FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | July 27, 2001
Partner of Dog-Mauling Victim Diane Whipple Gains Legal Victory
(San Francisco, CA, July 27, 2001) — In an unprecedented victory for gays and lesbians, San Francisco Superior Court Judge A. James Robertson II today held that Sharon Smith can proceed to trial in her lawsuit for the wrongful death of her same-sex partner, Diane Whipple.
"This is a tremendous victory," said Sharon Smith. "I am so thankful for all of the support I have received from people all over the country."
The defendants, Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who were the owners and caretakers of the dogs that killed Sharon's partner Diane Whipple, had asked the Court to dismiss the suit on the ground that Sharon was not entitled to proceed in her wrongful death action because she and Diane were not married. Judge Robertson denied the request, holding that because same-sex couples cannot marry in California, limiting the right to sue to heterosexual spouses violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.
"This is a remarkable day. This is the first decision of this kind, not just in California but anywhere in the country," said Smith's attorney Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "It's a tremendous victory for lesbian and gay people in the United States."
Michael Cardoza, a San Francisco attorney who also represents Smith, said he was pleased with the decision. "It is a giant step in what will be a long trip toward equality," he said. "However, it is not the last step. People shouldn't lose sight of that."
"Judge Robertson's bold decision vindicates the City's commitment to fairness and equality," said Louise Renne, San Francisco City Attorney, whose office filed an amicus brief along with the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom in support of Smith. "Since the California Constitution promises its citizens equal treatment, the government can't simply exclude all surviving partners to a same-sex union from standing to bring a wrongful death action."
Diane Whipple was killed by the dogs January 26 in her apartment hallway. Smith, her long-time partner, filed a wrongful death suit in San Francisco Superior Court in March.
Read Order Overruling Defendants' Demurrer and Denying Defendants' Motion to Strike from the California Superior Court.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.