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Morris v. Pablos

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 14, 2017

CAROLYN ANN MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROLANDO PABLOS, In His Official Capacity as Texas Secretary of State, and THE DALLAS COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY, and CAROL DONOVAN, In Her Official Capacity as Party Chair, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Sam A. Lindsay United States District Judge

         Before the court is “Plaintiffs'(sic) Expedited Motion for Preliminary Injunction Affecting 2018 Primary Election under Election Code Title 10 Political Parties Subtitle B Parties Nominating by Primary Election Chapter 171, Organization, Write In Declaration and Accompanying Memorandum of Law” (Doc. 3), filed December 13, 2017.[1] Plaintiff Carolyn Ann Morris (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, asks the court to enjoin Defendants from enforcing section 172.112 of the Texas Election Code, which provides that “[w]rite-in voting in a primary election is not permitted.” Tex. Elec. Code § 172.112. Having considered the pleadings, motion, and applicable law, the court, sua sponte, holds that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this lawsuit, as she is seeking to vindicate the constitutional rights of third parties not before the court. Accordingly, the court denies Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction and dismisses with prejudice this action.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed this action on December 13, 2017, asking the court to enjoin Defendants from enforcing section 172.112 of the Texas Election Code, which provides that “[w]rite-in voting in a primary election is not permitted .” Tex. Elec. Code § 172.112. She alleges the court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a), 2201, and 2202, and brings her claim for equitable relief under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.[2]

         Plaintiff alleges she is a resident of Dallas County, Texas. Under a section titled “Nature and Stage of the Proceeding, ” she contends: “This proceeding is a request for a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants' enforcement of the Texas laws governing the right of candidate (sic) to afford the opportunity for voters to write in a candidate on the 2018 general primary ballot.” Compl. 4. Although Plaintiff's Complaint is difficult to decipher, construing it liberally, Plaintiff's Complaint appears to allege that because section 172.112 prohibits her from being a write-in candidate for the upcoming primary elections, the State of Texas has impermissibly burdened the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the its voters. She further alleges that an immediate injunction is required because the deadline for write-in candidates for the 2018 primary election is only four days away. Compl. 3.[3]

         II. Analysis

         A federal court has an independent duty, at any level of the proceedings, to determine whether it properly has subject matter jurisdiction over a case. Ruhgras AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999) (“[S]ubject-matter delineations must be policed by the courts on their own initiative even at the highest level.”); McDonal v. Abbott Labs., 408 F.3d 177, 182 n.5 (5th Cir. 2005) (A “federal court may raise subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.”) (citation omitted).

         Article III of the Constitution confines the federal courts to adjudicating actual “cases” and “controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. In an attempt to give meaning to Article III's “case or controversy requirement, ” the courts have developed a series of principles termed “justiciability doctrines.” United Transp. Union v. Foster, 205 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2000). One such doctrine is standing, which “consists of two strands: constitutional standing and prudential standing.” TF-Harbor, LLC v. City of Rockwall, Tex., 18 F.Supp.3d 810, 817-18 (N.D. Tex. 2014) (Fitzwater, J.), aff'd sub nom. TF-Harbor, L.L.C. v. City of Rockwall Tex., 592 F. App'x 323 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004), abrogated on other grounds by Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., __U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1377 (2014)). Constitutional standing is an “irreducible constitutional minimum” under Article III's case-or-controversy requirement, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992), and it requires an injury that is “concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; fairly traceable to the challenged action; and redressable by a favorable ruling.” Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 568 U.S. 398, 409 (2013) (citation omitted). “[T]he injury must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 n. 1. Prudential standing, by contrast, does not emanate from the Constitution, and it instead “embodies judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction.'” Cibolo Waste, Inc. v. City of San Antonio, 718 F.3d 469, 474 (5th Cir. 2013) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The prudential standing limitations include, among others, the requirement that a plaintiff must assert her own legal rights and interests and cannot rest her claim for relief on the legal rights and interest of third parties. See generally Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975); see also Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U.S. 249, 255 (1953) (“Ordinarily, one may not claim standing in this Court to vindicate the constitutional rights of some third party.”).[4]

         Even applying the most liberal pleading standard, the court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts that demonstrate she is the proper party to invoke judicial resolution of whether section 172.112 of the Texas Election Code places an impermissible burden on the constitutional rights of Texas voters. From the face of the pleadings, Plaintiff is bringing her claim as a disgruntled potential write-in candidate, complaining that section 172.112 of the Texas Election Code is preventing her from being a write-in candidate for the primary election. See Compl. 3 (complaining about her inability to be placed on the 2018 general primary ballot). The injury she asserts, however, and the one upon which she invokes this court's subject matter jurisdiction, is premised on the alleged impermissible burdens placed on the fundamental right to vote of Texas voters.[5] Notably, she nowhere alleges any violation of her right to vote. The only conclusion the court to be drawn from the muddled pleading is that Plaintiff is attempting to vindicate the rights of Texas voters based on her inability to be placed on a ballot in the primary elections. As previously stated, a plaintiff cannot rest her claim for relief on the legal rights and interest of third parties. Warth, 422 U.S. at 498; see also Barrows, 346 U.S. at 255. As Plaintiff is seeking to vindicate the constitutional rights of third parties not before the court, she lacks prudential standing to seek an injunction from this court enjoining the enforcement of section 172.112 of the Texas Election Code.[6]

         III. Conclusion

         In sum, following a close examination of the pleadings, Plaintiffs Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and applicable law, the court concludes that Plaintiff lacks standing to challenge the constitutionality of Texas's ban on write-in voting in primary elections, as she is seeking to vindicate the constitutional rights of a third party, here, the Texas voters. Accordingly, these claim are dismissed with prejudice.[7]

         It is so ordered

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