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Law School Case Brief

Pidgeon v. Turner - 538 S.W.3d 73 (Tex. 2017)

Rule:

Texas law permits interlocutory appeals from orders denying a plea to the jurisdiction and granting a temporary injunction, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(4)(8), but currently, the Supreme Court of Texas's jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals is limited. Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 22.001(a)(1). The Supreme Court of Texas may only review the appellate court's interlocutory decision if (1) one or more justices dissented in the court of appeals, or (2) the court of appeals holds differently from a prior decision of another court of appeals or of the Supreme Court of Texas. Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 22.225(c). One court holds differently from another when there is inconsistency in their respective decisions that should be clarified to remove unnecessary uncertainty in the law and unfairness to litigants. § 22.225(e)

Facts:

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court held that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)'s provision defining the terms "marriage" and "spouse" to apply only to opposite-sex couples violates "basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government." Based on this decision, the City of Houston city attorney advised then-mayor Annise Parker that the City "may extend benefits" to City employees' same-sex spouses who were legally married in other states "on the same terms it extends benefits to heterosexual spouses." In the attorney's opinion, refusing to provide such benefits would "be unconstitutional." Relying on this advice, on November 19, 2013, Mayor Parker sent a memo to the City's human-resources director "directing that same-sex spouses of employees who have been legally married in another jurisdiction be afforded the same benefits as spouses of a heterosexual marriage." The City began offering those benefits soon after the Mayor issued her directive. A month later, Pidgeon and Hicks filed suit against the City and the Mayor challenging the Mayor's directive and the City's provision of benefits pursuant to that directive. Pidgeon and Hicks alleged that they are Houston taxpayers and qualified voters, that the City is "expending significant public funds on an illegal activity," and that the Mayor's directive authorizing those expenditures violates Texas's and the City's DOMA. The trial court denied the City of Houston's and its Mayor's pleas to the jurisdiction and issued a temporary injunction prohibiting them from "furnishing benefits to persons who were married in other jurisdictions to City employees of the same sex." While their interlocutory appeal was pending in the court of appeals, the United States Supreme Court held that states may not "exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples." (Obergefell v. Hodges).

Issue:

Should the court grant the interlocutory appeal?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court reversed the court of appeals' judgment, vacated the trial court's temporary injunction order, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with new case law. It held that the court of appeals' judgment did not bar Pidgeon from seeking all appropriate relief on remand or bar the mayor from opposing that relief. The court rejected the challenger's claim that the injunction required the city to claw back tax dollars it expended on benefits for same-sex spouses because such an injunction was not requested or granted. The court also declined to instruct the trial court how to construe the Obergefell doctrine on remand. 

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