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.

Stringer v. Whitley

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

November 13, 2019

JARROD STRINGER; BENJAMIN HERNANDEZ; JOHN WOODS, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
DAVID WHITLEY, in His Official Capacity as the Texas Secretary of State; STEVEN C. MCCRAW, in His Official Capacity as the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Defendants-Appellants.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

          Before OWEN, Chief Judge, and CLEMENT and HO, Circuit Judges.

          PRISCILLA R. OWEN, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Texas's Secretary of State and Director of Public Safety appeal a district court judgment declaring them in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and granting injunctive relief. We reverse the judgment because Plaintiffs do not have standing to pursue their claims.

         I

         Those who seek to renew their driver's license in Texas or to change the address associated with their driver's license can submit paper applications or apply online using the Texas Department of Public Safety's (DPS) online system (DPS System). Paper applications ask the following voter registration questions: "If you are a U.S. Citizen, would you like to register to vote? If registered, would you like to update your voter information?" Applicants answer by checking a box for "yes" or "no." DPS transfers the information provided by each applicant who answers "yes" to the Texas Secretary of State (the Secretary). The Secretary sends the applicant's information to local voter registrars, who use the data to complete the voter registration process.

         Those using the online DPS System to renew their driver's license or to change the address associated with their driver's license are asked a different voter registration question: "Do you want to request a voter application? You will receive a link to a voter application on your receipt page." The DPS System receipt page states, "You are not registered to vote until you have filled out the online application, printed it, and mailed it to your local County Voter Registrar. Click here to Download a Voter Registration Application." DPS System users can access a voter registration application through the link on the receipt page. DPS does not send the Secretary the information provided by applicants who answer "yes" to the DPS System's voter registration question.

         Plaintiffs Jarrod Stringer, Benjamin Hernandez, and John Woods each moved from a Texas county in which they were registered to vote to another Texas county between 2013 and 2015. Plaintiffs used the DPS System to change their driver's license addresses and selected "yes" in response to the voter registration question. Plaintiffs believed that they had updated their voter registration by doing so. Stringer and Hernandez discovered that they were not registered to vote in their new counties when they unsuccessfully attempted to vote in the 2014 federal election. Woods was informed that he was not registered to vote in his new county when he called a county authority to confirm his polling location for the 2015 election. Woods and Hernandez submitted provisional ballots, which ultimately were not counted. All three plaintiffs were registered to vote in their new counties by the end of 2015.

         Plaintiffs sued the Texas Secretary of State and the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, alleging that the DPS System violates the Equal Protection Clause and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Plaintiffs alleged that the DPS System violates a number of NVRA provisions, including 52 U.S.C. § 20504(d), which states "[a]ny change of address form submitted in accordance with State law for purposes of a State motor vehicle driver's license shall serve as notification of change of address for voter registration."[1] Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, not damages.

         Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. Texas filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, contending, inter alia, that Plaintiffs do not have standing to bring their claims. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs, holding that Plaintiffs have standing to bring their claims and that the DPS System violates the NVRA and the Equal Protection Clause.[2] The district court entered a final judgment granting Plaintiffs wide-ranging declaratory and injunctive relief. Texas appeals.

         II

         We review questions of standing de novo.[3] To have Article III standing, a plaintiff must show an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant and likely to be redressed by the plaintiff's requested relief.[4] Courts have divided this rule into three components: injury in fact, causation, and redressability.[5] The party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction, in this case the Plaintiffs, bears the burden of establishing all three elements.[6]

         Requests for injunctive and declaratory relief implicate the intersection of the redressability and injury-in-fact requirements. The redressability requirement limits the relief that a plaintiff may seek to that which is likely to remedy the plaintiff's alleged injuries.[7] Because injunctive and declaratory relief "cannot conceivably remedy any past wrong, "[8] plaintiffs seeking injunctive and declaratory relief can satisfy the redressability requirement only by demonstrating a continuing injury or threatened future injury.[9] That continuing or threatened future injury, like all injuries supporting Article III standing, must be an injury in fact.[10] To be an injury in fact, a threatened future injury must be (1) potentially suffered by the plaintiff, not someone else;[11] (2) "concrete and particularized, "[12] not abstract;[13] and (3) "actual or imminent, not 'conjectural' or 'hypothetical.'"[14] The purpose of the requirement that the injury be "imminent" is "to ensure that the alleged injury is not too speculative for Article III purposes."[15] For a threatened future injury to satisfy the imminence requirement, there must be at least a "substantial risk" that the injury will occur.[16]

         The district court did not apply this standard. The district court held that Plaintiffs had standing because they were "deprived of their individual right to simultaneous voter registration applications at the time they engaged in the online DPS transactions to change their driver's licenses," and "[c]ourt-ordered compliance with the NVRA would prevent repetition of the same injury to Plaintiffs and others."[17] The injury identified by the district court-the "depriv[ation] of [Plaintiffs'] individual right to simultaneous voter registration applications at the time they engaged in the online DPS transactions"[18]-was not a continuing or threatened future injury, but a past injury. To the extent that the district court identified a continuing or threatened future injury, it did so when it stated that "[c]ourt-ordered compliance with the NVRA would prevent repetition of the same injury to Plaintiffs and others."[19] However, whether compliance with the NVRA would prevent future injury to others is irrelevant; plaintiffs seeking injunctive relief must show a continuing or threatened future injury to themselves.[20] Standing also does not follow from the conclusion that the injunctive relief sought by a plaintiff would prevent the plaintiff from suffering the same injury in the future, which is always true when a plaintiff seeks an injunction prohibiting a defendant from repeating an action that injured the plaintiff in the past. Plaintiffs must also show that there is a substantial risk that they will suffer the potential future injury absent their requested relief.[21] The district court did not address the probability of Plaintiffs being injured in the future absent their requested relief.

         A

         Plaintiffs contend that they have demonstrated a substantial risk that they will suffer a future injury as a result of the DPS System's noncompliance with the NVRA and Equal Protection Clause. As Plaintiffs concede, to do so, they must demonstrate "a sufficient probability that each Plaintiff will use the noncompliant driver's license services again." All three Plaintiffs declared that they "plan to continue transacting online with [DPS] in the future whenever [they are] required to renew or change the address on [their] driver's license and [are] eligible to do so." However, each Plaintiff will have the occasion to use the DPS System to update his voter registration only if (1) he moves within Texas, in which case he might wish use the DPS System to change his address on file with DPS and his county voter registrar, or (2) he becomes both unregistered to vote and eligible to renew his driver's license using the DPS System, in which case he might wish to use the DPS System to renew his driver's license and register to vote.

         Plaintiffs rely on two types of evidence that they contend demonstrate a substantial risk that they will move again. The first is evidence of their prior moves-Hernandez and Woods have each moved once in the past five years, and Stringer has moved several times. However, evidence that a plaintiff has taken an action in the past does not, by itself, demonstrate a substantial risk that the plaintiff will take the action in the future; there must be some evidence that the plaintiff intends to take the action again.[22] Accordingly, evidence that Plaintiffs moved in the past does not establish a substantial risk that they will do so in the future. Notably, no Plaintiff has expressed any intention to move in the future.

         The second type of evidence cited by Plaintiffs is data from the United States Census Bureau showing that Americans can expect to move 11.7 times in their lifetimes.[23] This general data also does not establish a substantial risk that Plaintiffs themselves will move again; Plaintiff-specific evidence is needed before Plaintiffs' claims can be properly characterized as an attempt to remedy an imminent injury to Plaintiffs instead of a generalized grievance available to all Texans.[24]

         Plaintiffs also have not demonstrated a substantial risk that they will attempt to use the DPS System to renew their driver's licenses and simultaneously update their voter registrations. Plaintiffs contend that Texas's requirement that driver's licenses must be renewed every six years and the existence of Texas laws providing multiple avenues for the cancellation of a voter's registration create a "sufficient probability" that, at some point in the future, Plaintiffs will be both unregistered to vote and eligible to renew their driver's licenses using the DPS System. However, Plaintiffs do not point to any Plaintiff-specific evidence suggesting that they will become unregistered and eligible to renew their driver's licenses using the DPS System.

         In light of the absence of any Plaintiff-specific evidence, the evidence in the record does not demonstrate a substantial risk that Plaintiffs will become unregistered and eligible to renew their driver's licenses online. Plaintiffs cite Texas laws that provide for the cancellation of voter registration in four relatively uncommon situations: (1) when a voter's registration card is returned as undeliverable, the voter does not return a confirmation notice, and the voter does not vote in two consecutive general elections; (2) when a registrar finds a voter to be ineligible after an investigation; (3) when another voter from the same county successfully challenges a voter's registration; and (4) when a voter cancels his or her voter registration.[25] There is no evidence in the record that suggests that any Plaintiff is likely to fall within the ambit of these provisions. Furthermore, Texans are only required to renew their driver's licenses every eight years, [26] and every other renewal must be accomplished in person.[27] Chances are slim that Plaintiffs will become unregistered around the time that they need to renew their driver's licenses and are eligible to do so using the DPS System.

         In sum, Plaintiffs have not established a substantial risk that they will attempt to update their voter registrations using the DPS System and be injured by their inability to do so. As a result, Plaintiffs have not established an injury in fact sufficient to confer standing to pursue the declaratory and injunctive relief that they seek.[28]

         B

         Plaintiffs contend that two Eleventh Circuit cases support the opposite conclusion. The first, Charles H. Wesley Education Foundation, Inc. v. Cox, [29]is distinguishable. Cox involved a charity that collected and submitted voter registration forms in Georgia.[30] Georgia rejected the forms submitted by the charity on state law grounds, including a form submitted on behalf of plaintiff Crawford, a registered voter who was attempting to change her address.[31] At the time the suit was filed, Georgia had not accepted the forms at issue.[32]Accordingly, Crawford had standing to sue for an injunction requiring Georgia to accept her form because doing so would remedy her alleged injury-the violation of her right under the NVRA to have her form accepted and her address changed.[33] In this case, on the other hand, Plaintiffs are not seeking an injunction requiring Texas to accept any form that they have previously submitted or to take any action regarding their individual registrations.

         The second case, Arcia v. Florida Secretary of State, [34] also does not help Plaintiffs. Arcia arose out of two Florida programs designed to remove ineligible voters from the voter rolls.[35] The first identified possible non-citizens using state records.[36] The plaintiffs were identified as non-citizen candidates for removal by the first program, but ultimately were not removed.[37] The second program identified candidates for removal using the federal "SAVE" database.[38] The Eleventh Circuit held that the plaintiffs had standing to "prospectively challenge" the second removal program because the evidence in the record demonstrated "a realistic probability that they would be misidentified due to unintentional mistakes."[39] Whether the evidence in the Arcia record demonstrated a "realistic possibility" that the Arcia plaintiffs would suffer a threatened future injury does not have any impact on whether the facts in this record demonstrate a "substantial risk" that Plaintiffs will suffer a threatened future injury. Cox and Arcia do not support the conclusion that Plaintiffs have standing.

         C

         Plaintiffs also contend that they have standing because their claims are capable of repetition, yet evading review. The capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review doctrine is an exception to the general rule that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over moot cases.[40] A case becomes moot when "[t]he requisite personal interest that must exist at the commencement of the litigation"[41] ceases to exist because "interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation."[42] The capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review doctrine applies only to claims that are moot, i.e. presented a case or controversy when they were filed but ceased to do so at a later time.[43] "Standing admits of no similar exception; if a plaintiff lacks standing at the time the action commences, the fact that the dispute is capable of repetition yet evading review will not entitle the complainant to a federal judicial forum."[44] Because Plaintiffs became registered prior to bringing this lawsuit, the fact that Plaintiffs were registered impacts whether they have standing to sue, not whether their claims are moot.[45] Accordingly, the capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review doctrine is not implicated by Plaintiffs' claims.[46]

         ** ...


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.