It becomes even more interesting when the motion is successful, and the judge dismisses the case.
It becomes downright intriguing when the judge dismisses the case on an obscure jurisdictional technicality and all but dares the plaintiffs to bring the suit again. So it is with Smelt v. US, the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by a gay married couple in California.
Smelt and Christopher Hammer were married during the period prior to
the passage of Proposition 8, which outlawed such unions in
California. Their lawsuit alleges that DOMA (the federal law which
supports the rights of states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages
performed in other states) violates several of their rights under the
The United States moved to dismiss the lawsuit on
several grounds, even while the author of the motion explicitly stated
that the Obama Administration thought that DOMA was discriminatory and
should be repealed, and that the Administration was defending the
statute only because that was the proper role of the executive.
that lack of a ringing endorsement of DOMA from the Justice Department,
however, the legal arguments the US attorneys made in the case managed
to convince District Court Judge David Carter of the Central District
of California to kick the case out of court.
He did so on
grounds of jurisdictional deficiencies, though, and the dismissal was
without prejudice, so the plaintiffs could refile the suit in the
Central District and go forward in the hopes of obtaining a ruling on
I know what you're thinking: How the heck does that
work? The case was just dismissed from the Central District for lack
of jurisdiction, and you're telling me that the problem will be solved
if they refile in the same jurisdiction? What gives?
answer: the plaintiffs first filed the lawsuit in state court, and then
it was removed to federal court. In certain circumstances, when a case
is removed from state to federal court, the jurisdiction of the federal
court is derivative of the state court's jurisdicition.
other words, if the state court didn't have jurisdiction, then the
federal court won't either. In this case, Judge Carter found that the
state court didn't have jurisdiction over the case since state courts
don't have jurisidiction over suits against the United States for which
the US has not waived sovereign immunity. Therefore, no federal court
jurisdiction, therefore no lawsuit.
Until the plaintiffs
re-file, which they're almost sure to do. Of course, Judge Carter
pointed out that they'll then be subject to the new pleading standard
under Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, which could be difficult for them to meet.