court, and certiorari was granted on October 12, 2004. Before oral argument, the counties repealed the provisions that authorized their second display, based on the importance of religion. On June 27, 2005, Justice Souter writing for the majority affirmed the Sixth Circuit ruling. The Court held that the plaintiffs’ sufficiently demonstrated that the defendants’ original displays and revised displays were done with a religious purpose, which is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause. The court found the defendants’ repeal of their display authorizations before oral argument to be minimally significant in proving their displays had a secular basis. 545 U.S. 844.

On September 28, 2007 Judge Coffman ordered the plaintiffs claims against defendant Harlan County School District dismissed with prejudice and denied both the plaintiffs’ and the defendants’ motions for summary judgment on the grounds that the second display, which was the basis for the motion for dismissal, no longer existed. The only relevant legal issue in the case was whether the defendants had taken action after the Supreme Court decision to erect displays with a predominantly secular purpose. The Judge also referred the case to settlement, whereupon the Defendants made slight policy changes. 2007 WL 2903210.

On August 4, 2008, the District Court declared the first, second, and third displays unconstitutional and entered a permanent injunction against all three displays. The Judge also reversed its ruling in the previous order dismissing the claim against defendant Harlan County without prejudice, because there is no guarantee that the prohibited conduct would not resume in the future.

On March 13, 2009, the District Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs, awarding $393,798.00 in attorneys' fees and $8,133.34 in costs. 2009 WL 720904.

On June 9, 2010 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's permanent injunction. 607 F.3d 439. The parties signed a joint notice of satisfaction of judgment on December 21, 2011.

The case is now closed.

Joshua Arocho - 06/15/2012
Mackenzie Walz - 10/27/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Establishment Clause
Content of Injunction
Elementary/Secondary School
Religion discrimination
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) McCreary County, Kentucky
Plaintiff Description The ACLU of Kentucky and several residents of three Kentucky counties.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Case Closing Year 2011
Case Ongoing No
6:99-cv-00507-JBC (E.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/21/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Order (96 F.Supp.2d 679) (E.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-0012.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/05/2000
Source: Westlaw
Order (145 F.Supp.2d 845) (E.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/22/2001
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (354 F.3d 438)
FA-KY-0003-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/18/2003
Source: Google Scholar
Order (361 F.3d 928)
FA-KY-0003-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/23/2004
Source: Google Scholar
Order granting petition for writ of certiorari (543 U.S. 924)
FA-KY-0003-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/12/2004
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (545 U.S. 844)
FA-KY-0003-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/27/2005
Source: Westlaw
Order denying cert. (545 U.S. 1152)
FA-KY-0003-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/28/2005
Source: Westlaw
Memorandum Opinion and Order (E.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/28/2007
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 173] (E.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/04/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judgment [ECF# 174] (E.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/04/2008
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 195] (2009 WL 720904) (E.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/13/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 207-1] (607 F.3d 439)
FA-KY-0003-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/09/2010
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Breyer, Stephen Gerald (First Circuit, SCOTUS)
Clay, Eric L. (Sixth Circuit)
FA-KY-0003-0005 | FA-KY-0003-0007 | FA-KY-0003-0008
Coffman, Jennifer B. (FISC, E.D. Ky., W.D. Ky.)
FA-KY-0003-0001 | FA-KY-0003-0002 | FA-KY-0003-0003 | FA-KY-0003-0004 | FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-0012 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Gibbons, Julia Smith (W.D. Tenn., Sixth Circuit)
FA-KY-0003-0007 | FA-KY-0003-0008
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
Kennedy, Anthony McLeod (Ninth Circuit, SCOTUS)
O'Connor, Sandra Day (SCOTUS)
Rehnquist, William Hubbs (SCOTUS)
Ryan, James Leo (Sixth Circuit)
FA-KY-0003-0007 | FA-KY-0003-0008
Scalia, Antonin (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
Souter, David Hackett (First Circuit, SCOTUS)
Stevens, John Paul (Seventh Circuit, SCOTUS)
Thomas, Clarence (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
Todd, James B. (E.D. Ky.)
Wier, Robert E. (E.D. Ky.)
Plaintiff's Lawyers Falk, Kenneth J. (Indiana)
Flynn, Kathleen M (Illinois)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Friedman, David A. (Kentucky)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-0007 | FA-KY-0003-0008 | FA-KY-0003-0010 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Griffith, Caroline Laurie (Kentucky)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Hoffman, Everett Clay (Kentucky)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Lutgens, Lili R (Kentucky)
Shapiro, Steven R. (New York)
Sharp, William E. (Kentucky)
Defendant's Lawyers Amshoff, Theodore H. (Kentucky)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Corry, David M (Virginia)
Crampton, Stephen M (Virginia)
Green, Bruce W (Florida)
Lindevaldsen, Rena M (Florida)
Martin, Lindsey F (Florida)
McAlister, Mary E (Florida)
Ray, Ronald D. (Kentucky)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Stanley, Erik William (Virginia)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-0007 | FA-KY-0003-0008 | FA-KY-0003-0010 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Staver, Anita L (Florida)
Staver, Mathew D. (Florida)
FA-KY-0003-0006 | FA-KY-0003-0007 | FA-KY-0003-0008 | FA-KY-0003-0010 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Turner, Johnnie L (Kentucky)
FA-KY-0003-0007 | FA-KY-0003-0008 | FA-KY-0003-0010 | FA-KY-0003-9000
Other Lawyers Clement, Paul D. (District of Columbia)
Huggins, David R. (Virginia)

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