University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name PA Department of Health v. Hanes PB-PA-0014
Docket / Court 379-MD-2013 ( State Court )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
Case Summary
Documents for this case were found online.

Previously in Whitewood v. Corbett, on July 9, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania ... read more >
Documents for this case were found online.

Previously in Whitewood v. Corbett, on July 9, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of section 1102 of Pennsylvania Marriage Law, defining marriage as a contract between “one man and one woman,” as well as section 1704, which voids same-sex unions established in foreign jurisdictions. The ACLU sought the declaration that the prohibition of same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional, shortly after the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriages legalized by the states, unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor (see case PB-NY-0017 in this clearinghouse).

Meanwhile, on July 30, 2013, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Department of Health filed a petition against Clerk D. Bruce Hanes, a county clerk at the Clerk of Orphans’ Court of Montgomery County in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. The petitioner alleged that the respondent had violated Pennsylvania Marriage Law by repeatedly issuing marriage licenses to individuals as of the same gender, against state law which defined marriage as a union between “one man and one woman.” The respondent, an elected register of wills, had licensed a total of 174 same-sex marriage licenses in approximately six weeks. The petitioners moved for summary judgment, seeking a writ of mandamus to prevent the clerk from issuing same-sex marriage licenses and to invalidate the marriages that have already taken place. The case was assigned to Judge Dan Pellegrini.

On August 19, 2013, the respondent filed a motion to deny the mandamus and request for summary relief. He alleged that the case was beyond the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth court, as the issuance of marriage was a “judicial act,” performed in his capacity as a “judicial officer.” Therefore, he argued, the mandamus action was under exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Section 721(2) of the Judicial Code. The respondent also argued that only the Attorney General, the Montgomery County District Attorney, or a private citizen with an interest independent of the public at large had standing to seek mandamus relief. Finally, the respondent asserted that for the petitioners to establish a right of relief, the Department needed to demonstrate the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s marriage laws. On August 19, 2013, a group comprised of thirty-two same-sex couples licensed by the respondent, designated as Putative Intervenors, petitioned the court to intervene as respondents in the case.

The court considered whether the Commonwealth court had the subject matter jurisdiction for the case, whether the Department of Health had the standing to seek mandamus relief, and whether the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s marriage law could be raised as a defense to a mandamus action. On September 12, 2013, Judge Pellegrini concluded that the Commonwealth was entitled to the jurisdiction of the mandamus and that the Department of Health, through the Office of General Counsel, had the standing to seek mandamus relief. The court also decided that the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s marriage laws did not have standing as a defense, as it is presumptively constitutional until declared otherwise by the Judiciary.

Correspondingly, the petition ordering Clerk Hanes to cease issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was granted and the intervenors’ petition to join the case was rejected. The respondent filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on December 2, 2013. On the same day, twenty-three couples who received a marriage license from the respondent filed an amicus curiae brief, requesting the Supreme Court to not address the validity of their marriage licenses.

Meanwhile, District Judge John E. Jones III’s ruling of Whitewood v. Corbett struck down Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban on May 20, 2014. On the same day, the respondent filed an emergency petition with the state Supreme Court to lift Judge Pellegrini’s order. The Commonwealth dropped the case against the respondent. After May 20, 2014, the 174 marriages issued by the respondent were considered legal and the couples did not need to reapply for a new marriage license.

Averyn Lee - 06/08/2019

compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Sexual orientatation
Plaintiff Type
Non-DOJ federal government plaintiff
State Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Clerk D. Bruce Hanes
Plaintiff Description The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Department of Health.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
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 Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 07/30/2013
Case Closing Year 2014
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing PB-PA-0012 : Whitewood v. Corbett (M.D. Pa.)
PB-NY-0017 : Windsor v. United States (S.D.N.Y.)
Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
No documents currently in the collection

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -