462 F.3d 312 (4th Cir. 2006), 05-2254, Miller v. Brown

Docket Nº:05-2254.
Citation:462 F.3d 312
Party Name:Larry MILLER; 11th Senatorial District Republican Committee, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Michael BROWN, in his official capacity as Chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections; Barbara Hildenbrand, in her official capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections; Jean R. Jensen, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Vir
Case Date:August 30, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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462 F.3d 312 (4th Cir. 2006)

Larry MILLER; 11th Senatorial District Republican Committee, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Michael BROWN, in his official capacity as Chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections; Barbara Hildenbrand, in her official capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections; Jean R. Jensen, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 05-2254.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

Aug. 30, 2006

Argued May 23, 2006.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ARGUED:

Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli, II, Cuccinelli & Day, P.L.L.C., Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellants.

James Christian Stuchell, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

Paul A. Prados, Cuccinelli & Day, P.L.L.C., Fairfax, Virginia; Patrick M. McSweeney, McSweeney & Crump, P.C., Richmond, Virginia, for Appellants.

Robert F. McDonnell, Attorney General of Virginia, Francis S. Ferguson, Deputy Attorney General, Maureen Riley Matsen, Deputy Attorney General, Peter R. Messitt, Senior Assistant Attorney General, James W. Hopper, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellees.

Before WILKINS, Chief Judge, DUNCAN, Circuit Judge, and JOSEPH R. GOODWIN, United States District Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge GOODWIN wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge WILKINS and Judge DUNCAN joined.

GOODWIN, District Judge.

Virginia's 11th Senatorial District Republican Committee and its chairman, Larry Miller (collectively referred to as "the plaintiffs"), appeal the district court's order dismissing their constitutional challenge to Virginia's open primary law for lack of justiciability. We reverse. We remand to the district court for decision on the merits.

I.

On June 4, 2004, the Republican Party of Virginia amended its Plan of Organization to exclude voters who participated in the nomination process of another party within the preceding five years from voting in the Republican primary. 1 The Plan of Organization offers an exception for those

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who, in writing, renounce their affiliation with the other party, indicate their agreement with Republican Party principles, and express their intent to support the Republican Party's nominees. These amendments to the Plan of Organization became effective on June 15, 2006.

The plaintiffs conduct nominations for the Republican candidate running for the 11th District's seat in the Senate of Virginia. Stephen Martin, a Republican, currently holds the seat and is up for reelection in 2007. In Virginia, incumbents may select their method of nomination. Va.Code Ann. § 24.2-509(B) (2006). On August 12, 2004, Senator Martin submitted a form to the plaintiffs that designated a primary as his chosen method of nomination for the 2007 election.

On January 13, 2005, the plaintiffs decided to hold the 2007 primary consistent with the recent amendments to the state party's Plan of Organization. That is, they would exclude anyone who voted in any Democratic primary in Virginia since March 1, 2004, from participating in their primary. Mr. Miller informed the Virginia State Board of Elections ("Board") of the plaintiffs' decision in a January 17, 2005 letter. The letter requests "written confirmation from [the Board] of [its] receipt of this letter and of [the Board's] intention to implement the above-noted restrictions on the participation by Democrats in our primary." J.A. 34.

Jean Jenson, the Board's secretary, replied on behalf of the Board on February 9, 2005. She explained the plaintiffs may take whatever action they deem appropriate that complies with their party's Plan of Organization, but pointed out several Virginia statutes for Mr. Miller's review. She noted that under Section 24.2-516, "the State Board of Elections may accept notification of the selection of the primary method of nomination for the 2007 election in 11th Senate District no earlier than February 22, 2007, and no later than March 14, 2007." J.A. 36 (emphasis in original). Section 24.2-516 provides:

At least 120 days prior to the regular date for a primary, the Board shall inquire of each state chairman and each county and city chairman whether a direct primary has been adopted. The Board shall advise each chairman that notification to the Board of the adoption of a direct primary is required and must be filed with the Board not more than 110 days and not less than 90 days before the date set for the primaries.

Each chairman shall file timely written notice with the Board whether or not a primary has been adopted and identify each office for which a primary has been adopted. The requirement to notify the Board of the adoption of a direct primary shall be satisfied when the Board receives by the deadline (i) written notice from the appropriate party chairman or (ii) a copy of the written notice from an incumbent officeholder to his party chairman of the incumbent's selection, pursuant to § 24.2-509, of the primary as the method of nomination.

Id. § 24.2-516.

At the conclusion of the letter, Ms. Jensen stated the Board must follow Section 24.2-530, Virginia's open primary law. This law provides:

All persons qualified to vote, pursuant to §§ 24.2-400 through 24.2-403, may vote at the primary. No person shall vote for the candidates of more than one party.

Va.Code Ann. § 24.2-530. After quoting the statute, she explained that unless Mr. Miller can "point to a specific provision" of Virginia law authorizing the Board to restrict voting in the pending primary, the Board "will have to comply with the law of

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the Commonwealth in effect at that time." J.A. 37.

On April 12, 2005, the plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking a declaration that Virginia's open primary law violates their constitutional rights to free association. The Board filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on June 14, 2005. The plaintiffs filed a summary judgment motion two months later. Following a hearing, the district court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court ruled the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the case was not ripe.

II.

It is well established that before a federal court can decide the merits of a claim, the claim must invoke the jurisdiction of the court. Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155, 110 S.Ct. 1717, 109 L.Ed.2d 135 (1990). Article III gives federal courts jurisdiction only over "cases and controversies," U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1, and the doctrine of standing identifies disputes appropriate for judicial resolution. Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471-76, 102 S.Ct. 752, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982). A claim is justiciable if the "conflicting contentions of the parties ... present a real, substantial controversy between parties having adverse legal interests, a dispute definite and concrete, not hypothetical or abstract."...

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