New trial date set to determine costs, damages Kim Davis could owe couples

The lengthy legal battle surrounding the former Rowan County clerk could come to an end this summer.
The lengthy legal battle surrounding the former Rowan County clerk could come to an end this summer.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 3:57 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 11, 2023 at 10:18 AM EDT
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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect new information.

ASHLAND, Ky. (WKYT) - A trial expected later this summer will determine what damages former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis might owe a Morehead couple for violating their constitutional rights.

A jury trial in the case of David Ermold v. Kim Davis has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, September 11 at the federal courthouse in Ashland, according to an order entered Monday by United States District Judge David L. Bunning of the Eastern District of Kentucky.

The trial was originally scheduled for July 11 but had to be continued due to an administrative error in the scheduling, WKYT learned last month.

In March 2022, Judge Bunning ruled that Davis violated the constitutional rights of two same-sex couples when she denied them marriage licenses during the summer of 2015.

Bunning granted summary judgment in the civil lawsuit that the two couples, David Ermold and David Moore, and James Yates and Will Smith, filed against Davis, settling - without a trial - the question of whether Davis violated their constitutional rights.

Bunning, however, denied Davis’s request for summary judgment on the question of damages, leaving that question for a jury to decide whether Davis will be on the hook for the likely hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees accrued over nearly eight years now of ongoing litigation.

The plaintiffs have asked for compensatory damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, costs and attorneys’ fees.

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The Ermold case could be tried at the same time as the Yates case.

Davis’s actions during the summer of 2015 turned Morehead into an epicenter of the battle over gay rights following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

Davis said she acted “under God’s authority” when she, as Bunning’s original order summarizes, “famously refused to comply with Obergefell, which required her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”

David Ermold and David Moore were denied marriage licenses three times, and James Yates and Will Smith were denied licenses four times, before the two couples were granted marriage licenses by a deputy clerk while Davis spent five days in jail for contempt of court.

The two couples sued Davis, saying her actions caused “mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation and reputation damages.”

The case has gone through several setbacks, appeals and delays over the course of the past seven-and-a-half years.

Davis was found to have sovereign immunity in her professional capacity as county clerk, but did not have protection from civil liability in her personal capacity. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal on that issue.

Davis had previously asked state lawmakers for an accommodation for her religious beliefs so that she would not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but she did not receive one. The state later removed the clerk’s signature from marriage licenses.

Davis lost her bid for re-election in 2018.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed punitive damages as one of the amounts being sought by plaintiffs in the case. Punitive damages have been dropped.