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Dickerson Decision: Press Coverage from Across New York


July 25, 2011

Contact: Amy Schwartz-Wallace,  (585) 454-4060

In a landmark decision issued July 21, 2011 in the case of Dickerson v. Thompson, the Appellate Division, Third Department, reversed a lower court’s ruling and granted dissolution of a Vermont civil union for lifelong New York resident and victim of intimate partner abuse, Audrey Dickerson. “The significance of this decision for same-sex couples cannot be understated.  As a result of this ruling, there is now a clear roadmap for other courts to follow.  The Court’s holding clears up confusion and emphatically states that New York courts can dissolve these out-of-state unions in equity and look to that state’s law to determine whether sufficient grounds exist.  

Represented by the Empire Justice Center, together with co-counsel, the Law Office of Geri Pomerantz since 2007, Ms. Dickerson’s original case was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Schenectady County for lack of subject jurisdiction .  We appealed that ruling and won (http://courts.state.ny.us/Reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_02052.htm).  In the first appeal, the Third Department held that New York courts could dissolve civil unions and, further, determined that courts may recognize the parties’ civil union status.  The case was then sent back to the trial court for further proceedings on the merits.  Unfortunately, the trial court again refused to dissolve Ms. Dickerson’s civil union and this second appeal ensued. 

Agreeing with Ms. Dickerson in its most recent strongly-worded opinion, the majority stated “the exercise of Supreme Court’s equitable powers to grant a dissolution of the civil union was clearly warranted here.  …[W]e find that equity would be served by granting her the requested relief and that Supreme Court erred in declining to…do so.”  In support of their decision, the Appellate Court also discussed the “chilling effects” that would flow from Ms. Dickerson’s continued status as a civilly unioned person in the absence of dissolution relief.  The court specifically noted that failure to dissolve a civil union in New York would, incongruously, render civil unions more durable than marriages in this state.  Based upon the merits of the complaint, the Appellate Court determined that Ms. Dickerson pled sufficient grounds for dissolution under Vermont law and granted her dissolution request. 

Empire Justice Center is delighted that after four years of intense appellate litigation,  Ms. Dickerson is finally free to move forward with her life.  Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of Ms. Dickerson’s position in both of her appellate victories. 

Joint Press Release from the Law Office of Geri Pomerantz and Empire Justice Center

Click here to read the Court's decision

Press Coverage: 

The Huffington Post: New York Courts are Open for Civil Union Divorces 

Leonard Link: First New York Appellate Ruling Dissolving a Vermont Civil Union

New York Law Journal: N.Y. Court Dissolves Civil Union in Ruling Grounded on 'Equity'

The Daily Record: Decision clarifies dissolution of civil unions

Times Union: Judge had power to annul union