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Lawsuit challenging cities' human rights ordinances stays in court

November 17, 2016

A Hamilton County judge has ruled that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of human rights ordinances in four Indiana cities can continue, despite the cities’ arguments that there was no legal standing to bring the suit.

Hamilton Superior Judge Steve Nation denied almost all of the motions the cities of Carmel, Indianapolis, Bloomington and Columbus filed to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them and their human rights ordinances by the Indiana Family Institute Inc., Indiana Family Action Inc. and the American Family Association of Indiana Inc. The three conservative family values organizations argue in their complaint that the human rights ordinances in each of the four cities, which all provide protections against LGBT discrimination, are unconstitutional and “substantially burden” the organizations’ religious freedom by preventing them from hosting pro-traditional marriage events in the cities.

Specifically, Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp of the Bopp Law Firm argued before Nation on Nov. 2 that the “fix” to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act was unconstitutional because it prohibits LGBT discrimination unless a person or organization is affiliated with a church or a member of the clergy. With the fix in place, Bopp said the family values groups have no legal protection against the human rights ordinances.

But counsel for the four cities told Nation at the hearing that the three organizations had not yet been negatively impacted by the ordinances and, thus, had no legal standing to bring their case. Further, the cities told Nation that because there had been no actual injury to IFI, IFA or AFA, the case was not ripe for judgment.

Specifically, the four cities, which all presented similar arguments, argued that the case should be dismissed on the basis of Indiana Trial Rules 8, 12(B)(1), 12(B)(6) and 19(A). Nation denied all motions for dismissal under Rules 8 and 12(B)(1).

However, the Hamilton County judge did dismiss IFI and IFA’s claims against the city of Indianapolis under 12(B)(6),  for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” All other 12(B)(6) motions were denied.

Nation did grant the motions to dismiss under 19(A), writing that Bopp and the plaintiffs had 20 days to file a second amended complaint adding the state of Indiana or the appropriate state officials as a party. The cities had argued Nov. 2 that Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller should have been included as a party to the suit, but Bopp said the state had the option of joining the complaint and chose not to.

Additionally, the individual members of the Indianapolis-Marion County Equal Opportunity Advisory Board, Bloomington Human Rights Commission and Columbus Human Rights Commission, who are named as defendants solely in the official capacities, were dismissed from the suit. However, motions to dismiss the Bloomington and Columbus human rights commissions were denied.

Libby Goodknight, attorney for the city of Carmel, Alan Whitted, Columbus city attorney, and Thomas Cameron, Bloomington assistant city attorney, all said they couldn't comment on the order.

Pam Schneeman, attorney for the city of Indianapolis, and Bopp did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Nation's order.

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