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OCA-Greater Houston v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

May 15, 2018

OCA GREATER HOUSTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF TEXAS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROBERT PITMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On August 12, 2016, the Court entered an order granting summary judgment against the State of Texas and Carlos Cascos, who was sued in his official capacity as the Texas Secretary of State (collectively, “Defendants”). (August 12th Order, Dkt. 60). The Court then invited the parties to file motions advising the Court of their positions on the appropriate relief in this case.

         On August 30, 2016, after considering the parties' filings, this Court entered another order clarifying the relief described in its August 12th Order. (August 30th Order, Dkt. 66). In that order, the Court found that Texas Election Code (“the Election Code” or “TEC”) Sections 61.032, [1]61.033, [2] and 64.0321[3] were inconsistent with Section 208 of the VRA (“Section 208”). (Id. at 2-3). The Court then enjoined “the Defendants, their employees, agents, and successors in office, and all persons acting in concert with them, from enforcement of those provisions.” (Id. at 3).

         Defendants appealed the Court's grant of summary judgment and its injunction. See OCA-Greater Houston v. Texas, 867 F.3d 604, 607 (5th Cir. 2017). On August 16, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (“Court of Appeals”) upheld the Court's grant of summary judgment but found the injunction to be overbroad. Id. at 615-16. It then vacated the injunction and remanded the case to this Court for entry of a new remedy. Id.

         The Court of Appeals found that the injunction “exceeds the scope of the parties' presentation, which was limited to Tex. Elec. Code. § 61.033.” Id. Specifically, the court found that the parties never argued that Section 61.032 violated the VRA and that Plaintiff The Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Houston's (“OCA”) complaint only seeks a declaration that Section 61.033 violates the VRA. Id. at 615. The Court of Appeals also found that the injunction “exceeds the scope of the OCA's harm.” Id. at 616. In light of these findings, the Court will enter a narrower injunction tailored more closely to the harm articulated and the relief sought by OCA in its pleadings and motion for summary judgment.

         I. DISCUSSION

         In crafting a narrower injunction, the Court is mindful of the Court of Appeals' admonition to craft an injunction limited to the parties' presentations and the scope of OCA's harm. Id. at 616, 616 n.49, 616 n.50 (citing Scott v. Schedler, 826 F.3d 207, 214 (5th Cir. 2016) (“We merely remind the district court that its injunction may not encompass more conduct than was requested or exceed the legal basis of the lawsuit.”) and Meltzer v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction of Orange Cty., Fla., 548 F.2d 559, 568 (5th Cir. 1977), aff'd in part and rev'd in part en banc 577 F.2d 311 (5th Cir. 1978) (“[A] court should impose upon a defendant no restriction greater than necessary to protect the plaintiff from the injury of which he complains.”)). The Court is also careful not to reexamine issues of fact or law decided on appeal absent exceptional circumstances. Ball v. LeBlanc, 881 F.3d 346, 351 (5th Cir. 2018)

         From these principles, it is clear that a revised injunction ought to apply to Section 61.033 but not to Section 61.032. The Court and the Court of Appeals both found that Section 61.033 is inconsistent with and preempted by Section 208. (Order, Dkt. 60, at 20); OCA-Greater Houston, 867 F.3d at 615. As the Court of Appeals observed, the parties' dispute has centrally concerned Section 61.033 throughout this litigation, and Texas's enforcement of Section 61.033 is directly tied to OCA's injury. The Court's revised injunction will therefore apply to Section 61.033. Meanwhile, the Court does not find that any exceptional circumstances exist to justify reexamining the Court of Appeals' factual findings; it is therefore bound by the appellate court's explicit finding that Section 61.032 lies outside the scope of the parties presentation and OCA's harm. OCA-Greater Houston, 867 F.3d at 615-16.[4] The Court's revised injunction will not apply to Section 61.032.

         A. Section 64.0321

         What remains is whether the Court will include Section 64.0321 in its revised injunction. The Court appreciates that Section 61.033 was the focal point of the parties' dispute. However, Section 64.0321 was consistently placed at issue by the parties, and the Court cannot appropriately redress OCA's injury without including Section 64.0321 in its injunction. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will include Section 64.0321 in its revised injunction.

         1. The Parties' Presentation

         This case turns largely on the scope of Section 208. Id. at 614 (“At bottom, the question presented by this case is how broadly to read the term ‘to vote' in Section 208 of the VRA.”). On appeal, the parties addressed that legal issue from two directions: by arguing both that the Election Code's assistor provisions were (or were not) coextensive with Section 208 and also that the Election Code's interpreter provisions were (or were not) inconsistent with Section 208. See id. (“[Texas] says its Election Code's assistor provisions provide its voters with the full scope of assistance guaranteed by Section 208 . . . [and that t]he supplemental interpreter right . . . is beyond Section 208's coverage.”).

         The parties' arguments on appeal were consistent with their approach throughout this litigation. In its amended complaint, for example, OCA alleges that it is harmed by Defendants' enforcement of Section 61.033, which limits a person's choice of interpreter. Meanwhile, OCA also alleges that Section 64.0321 is relevant law and that Defendants violated the VRA by failing to “allow eligible voters to receive necessary assistance from any person of their choice.” (Id. ¶ 34). In its prayer for relief, OCA asks the Court to not only declare that Section 61.033 violates the VRA, but also to enjoin Defendants from “engaging in any act or practice that denies the rights secured by Section 208.” (Id. at 8).

         In moving to dismiss OCA's claims, Defendants argued that Texas law comports with the VRA because the assistor provisions-including Section 64.0321, which permits a voter to use an assistor only in the ballot box-give voters the “help to which they are entitled under the [VRA].” (State Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, Dkt. 21, at 10). Defendants' theory at that stage, as it remained through this litigation, was that the interpreter provisions are supplemental to Section 208, and therefore that any restrictions on interpreter eligibility do not conflict with the VRA. (Id.). In its response, OCA argued not only that Section 61.033 is inconsistent with the VRA, but also that Defendants' interpretation of Section ...


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