E.D.La: denies motion to dismiss lawsuit alleging voting rights violations

The District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana denied a motion to dismiss claims alleging that Louisiana violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The court dismissed state law claims that arose out of the same facts. The court found that the plaintiffs had standing, that they had provided adequate notice to the defendants prior to bringing suit, that declaratory relief was a permissible remedy, and that the court should not dismiss the federal claims even if the plaintiffs requested an unsuitable remedy. Ferrand v. Schedler, 2011 WL 3268700 (E.D. La. July 21, 2011). Judge Lance M. Africk, nominated by President George W. Bush, wrote the opinion of the court.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”) requires states to provide assistance to individuals registering to vote. 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg(b)(1). Roy Ferrand and Luther Scott allegedly did not receive the assistance that the NVRA mandates. Counsel for the NAACP of Louisiana, Roy Ferrand, and Luther Scott Jr. sent a letter to state officials notifying them of the alleged violation of the NVRA, and three months later this lawsuit was filed.

The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the NAACP lacked standing. The NAACP claimed an injury to itself.  The court concluded that the NAACP had suffered sufficient injury. Because of the alleged violation of law, the NAACP asserted that it had to send additional volunteers and expend other resources to fulfill its mission to register voters. These “wasted resources” were an injury that was traceable to the defendants’ conduct, and a decision in the NAACP’s favor would redress the injury. Thus, the NAACP had standing to sue.

The court next considered whether the Eleventh Amendment barred the plaintiffs’ claims of state law violations. The Eleventh Amendment bars federal courts from entertaining suits against state officials based on state law. The plaintiffs argued that the amendment’s protection does not extend to state laws that are implementing federal law. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the relevant precedent and concluded that the Eleventh Amendment required the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ state law claims.

The court rejected the defendants’ argument that plaintiffs failed to provide adequate notice of their claims. The NVRA requires individuals alleging a violation of the law to notify the state’s chief election official of the violation. The notice should contain enough information to allow the official an opportunity to correct the violation. The plaintiffs sent a letter to the Secretary of State of Louisiana before filing suit, but the defendants argued that the plaintiffs should have notified the other defendants and that the letter did not provide enough information to allow the defendants to correct the violation. The court disagreed. The NVRA only requires notice to a state’s chief election official, so the plaintiffs were not obliged to notify the other defendants. Furthermore, the court found the letter was sufficiently specific about the violations.

The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that declaratory judgment was not a permissible remedy in the lawsuit. The court agreed that adjudicating past conduct is an inappropriate use of the declaratory judgment. However, here the plaintiffs alleged ongoing violations of the NVRA, and a declaratory judgment would not be merely an adjudication of past conduct. The court also found that a declaratory judgment was not disallowed under the Fifth Circuit’s three part framework for analyzing whether declaratory judgments are permissible. First, because the alleged harm was “real and immediate,” the case was “justiciable.” Second, the court had authority to grant a declaratory judgment because federal statutes, including the NVRA, granted it the authority. 28 U.S.C. 2201(a); 42 U.S.C. 1973gg-9(b)(2). Third, the circumstances of the case did not suggest the court should exercise its discretion to deny declaratory relief. Declaratory relief, the court concluded, was a permissible kind of relief for the plaintiffs.

Finally, the court denied the defendants’ claim that the NVRA does not require court-approved reporting and monitoring. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs requested a kind of relief the NVRA does not provide. The court responded that motions under Rule 12(b)(6) only require dismissing claims that do not establish a claim for relief. Whether plaintiffs have requested the most appropriate form of relief is irrelevant to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Consequently, the plaintiffs’ claims could not be dismissed on those grounds.

This entry was posted in Case Analyses. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.