Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

North Carolina State Conference of NAACP v. The North Carolina State Board of Elections

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 26, 2017

NORTH CAROLINA STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NAACP, MOORE COUNTY BRANCH OF THE NAACP, JAMES EDWARD ARTHUR, SR., JAMES MICHAEL BROWER, GRACE BELL HARDISON, and JAMES L. COX, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS, [1] A. GRANT WHITNEY, JR., in his official capacity as Chairman of the State Board of Elections, RHONDA K. AMOROSO, in her official capacity as Secretary of the State Board of Elections, KIM WESTBROOK STRACH, in her official capacity as Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, JOSHUA D. MALCOLM in his official capacity as Member of the State Board of Elections, JAMES BAKER, in his official capacity as Member of the State Board of Elections, MAJA KRICKER, in her Official capacity as Member of the State Board of Elections, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LORETTA C. BIGGS, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are three motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. The first is brought by the Beaufort County Board of Elections, its Chairman, Secretary, Director, and a Member of the Board, each named in their official capacities (collectively “Beaufort Defendants”), (ECF No. 56); the second by the Cumberland County Board of Elections, its Chairperson, Secretary, Director, and a Member of the Board, each named in their official capacities (collectively “Cumberland Defendants”), (ECF No. 59); and the third by the Moore County Board of Elections, its Chairman, Secretary, Director, and a Member of the Board, each named in their official capacities (collectively “Moore Defendants”), (ECF No. 61). Each county's motion is brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. For the reasons that follow, the Cumberland and Moore Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part; and the Beaufort Defendants' motion is denied in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and the Moore County Branch of the NAACP (collectively “Organizational Plaintiffs”), as well as James E. Arthur, Sr., James M. Brower, Grace B. Hardison, and James L. Cox (collectively “Individual Plaintiffs”), commenced this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging violations of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, (the “NVRA”), 52 U.S.C. § 20507(a), the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 5, 79.) The Complaint alleges that the Beaufort, Cumberland, and Moore Defendants, (collectively “County Boards”), cancelled thousands of voter registrations based on a single mailing sent to each of the voters, which was returned as undeliverable. (Id. ¶ 3.) Further, Plaintiffs allege that “[i]n many cases, voters purged by [the County Boards] still reside at the addresses where they are registered to vote, or have moved within the county and remain eligible to vote there.” (Id.)

         On October 31, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Application for Temporary Restraining Order, (ECF No. 21), requesting that this Court enjoin Defendants from, among other things: “(1) cancelling the registration of voters through the challenge procedure set forth in N.C. G.S. § 163-85 and § 163-86, when those challenges are based on change of residency and the State has neither received written confirmation from the voter of a change in residence outside of the county, nor complied with the NVRA's notice requirement and two-election cycle waiting period; (2) using the challenge procedure set forth in N.C. G.S. § 163-85 and § 163-86 to remove voters from the rolls based on change of residency information in the 90 days preceding a federal election; and (3) holding hearings or taking any other actions to process challenges filed under those provisions in the circumstances identified.” (ECF No. 21-1 at 31.) This Court held a hearing on Plaintiffs' request on November 2, 2016.

         On November 4, 2016, this Court entered a Memorandum Opinion, (ECF No. 42), concluding that Defendants' actions as alleged by Plaintiffs had likely violated the NVRA (ECF No. 42 at 21), [2] and simultaneously entered a Preliminary Injunction, [3] (ECF No. 43). The injunction ordered, among other things, that (1) Defendants shall “restore the voter registrations that were canceled during the 90-day period preceding the November 8, 2016” general election “through application of the challenge procedure set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163-85 and 163-86, and . . . ensure that those voters are able to vote” in that election; (2) Defendants were “enjoined and restrained from canceling the registration of voters through the challenge procedures set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 163-85 and 163-86” when officials had not complied with the NVRA; and (3) “Defendant Strach shall take all reasonable and necessary steps to ensure statewide compliance with the NVRA consistent” with the Court's Opinion. (ECF No. 43 at 3-5 (emphasis omitted).)

         The County Boards' motions to dismiss were filed on January 26, 2017. (ECF Nos. 56, 59, 61.) The Cumberland and Moore Defendants argue that Plaintiffs lack standing in each of their respective motions; while in all three motions, the County Boards each contend that Plaintiffs' claims are now moot. (ECF Nos. 57 at 10-17; 60 at 4-19; 62 at 6-19.) In addition to Plaintiffs filing a Consolidated Opposition to County Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, (ECF No. 69), Defendant the North Carolina State Board of Elections, its Chairman, Secretary, Executive Director, and Members of the Board, each named in their official capacities (collectively “State Defendants”), filed an Opposition to Motions to Dismiss by County Defendants, (ECF No. 65).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion under Rule 12(b)(1), which governs dismissals for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, raises the question of “whether [the plaintiff] has a right to be in the district court at all and whether the court has the power to hear and dispose of [the] claim.” Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012). The burden of establishing subject-matter jurisdiction is on the plaintiff. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). At the pleading stage, a plaintiff can survive a motion to dismiss while asserting only “general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct” because at this stage of a case, courts “presume that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim.” Beck v. McDonald, 848 F.3d 262, 270 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 2307 (2017) (quoting Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). When, as here, a defendant brings a factual challenge to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction, “the defendant argues ‘that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true, ' providing the [district] court the discretion to ‘go beyond the allegations of the complaint.'” Id. (first alteration in original). The court should grant the motion “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Evans, 166 F.3d at 647.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The County Boards' arguments in support of their motions to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction are grounded in Article III's case-or-controversy requirement. Article III of the Constitution “limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to ‘Cases' and ‘Controversies, '” Beck, 848 F.3d at 269 (quoting U.S. Const. art. III, § 2), and the doctrines of standing and mootness derive from that limitation, White Tail Park, Inc. v. Stroube, 413 F.3d 451, 458 (4th Cir. 2005). The standing determination “remains focused on whether the party invoking jurisdiction had the requisite stake in the outcome when the suit was filed.” Davis v. FEC, 554 U.S. 724, 734 (2008). In contrast, “[a] case becomes moot . . . ‘when the issues presented are no longer “live” or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.'” Pashby v. Delia, 709 F.3d 307, 316 (4th Cir. 2013).

         A. Standing

         Standing ensures that a plaintiff has “a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy” that is sufficient to warrant the “invocation of federal-court jurisdiction.” Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. 488, 493 (2009). To establish Article III standing at the motion to dismiss stage, “a plaintiff must plausibly allege that: ‘(1) it has suffered an injury in fact that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.'” Liberty Univ., Inc. v. Lew, 733 F.3d 72, 89 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs., Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000)). When a plaintiff seeks redress for a prospective harm, the plaintiff can demonstrate that an alleged injury is sufficiently imminent for standing purposes by showing that the harm is “certainly impending” or that the plaintiff faces a “substantial risk” of its occurrence. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 134 S.Ct. 2334, 2341 (2014). The requirement that a plaintiff have standing to sue applies to both individuals and organizations. White Tail Park, Inc., 413 F.3d at 458. An organization can demonstrate standing to sue in two ways: on its own behalf (organizational standing) or on behalf of its members (representational standing).[4]See id.

         A plaintiff can establish organizational standing “when it seeks redress for an injury suffered by the organization itself.” Id. An injury is cognizable, for organizational standing purposes, when the plaintiff alleges that “a defendant's practices have hampered an organization's stated objectives causing the organization to divert its resources as a result.” Action NC v. Strach, 216 F.Supp.3d 597, 616 (M.D. N.C. 2016) (citing Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 379 (1982)).

         A plaintiff can establish “representational standing” to sue on its members' behalf when “(1) its own members would have standing to sue in their own right; (2) the interests the organization seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (3) neither the claim nor the relief sought requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.” S. Walk at Broadlands Homeowner's Ass'n, Inc. v. OpenBand at Broadlands, LLC, 713 F.3d 175, 184 (4th Cir. 2013). Applying Supreme Court precedent, the Fourth Circuit has held that the first requirement of representational standing-demonstrating that an organization's members would have standing to sue in their own right-requires an organization to “make specific allegations establishing that at least one identified member had suffered or would suffer harm.” Id. (quoting Summers, 555 U.S. at 498).

         Only the Cumberland and Moore Defendants challenge this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction on standing grounds. (ECF No. 60 at 4-15; ECF No. 62 at 15-19.) 1. Cumberland Defendants The Cumberland Defendants make three arguments in support of their contention that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring any claim against the Cumberland Defendants. The Cumberland Defendants argue that (1) Plaintiffs lack standing to sue the individual Cumberland County officials who are being sued in their official capacities on the ground that the challenged actions can only be taken by county boards of elections, and not by individual members of those boards, (ECF No. 60 at 14-15); (2) no Individual Plaintiff has an injury that is fairly traceable to the conduct of the Cumberland Defendants because “each individual plaintiff could only have been subject to the conduct of the Board of Elections in the county in which the individual plaintiff was registered, ” (id. at 6-7); and (3) the Organizational Plaintiffs have not pled sufficient allegations to establish standing arising from cognizable harm suffered by the organizations themselves or a specific, identified member, (id. at 7-14).

         The Cumberland Defendants' first two arguments require very little discussion. As to the first contention that Plaintiffs lack standing to sue individual county officials in their official capacities, the Cumberland Defendants cite no legal authority to support this argument and this Court finds none. “[O]fficial-capacity suits ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 525 (4th Cir. 2000) (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)). “As long as the government entity [involved] receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Graham, 473 U.S. at 166. Consequently, this first argument fails. As to the Cumberland Defendants' second argument-that Individual Plaintiffs lack standing to bring claims against them since no Individual Plaintiff alleges that he or she was a registered voter in Cumberland County- Plaintiffs do not dispute the Cumberland Defendants' contention. (See generally ECF No. 69.) Therefore, to the extent that Individual Plaintiffs Arthur, Brower, Hardison, and Cox, assert claims against Cumberland Defendants, the Cumberland Defendants' motion is allowed.

         The Cumberland Defendants' third argument requires an examination of the allegations in the Complaint in greater detail. The Cumberland Defendants challenge the standing of each Organizational Plaintiff on both organizational and representational standing grounds. (ECF No. 60 at 7-14.) However, these Plaintiffs do not contest that the Moore NAACP has standing to sue the Cumberland Defendants. Plaintiffs do argue, however, that the North Carolina NAACP has representational standing to bring claims arising from the harm to its members and organizational standing to bring claims on its own behalf. (ECF No. 69 at 23-29.) The Court will therefore only examine whether the North Carolina NAACP has standing to assert claims against the Cumberland Defendants.

         The North Carolina NAACP disputes the Cumberland Defendants' contention that its representational standing claim fails because the North Carolina NAACP cannot identify one specific member whose voter registration was purged. (ECF No. 69 at 25-29.) Plaintiffs argue that they have specifically identified one member, Mr. Brower, who was injured by Defendants' challenged conduct. (Id. at 25.) However, Plaintiffs do not contend that Mr. Brower's injury resulted from, or is traceable to, the challenged conduct of the Cumberland Defendants. Rather, Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that all of Mr. Brower's injuries result from the conduct of the Moore Defendants. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 13.) Therefore, the North Carolina NAACP cannot rely on Mr. Brower's injuries to establish representational standing to sue the Cumberland Defendants.

         The North Carolina NAACP next argues, in the alternative, that it can establish representational standing to sue the Cumberland Defendants on the ground that all of its members are likely to be harmed. (ECF No. 69 at 27.) Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that the North Carolina NAACP “has plausibly alleged that all of its members are likely to suffer future harm if Defendants' unlawful conduct is not enjoined, and that allegation is independently sufficient for [representational] standing.” (Id.) There is a “limited exception” to the identification requirement, which applies only when “all members of an ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.