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Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights v. City and County of San Francisco

November 30, 2006

CATHOLIC LEAGUE FOR RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL RIGHTS, DR. RICHARD SONNENSHEIN, AND VALERIE MEEHAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, AARON PESKIN, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, AND TOM AMMIANO, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A SUPERVISOR, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patel, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Re: Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Plaintiffs Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Dr. Richard Sonnenshein, and Valerie Meehan (collectively "plaintiffs") filed this action against defendants City and County of San Francisco, Aaron Peskin, and Tom Ammiano (collectively "defendants" or "the City") alleging that defendants violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The dispute arises over a resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors in response to a statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith at the Vatican concerning the adoption of children by same-sex couples. Now before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Having considered the parties' arguments and submissions, and for the reasons set forth below, the court enters the following memorandum and order.

BACKGROUND

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is a Catholic civil rights organization organized to defend the right of Catholics to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination. Compl. ¶ 10. The League has approximately 6,000 members residing in the City and County of San Francisco. Id. Plaintiffs Sonnenshein and Meehan are Catholic residents of San Francisco. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Plaintiffs assert that the religious teachings of the Catholic Church require the disapproval of homosexual behavior and prohibit the legal recognition of homosexual unions. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiffs further claim that, under Catholic teachings, "[a]llowing children to be adopted by persons living in such [homosexual] unions would actually mean doing violence to these children," and therefore "Catholic organizations must not place children for adoption in homosexual households." Id. ¶ 21.

Consistent with these tenets, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ("Congregation"), an organization within the Catholic Church charged with "promot[ing] and safeguard[ing] the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world," issued a document in 2003 entitled "Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons" ("Considerations document"). Id. ¶ 28; Defendants' Request for Judicial Notice ("RJN"), Exh. A. According to plaintiffs, "[t]his document outlines the moral duty of Catholics to oppose homosexual unions and policies that allow homosexual partners to adopt children," policies which the document describes as " `gravely immoral.' " Compl. ¶ 28.

In March 2006, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a directive to the Archdiocese of San Francisco instructing the Archdiocese to stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households. Compl. ¶ 29; RJN, Exh. F. That same month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Unanimously adopted Resolution No. 168-06 ("the Resolution"), which reads:

Resolution urging Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

WHEREAS, It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great City's existing and established customs and traditions such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need; and

WHEREAS, The statement of Cardinal Levada and the Vatican that "Catholic agencies should not place children for adoption in homosexual households," and "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children" are absolutely unacceptable to the citizenry of San Francisco; and

WHEREAS, Such hateful and discriminatory rhetoric is both insulting and callous, and shows a level of insensitivity and ignorance which has seldom been encountered by this Board of Supervisors; and

WHEREAS, Same-sex couples are just as qualified to be parents as are heterosexual couples; and

WHEREAS, Cardinal Levada is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city, and of the people of San Francisco and the values they hold dear; and

WHEREAS, The Board of Supervisors urges Archbishop Niederauer and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to defy all discriminatory directives of Cardinal Levada; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Board of Supervisors urges Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith [sic] at the Vatican (formerly known as Holy Office of the Inquisition), to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

Compl. ¶ 29; RJN, Exh. F. Plaintiffs also allege that defendants have threatened to withhold funding from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco if they comply with the Cardinal's directive. Compl. ¶ 31.

Plaintiffs filed their complaint on April 4, 2006, alleging that Resolution 168-06 violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and requesting that the court permanently enjoin defendants from criticizing and attacking religion and religious beliefs. Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint, alleging that plaintiffs have failed to plead a cognizable claim under the Establishment Clause.

LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) "tests the legal sufficiency of a claim." Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir.2001). Because Rule 12(b)(6) focuses on the "sufficiency" of a claim-and not the claim's substantive merits-"a court may [typically] look only at the face of the complaint to decide a motion to dismiss." Van Buskirk v. Cable News Network, Inc., 284 F.3d 977, 980 (9th Cir.2002). Although the court is generally confined to consideration of the allegations in the pleadings, when the complaint is accompanied by attached documents, such documents are deemed part of the complaint and may be considered in evaluating the merits of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Durning v. First Boston Corp., 815 F.2d 1265, 1267 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 944, 108 S.Ct. 330, 98 L.Ed.2d 358 (1987). Similarly, the court may consider documents that are not physically attached to the complaint where the authenticity of the documents is not contested and the complaint necessarily relies on them. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688-89 (9th Cir.2001). In addition, ...


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