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A federal appeals court revived a high-profile civil case against a county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue a marriage license to a gay couple.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal sent the case back to a trial judge, who had dismissed the complaint as moot after a state law removed clerks as signors on marriage certificates. Kim Davis, a Kentucky court clerk, had refused to issue a license to plaintiffs David Ermold and David Moore in 2015.
Davis refused on religious grounds, even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, choosing instead to spend five days in jail for contempt.
Judge David Bunning had held Davis in contempt, finding that her good faith belief in "God's moral law" did not absolve her from her legal duty to issue the marriage license. However, the judge threw out the case when a bill was signed into law, relieving her of the duty.
The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that they wanted damages and not injunctive relief. For that reason, the appeals court reversed and remanded.
"We conclude that the district court's characterization of this case as simply contesting the 'no marriage licenses' policy is inaccurate because Ermold and Moore did not seek an injunction - they sought only damages," Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for the appeals court. "This action is not a general challenge to Davis's policy, but rather seeks damages for a particularized harm allegedly suffered by a specific set of plaintiffs."
Although the plaintiffs obtained a license and married, they have persisted that they suffered because Davis refused them. The appeals court said they can proceed because their damage claims were not "insubstantial or otherwise foreclosed."
Michael Gartland, who represents Ermold and Moore, told Reuters that his clients want compensatory and punitive damages. He did not specify.
"Do I think it's a million dollar case? Probably not," he said. "The next step will be to go to discovery and go to trial, where I am confident we will obtain a judgment against Davis."
Mat Staver, who is representing Davis, said he was confident about the case.
"The ruling keeps the case alive for a little while but it is not a victory for the plaintiffs," he said.
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