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Pastors Protecting Youth v. Madigan

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 16, 2017

Pastors Protecting Youth, et al., Plaintiffs,
Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General, in her Official Capacity, Defendant.


          HON. RONALD A. GUZMÁN United States District Judge

         The Court grants Defendant's motion to dismiss [20], and this case is dismissed as nonjusticiable.


         This case concerns the constitutionality of Illinois' Youth Mental Health Protection Act (“YMHPA” or “the Act”), which generally prohibits mental health providers who practice in “trade or commerce” from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts (i.e., conversion therapy) with minors. 405 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 48/20. Plaintiffs are a group of five Illinois pastors and two unincorporated associations of pastors/churches who believe the YMHPA violates their First Amendment rights. Particularly, they claim the law has chilled their ability to provide “pastoral counseling, ” such as counseling about sexual identity and homosexuality. Accordingly, Plaintiffs filed the instant case against defendant Lisa Madigan in her official capacity as Illinois Attorney General, seeking a declaratory judgment that pastors (including those who are compensated for their pastoral work) fall outside the YMHPA's definition of “trade or commerce” and therefore cannot be held liable under the Act.[1] Defendant now moves to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's motion.


         For purposes of a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and construes all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841 (7th Cir. 2012). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must set forth a “‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion, in contrast, challenges federal jurisdiction, and the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the elements necessary for jurisdiction, including standing, have been met. Scanlan, 669 F.3d at 841-42.


         Defendant moves to dismiss on several justiciability grounds, but for the sake of analytical clarity the Court will frame its discussion in terms of standing.

         Article III Section 2 of the Constitution “limits the ‘judicial power' to the resolution of ‘cases' and ‘controversies.'” Ind. Right to Life, Inc. v. Shepard, 507 F.3d 545, 549 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). A case or controversy requires a claim that is ripe and a plaintiff who has standing. Id. Whereas ripeness is concerned with when an action may be brought, standing focuses on who may bring a ripe action. Id. In pre-enforcement challenges such as this case, however, the two concepts tend to merge, and the central question is whether the plaintiff can demonstrate a credible threat of enforcement (or reasonable likelihood of future harm) from the challenged law. See Wis. Right to Life, Inc. v. Schober, 366 F.3d 485, 489 (7th Cir. 2004). Put differently, persons who have only speculative fears that a statute will be applied against them are not appropriate plaintiffs. See Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat. Union, 442 U.S. 289, 298 (1979); Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 42 (1971).

         Here, the crux of Plaintiffs' claim is their belief that the pastoral services they offer are within the meaning of “trade or commerce” in the YMHPA. Put best by Plaintiffs themselves:

Section 25 of the Act applies to anyone who, in “trade or commerce” offers conversion therapy services. Because the government has traditionally taken an expansive view of “commerce, ” it is unclear to Plaintiffs whether their counseling services, which they are compensated for as ministers and which are an alternative to professional counseling, are “in trade or commerce.”

         (Pls.' Br. [Dkt. # 27] at 2.) The YMHPA does not define “trade or commerce, ” however, which means this case is essentially one of statutory interpretation. To that end, Plaintiffs rely upon (1) the language of the YMHPA, (2) the United States Supreme Court's commerce clause jurisprudence, and (3) other Illinois statutes that define “trade or commerce” to include “services” and acts performed within one's “vocation or occupation” - all of which, on Plaintiffs' account, plausibly suggest that religious counseling is “commerce.” The Court finds otherwise.

         I. The YMHPA's Text and Legislative History

         As a federal court interpreting Illinois law, the Court defers to Illinois' rules of statutory interpretation. United States v. Woodland, 607 F.Supp.2d 904, 911 (C.D. Ill. 2009). In that respect, where a statute has not been judicially interpreted, as is the case here, Illinois courts are guided by both the statute's plain language and the legislative intent behind it. People v. Hanna, 800 N.E.2d ...

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