Law School Case Brief
Lofton v. Sec'y of the Dep't of Children & Family Servs. - 358 F.3d 804 (11th Cir. 2004)
The appellate court reviews a summary judgment decision de novo and applies the same legal standard used by the district court. In conducting its review, the appellate court views all evidence and factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). However, the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. Only factual disputes that are material under the substantive law governing the case will preclude entry of summary judgment.
Since 1977, Florida's adoption law contained a codified prohibition on adoption by any "homosexual" person. For purposes of the statute, Florida courts defined the term "homosexual" as being "limited to applicants who are known to engage in current, voluntary homosexual activity," thus drawing "a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity.” In the instant case, six homosexual individuals, who had been caring for children as foster parents and guardians, challenged the validity of Florida’s adoption law. The foster parents and children asserted that Florida's adoption law violated their fundamental rights and equal protection. They also sought class certification for two classes. The court denied class certification and granted summary judgment for the state on all counts. The foster parents and children sought review.
Did the Florida adoption law violate appellants' fundamental rights and equal protection?
The court held that the statute was constitutional as enacted and as subsequently enforced. The foster parents' right-to-family-integrity argument failed to state a claim. According to the court, there was no precedent for the novel proposition that long-term foster care arrangements and guardianships were entitled to constitutional protection akin to that accorded to natural and adoptive families. The court also declined the invitation to recognize a new fundamental right to family integrity for groups of individuals who had formed deeply loving and interdependent relationships. As to the Equal Protection challenge, there were plausible rational reasons for the disparate treatment of homosexuals and heterosexual singles under Florida adoption law. To the extent that the classification might have been imperfect, the court held that the imperfection did not rise to the level of a constitutional infraction.
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