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Case Name New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms v. New York State Senate PB-NY-0019
Docket / Court Index No. 807-2011 ( State Court )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Same-Sex Marriage
Case Summary
This is a state court case about the Marriage Equality Act (MEA), which permitted same-sex marriage in the state of New York. On July 22, 2011, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, a lobbying group created “for the purpose of influencing legislation and legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ,” ... read more >
This is a state court case about the Marriage Equality Act (MEA), which permitted same-sex marriage in the state of New York. On July 22, 2011, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, a lobbying group created “for the purpose of influencing legislation and legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ,” brought this suit challenging the process by which the law was enacted. The plaintiffs brought this action against the New York State Senate, the New York State Health Department, and Eric T. Schneiderman, the Attorney General of the State of New York.

The plaintiffs brought three causes of action. First, they alleged that there had been a violation of the Open Meetings Law (OML), which requires “public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.” The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the New York State Senate violated the OML in enacting the MEA and a void of any marriages performed pursuant to that act.

The OML has an exemption for political caucuses, meaning that their meetings can be closed, embodied in Public Officers Law § 108(2). Such exempt political caucuses may invite “guests” to participate in their deliberations. At the time that the MEA was enacted, 32 of the 62 members of the New York State Senate were Republicans, and four Republican State Senators joined Democratic State Senators in voting for the MEA.

The plaintiffs argued that the presence of non-Republican guests (Mayor Bloomberg, a registered Independent, and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a registered Democrat) at meetings of Republican State Senators where the MEA was discussed removed the meetings from the protection of the exemption of the OML, because all present did not belong to the same political party.

Second, the plaintiffs challenged Governor Cuomo's issuance of messages of necessity, which on two occasions had dispensed with New York State’s constitutionally-mandated three-day waiting period for enacting a bill into law, as ultra vires, or beyond his legal power or authority. Third, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants deprived them of their constitutional right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

On November 14, 2011, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) (1) and (7). Because this was a declaratory judgment action, the court treated the defendants' motion to dismiss as a motion for a declaration in their favor.

On November 18, 2011, Judge Robert B. Wiggins for the Livingston Supreme Court granted the motion to dismiss in its entirety with respect to the Attorney General. With respect to the remaining defendants, the court dismissed the second and third causes of action, so only the allegation of an OML violation remained.

The defendants appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Division, contending that the plaintiffs could not bring this case without running afoul of the Speech or Debate Clause of the state constitution (see NY Const, art III, § 11).

On July 6, 2012, Judge Eugene M. Fahey, for the Appellate Division, held that the defendants waived the Speech or Debate Clause defense because they failed to raise it in a timely manner.

Nonetheless, Judge Fahey held that the OML was not violated. He found that the OML should not be read to limit eligible guests to members of the same political caucus that issued the invitation.

Judge Fahey referenced a previously decided case on the topic, Warren v. Giambra 12 Misc.3d 650, 813 N.Y.S.2d 892 [Sup. Ct., Erie County 2006], where the New York Supreme Court concluded that a private assembly of the Democratic majority of the County Legislature was not an exempt political caucus given the presence of the Republican Erie County Executive. The court held that they did not agree with that interpretation of the exemption, based on the plain language of the statute, practical considerations, and the legislative history.

The Appellate Division also held that the Republican Senate majority did not conduct public business during private lobbying conferences with registered members of Democratic party, and that the plaintiffs did not show good cause why the court should exercise its discretion to nullify the MEA.

Judge Fahey ordered judgment in favor of defendants, and held that the defendant New York State Senate did not violate the OML in enacting the MEA, and that marriages performed thereunder were valid.

On Oct. 2012, in an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals of New York denied the plaintiffs’ motion for leave to appeal. We believe the case is now closed.

Elizabeth Greiter - 03/04/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Hospital/Health Department
Religion discrimination
Sexual orientatation
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit religious organization
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General, State of New York
New York State Department of Health
New York State Senate
Plaintiff Description A non-profit Christian political advocacy group in the State of New York and three private citizens.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filed 07/22/2011
Case Closing Year 2012
Case Ongoing No
Court Docket(s)
State Supreme Court
PB-NY-0019-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: Non-PACER U.S. District Court Website
General Documents
State Supreme Court
PB-NY-0019-0001.pdf | Detail
State Court of Appeals
Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Defendants' Motion To Dismiss The Complaint Pursuant To Cplr
PB-NY-0019-0005.pdf | Detail
State Supreme Court
Decision and Order
PB-NY-0019-0002.pdf | Detail
State Supreme Court
Opinion and Order
PB-NY-0019-0003.pdf | Detail
show all people docs
Judges Wiggins, Robert L Jr. Court not on record show/hide docs
PB-NY-0019-0002 | PB-NY-0019-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Lindevaldsen, Rena M. (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-NY-0019-0001 | PB-NY-0019-0003
Miller, Joseph P. (New York) show/hide docs
PB-NY-0019-0001 | PB-NY-0019-0003
Defendant's Lawyers Kerwin, Adrienne (New York) show/hide docs
McGowan, James B. (New York) show/hide docs
Paladino, Victor (New York) show/hide docs
Schneiderman, Eric T. (New York) show/hide docs
PB-NY-0019-0003 | PB-NY-0019-0005

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