Couples’ Attorneys seek to recoup legal expenses to deter future civil rights violations

Attorneys for the couples in the Rowan County marriage license litigation have filed a motion seeking to recoup more than $200,000 in legal fees incurred in challenging County Clerk Kim Davis’s policy of refusing to issue marriage licenses.

In seeking the fees, ACLU of Kentucky Executive Director Michael Aldridge stated, “It is unfortunate that an elected official sought to use her office to withhold government services on the basis of her religious beliefs. And it is equally regrettable that the county may now have to pay for her misuse of that office and her refusal to comply with the court’s orders.”

In explaining why fees are appropriate in this case, ACLU of Kentucky Legal Director William Sharp stated, “Courts recognize that when successful civil rights plaintiffs obtain a direct benefit from a court-ordered victory, such as in this case, they can be entitled to their legal expenses to deter future civil rights violations by government officials.” He added, “By filing today’s motion, we hope to achieve that very objective — to send a message to government officials that willful violations of individuals’ rights will be costly.”

A portion of the motion filed is available online here.


The case started on July 2, 2015, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges established the right of same-sex couples to marry. Unhappy with that decision because of her religious beliefs, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis announced her office’s policy of refusing to issue marriage licenses to any couple. The ACLU of Kentucky and cooperating attorneys from the firm CLAY DANIEL WALTON & ADAMS filed suit on behalf of four couples - two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples - who had been denied marriage licenses by Davis’s office. The Plaintiffs first secured a court order barring Davis from denying them marriage licenses and then later a second ruling barring her from denying any qualified applicants a marriage license. After she unsuccessfully attempted to have these rulings stayed pending her multiple appeals, Davis ultimately refused to comply with the court order resulting in her being held in civil contempt and jailed for several days while her subordinates complied with the court’s rulings.

While Davis’s appeals remained pending, the Kentucky General Assembly modified Kentucky’s marriage license forms by removing the requirement that clerks’ names appear on the licenses thus rendering the appeals moot. That resulted in the preliminary injunction rulings being vacated and the case dismissed. But by that time, three of the Plaintiff couples were able to obtain their marriage licenses and legally wed, two of which having done so while Davis remained in jail on the contempt citation. Today’s motion seeks to recoup the legal fees for having to go through the expense of that litigation to secure a basic right that should not have been denied eligible couples in the first place — the ability to secure a marriage license and marry the person of their choosing. In addition to the ACLU of Kentucky and the Louisville firm of CLAY DANIEL WALTON & ADAMS, the couples were also represented by attorneys from the national ACLU’s Program on Religious Freedom and Belief and LGBT Projects.