Birchfield v. Armstrong

After more than 40 years together, Hal Birchfield and James Merrick Smith traveled to New York in October 2012 and got married. Tragically, less than a year later, in September 2013, James died. Upon James’ death, his share of the home they owned together was transferred to Hal, but because at that time Florida did not recognize their marriage, that transfer was treated as a “change of ownership” instead of as a transfer to a surviving spouse. As a result, the taxable value of Hal’s property jumped significantly – a financial burden from which surviving different-sex spouses are protected. Although Florida’s discriminatory marriage ban was not struck down until January 2015, in August 2014, Hal filed an application with the Miami-Dade County Office of Property Appraisal to reinstate the spousal homestead protections he should have received at the time of James’ death.

In August 2015, Lambda Legal and cooperating counsel White & Case sent a demand letter to the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser on behalf of Birchfield asserting that Florida’s homestead laws provide critical protections to married couples and, as the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made clear, those protections apply to all married couples, regardless of their sexual orientation or sex. The Miami-Dade Office of Property Appraisal resolved this matter with Birchfield by reinstating his homestead exemption tax protections and promising to refund the excess taxes that he has paid.

In December 2015, Lambda Legal filed a federal class action lawsuit in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division, on behalf of Hal; Paul Mocko, another gay widower; and other Florida same-sex spouses in similar situations, who are seeking accurate death certificates for their deceased spouses that acknowledge they were married and recognize them as the surviving spouses.

History

  • October 2012 Hal Birchfield and James Merrick Smith marry in New York after more than 40 years together.
  • September 2013 James dies. 
  • August 2014 Hal files an application with the Miami-Dade County Office of Property Appraisal to reinstate the spousal homestead protections he should have received at the time of James’ death.
  • August 2015 Lambda Legal and cooperating counsel White & Case send a demand letter to the Appraiser on Hal's behalf, asserting that Florida’s homestead laws provide critical protections to married couples and those protections apply to all married couples, regardless of their sexual orientation or sex. The Appraiser reinstates Hal's homestead exemption tax protections and promises to refund the excess taxes that he has paid.
  • December 2015 Lambda Legal files a federal class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division, on behalf of Hal; Paul Mocko, another gay widower; and other Florida same-sex spouses in similar situations, who are seeking accurate death certificates for their deceased spouses that acknowledge they were married and recognize them as the surviving spouses.
  • June 2016 Lambda Legal files a motion for summary judgment.
  • March 23 2017 Victory! Federal Court orders Florida to issue accurate death certificates.

Case Information

Status: Open

Lambda Legal

Karen L. Loewy
Tara L. Borelli

White & Case LLP.

David P. Draigh
Stephanie S. Silk