Dickerson v. Thompson
Audrey Dickerson and Sonya Thompson are lifelong New York residents who went to Vermont in 2003 to enter into a civil union because they could not marry or enter a civil union in their home state. After their relationship ended, Dickerson wanted to dissolve the civil union, but was unable to do so in Vermont's courts because Vermont requires that a civil union partner seeking dissolution be a state resident, which she was not.
In November 2007, Dickerson filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court to dissolve her Vermont civil union with Thompson, and to ensure that they would have no legal rights and responsibilities toward one another. Thompson neither appeared nor opposed. Instead of granting the relief that Dickerson sought, the Supreme Court dismissed the case, erroneously concluding that the parties' relationship did not exist under New York law, and that the court lacked jurisdiction even to consider Dickerson's case. Dickerson appealed to the Appellate Division, Third Department, and argued that the Supreme Court had jurisdiction and should have issued relief. On October 8, 2009, Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief in support of Dickerson's appeal to explain that, like Dickerson, many New York residents entered into civil unions in Vermont and elsewhere, that civil unions have important legal consequences in and outside of New York and that New York courts have jurisdiction to entertain a lawsuit seeking to dissolve a civil union.
On March 18, 2010, the Appeals court held that the court below had jurisdiction to hear the case and remanded for further proceedings.
In May 2010, the trial court issued an order in which it refused to dissolve the civil union, while declaring the couple freed of the rights and obligations arising from the union. Dickerson appealed a second time. In that appeal, as in the first, Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief in support, explaining that absent dissolution, the parties remained bound by their civil union, unable to marry or form a new legal relationship with a new partner.
On July 21, 2011, the Appeals court held that the lower court had erred when it refused to dissolve the civil union, and ordered it dissolved.
- November 2007 Dickerson files suit to dissolve the civil union she had formed with Thompson in Vermont.
- November 2008 Supreme (trial) Court challenges its own jurisdiction to hear the case and dismisses suit.
- December 2008 Dickerson appeals that dismissal to the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department.
- October 2009 Lambda Legal obtains leave to file amicus brief in the appeal.
- March 2010 Appellate Division, Third Department holds that the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to hear Dickerson's case and returns the case to Supreme Court for further proceedings.
- May 2010 On remand, Supreme Court claims that it lacked the power to dissolve the civil union and refuses to do so, but declares the parties freed of rights arising under the union; Dickerson appeals from the denial of the dissolution.
- March 2011 Lambda Legal obtains leave to file an amicus brief in the second appeal.
- July 2011 Appellate Division, Third Department holds that New York courts do have the power to enter judgments dissolving out-of-state civil unions.
Audrey Juanita Dickerson
Thomas W. Ude Jr.
Susan L. Sommer
Amy Schwartz, Domestic Violence Legal Program, Empire Justice Center, Rochester, NY; Geri Pomerantz, East Greenbush, NY