Elton John & David Furnish v. Adoption Media, LLC | tnorris.jd15 | August 27, 2013


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Elton John & David Furnish v. Adoption Media, LLC

Original Creator: Joseph William Singer Current Version: tnorris.jd15

Elton John & David Furnish v. Adoption Media, LLC


NOTE: Although this problem was inspired by the case of Butler v. Adoption Media, LLC, 486 F. Supp. 2d 1022 (N.D. Cal. 2007), it involves an original fact scenario that alters the facts as presented in the federal district court opinion in that case. Allegations created for the purpose of this problem should not be construed as assertions of fact about the persons involved in Adoption Media, LLC, their business, or their website.


Defendants Dale R. Gwilliam and Nathan W. Gwilliam ("the Gwilliams") are Arizona residents who run businesses that operate adoption-related websites. These  websites constitute the largest, most active, and most well-known Internet adoption-related business in the United States. One of the websites, ParentProfiles.com, offers a service that allows prospective adoptive parents, for a fee, to post "profiles" containing information about themselves, for review by women who have given birth or are about to give birth and plan to give up the children for adoption.


Plaintiffs Elton John and David Furnish have been registered domestic partners in the state of California since 2000. In May of 2005, they were seeking to adopt a child. They were certified and approved to adopt in California, and applied to have their profile posted on ParentProfiles.com. Their application was rejected.


On November 4, 2005, plaintiffs filed suit in state court in California against the Gwilliams and two Arizona limited liability companies owned and managed by the Gwilliams -- Adoption Media LLC and Adoption Profiles LLC. Among other claims,  plaintiffs alleged violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act ("the Unruh Act" or "the Act"), California Civil Code §§ 51 and 51.5, arguing that refusal to provide services to same-sex couples constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation and on sex. They seek damages for violation of their civil rights and for emotional distress, as well as injunctive relief ordering defendants to cease discriminating against them and other prospective adoptive parents from California and place their names on defendants' website. Defendants argue that Arizona laws applies and that under Arizona law, they are entitled to refuse to provide services to same-sex couples.


A federal court has  already ruled that Adoption Media is subject to suit in California courts and subject to the Unruh Civil Rights Act. However, state courts are not bound by determinations of federal courts about the scope and applicability of state law. Thus, the question of whether the Unruh Civil Rights Act applies to Adoption Media is one that the state courts are free to determine on their own. In this case, the state trial court agreed with the federal court ruling and held that California's public accommodations law applied to Adoption Media's website and ordered defendant to include plaintiffs' names on its website. The appeals court reversed on the ground that plaintiffs had waived their rights to the benefits of California law when they applied to have their profile posted on ParentProfiles.com. The court noted that plaintiffs had paid a non-refundable $250 fee and that, as part of their web application, they had checked off a statement that they accepted the terms offered by defendant. Among those terms were a choice-of-law provision for Arizona law and an acknowledgment that "Adoption Media reserves the right to refuse to post the names of any applicant for any reason that is lawful under Arizona law." A dissenting judge in the appeals court argued that any waiver of rights protected by California antidiscrimination laws was invalid and a violation of California public policy. John and Furnish appealed to the California Supreme Court.


1. Does the California Unruh Civil Rights Act apply to defendant's Arizona conduct?


2. If California civil rights law regulates defendant's conduct, is the choice-of-law clause enforceable?


π = Elton John & David Furnish


∆ = Adoption Media 




Annotated Text Information

June 02, 2014

Elton John & David Furnish v. Adoption Media, LLC

Elton John & David Furnish v. Adoption Media, LLC

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