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Perez v. Abbott

United States District Court, W.D. Texas

May 1, 2017

SHANNON PEREZ, ET AL.
v.
GREG ABBOTT, ET AL.

          ORDER ON THE NAACP PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO SUBSTITUTE PLAINTIFF INTERVENOR

          XAVIER RODRIGUEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On this date, the Court considered the NAACP's Motion to Substitute Plaintiff-Intervenor (Docket no. 1348), the State's Response (Docket no. 1350), and the NAACP's reply (Docket no. 1355). After careful consideration, the motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Dr. Juanita Wallace (“Dr. Wallace”) was a resident of Dallas County who brought claims as one of the NAACP plaintiffs in this lawsuit, alleging various violations of her right to vote. Docket no. 900 at 4. She resided in CD30 and HD100. Id. Notably, she alleges a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1]

         Dr. Wallace passed away on September 4, 2016. Docket no. 1347 at 2. By its present motion, the NAACP seeks to substitute Juan Wallace (“Wallace”), Dr. Wallace's daughter and heir, as a plaintiff-intervenor in this action. Docket no. 1348. None of the pleadings indicate where Wallace resides, but at the April 27 status conference, the NAACP indicated that she lives in Mesquite, Texas, which is outside of her mother's districts.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(a)(1) provides “If a party dies and the claim is not extinguished, the court may order substitution of the proper party” (emphasis added). The parties dispute whether Dr. Wallace's § 1983 claim was extinguished upon her death. The Court finds that the claim was extinguished, making substitution inappropriate.

         I. Whether Dr. Wallace's claim survives her death depends on Texas state law, not federal common law.

         Defendants cast this dispute as a simple one regarding Texas' state survivorship law. The NAACP argues that Texas law allows Dr. Wallace's claim to survive, and also invokes survivorship rules of federal common law.

         Initially, the Court dispels of the NAACP's reliance on federal common law. The NAACP argues that

[t]he Supreme Court held that notwithstanding [its prior ruling in Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584 (1978) that survival of actions brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is to be determined by the law of the forum state], the deterrence goals of § 1983 may require a court to allow an action to survive the death of the Plaintiff even if the action would not survive under state law. See Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 24-25 (1980). In holding that the Plaintiffs' claims survived under federal common law, the Carlson Court explained: “Robertson expressly recognized that to prevent frustrations of the deterrence goals of § 1983 . . . ‘[a] state official contemplating illegal activity must always be prepared to face the prospect of a § 1983 action being filed against him.'” . . .
Thus, . . . if the Defendants' [sic] were correct that Dr. Wallace's claims do not survive under Texas state law, federal law considerations in the circumstances of this case would nonetheless mandate allowing the substitution of [Wallace].

         Docket no. 1355 at 3-4 (citations and some alterations original) (quoting Robertson, 436 U.S. at 592).

         This argument misreads Carlson, which was based on Bivens, not § 1983. The Carlson Court expressly relied on the fact that “Bivens actions are a creation of federal law” to reason that “the question whether [the estate's] action survived [the decedent's] death is a question of federal law.” Carlson, 446 U.S. at 23. Carlson adopted the circuit court's reasoning that survival of a ...


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