The ruling on Monday, Jan. 6 announced by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the same-sex marriage case in Utah, deserves an explanation regarding the legal procedure that led to where we are now.
The two major areas involving the courts in our country are criminal cases and civil cases. Different rules have been established for these two major areas. The rules governing the civil cases are called Rules of Civil Procedure. In Utah, the Rules of Civil Procedure for state courts and federal courts are very similar.
In the same-sex marriage case now being considered in the federal court in Salt Lake City, United States District Judge Robert Shelby granted a Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This motion is routinely filed in civil cases and can be granted if the judge determines that the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Even though routinely filed, most motions for summary judgment are not granted because there are in fact genuine disputes regarding the facts of a case. Where they are granted, however, that is the end of the evidence presented and the case is over. The purpose of the rule is to save the court’s time and resources where cases have been filed, which are so clear that one party or the other should win.
When a motion for summary judgment is granted, the losing party may file a motion to stay the enforcement of a judgment under Rule 62 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. If granted, the stay delays the enforcement of the judge’s ruling until a higher court has had a chance to review the rational for the decision by the lower court. It is like a stop sign that must be observed before the driver is allowed to proceed further.
In the case at hand, the State of Utah asked for Judge Shelby to stay the enforcement of his ruling until the United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the appellate court for Utah’s federal cases, could review the rationale of his ruling. Judge Shelby denied the motion for the stay. The State then asked the Tenth Circuit Court to grant a stay pending the review. That request was also denied. The State then asked the United States Supreme Court, the appellate court for all federal circuit courts, to grant a stay and the Supreme Court granted the State’s motion for a stay.
What that means from a legal standpoint is that Judge Shelby’s ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment is still valid, but it will not be enforced until that ruling has been reviewed by the United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. That review will be expedited as ordered by the Supreme Court but at least time will be taken to review Judge Shelby’s rationale for his ruling before the general enforcement of his order is allowed to take place.
Mohlman lives in Tooele and has a private law practice.