Vamos, Concertación Ciudadana, Inc. v. Puerto Rico, Civil No. 20-1426 (FAB)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtBESOSA, District Judge.
Citation494 F.Supp.3d 104
Parties VAMOS, CONCERTACIÓN CIUDADANA, INC., et al., Plaintiffs, v. Commonwealth of PUERTO RICO, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil No. 20-1426 (FAB)
Decision Date24 September 2020

494 F.Supp.3d 104

VAMOS, CONCERTACIÓN CIUDADANA, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Commonwealth of PUERTO RICO, et al., Defendants.

Civil No. 20-1426 (FAB)

United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.

Signed September 24, 2020


494 F.Supp.3d 115

Roberto O. Maldonado-Nieves, Roberto O. Maldonado Nieves Law Office, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiffs.

Joel Torres-Ortiz, Juan C. Ramirez-Ortiz, Department of Justice Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, for Defendants Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, State Electoral Commission.

Carlos E. Cardona-Fernandez, Carolina, PR, Joel Torres-Ortiz, Department of Justice of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, for Defendants Office of the Electoral Comptroller, Walter Velez.

Juan C. Ramirez-Ortiz, Department of Justice Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, for Defendant Juan Davila-Rivera.

Joel Torres-Ortiz, Department of Justice of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, for Defendant Francisco Rosado-Colomer.

OPINION AND ORDER

BESOSA, District Judge.

Plaintiffs VAMOS, Concertación Ciudadana, Inc. ("VAMOS"), María de Lourdes Guzmán-Rivera, Justo Méndez-Aramburu, Rubén Colón-Morales, Raquel González-Sparks, Jesús Danilo Chinea-Rivera, Pedro Muñiz-García, Ineabelle Colón-Rivera, José González-Gierbolini, Alice Sparks-Horner, José Rodríguez-Báez, Enrique José Estrada-Carrau, and Eliza Llensa-Zuecca (collectively, "plaintiffs") request declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants Commonwealth of Puerto Rico ("Commonwealth"), the State Electoral Commission ("CEE," for its Spanish acronym), the Office of Electoral Comptroller, Francisco Rosado-Colomer ("Rosado") in his official capacity as Chairman of the CEE,1 Juan Dávila-Rivera ("Dávila") in his personal capacity, and Walter Vélez ("Vélez") in his personal capacity and in his official capacity as Comptroller of the Office of the Electoral Comptroller (collectively, "defendants") from enforcing Article 6 and sections 7.1(d) and 8.3(a) of the Act to Define Puerto Rico's Ultimate Political Status, Act No. 51-2020 ("Act 51"). (Docket No. 1.) Plaintiffs have also moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions against the defendants to enjoin them from enforcing those provisions. (Docket Nos. 12–13.) Defendants moved to dismiss the claims, and the plaintiffs replied. (Docket Nos. 27, 33, 38–39 & 44.)

For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiffs’ request for permanent injunctive relief, (Docket No. 13,) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART . Rosado and Vélez are PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from enforcing article 6, section

494 F.Supp.3d 116

7.1(d), and a portion of section 8.3(a) of Act 51. The motions for a temporary restraining order and for preliminary injunctive relief, (Docket Nos. 12–13,) are VACATED AS MOOT . The defendants’ motions to dismiss, (Docket Nos. 27, 33,) are GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART . All causes of action against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the CEE, and the Office of the Electoral Comptroller are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE . The claims made directly pursuant to the Federal Constitution against Rosado and Vélez in their official capacities are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE , while the claims made directly pursuant to the Puerto Rico Constitution against Rosado and Vélez in their official capacities are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE . The claims pursuant to section 1983 and directly pursuant to the Federal Constitution against Vélez and Dávila in their personal capacities are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE , while the claims directly pursuant to the Puerto Rico Constitution against Vélez and Dávila in their personal capacities are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE .

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The United States Constitution authorizes Congress to admit new states. U.S. Const. Art. IV, § 3, cl. 1 ("New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union."). Thirty-seven states have been admitted, and eleven states readmitted, since ratification of the Constitution. Eric Biber, The Price of Admission: Causes, Effects, and Patterns of Conditions Imposed on States Entering the Union, 46 Am. J. Legal Hist. 119, 125 (2004).

The admission of new states has followed a general process. Id. Support for statehood from a majority of the population in a would-be state has historically been an important factor in the process. Id. at 127.

Puerto Ricans have voted five times in the past half-century on their preference for political organization. Samuel Issacharoff et al. , What Is Puerto Rico?, 94 Ind. L.J. 1, 2 (2019). In 2012 and 2017, Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly voted in support of statehood. Tom C.W. Lin, Americans, Almost and Forgotten, 107 Calif. L. Rev. 1249, 1289 (2019). After the referendums, no meaningful progress in Congress occurred. Id. at 1289–90.

On May 16, 2020, the Governor of Puerto Rico signed into law a measure known as "Act 51" and entitled "Act to Define Puerto Rico's Ultimate Political Status." Act 51 requires a referendum to be held on November 3, 2020, the same day as the general election, regarding whether Puerto Rico should become the 51st state of the United States of America. Act 51 § 2.1. The referendum will ask one question: "Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a State?". Id. § 4.1.

Act 51 also includes rules and requirements pertaining to the campaign associated with the referendum. See id. arts. 6–7. It also instructs that challenges seeking a stay of the referendum must be brought in the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. Id. § 8.3(a). Some of these provisions are the subject of the plaintiffs’ action.

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs commenced this action on August 19, 2020. (Docket No. 1.) That is three months after the Puerto Rico legislature enacted Act 51. Then, twenty days later, plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order and for preliminary and permanent injunctions. (Docket Nos. 12–13.)

Defendants moved to dismiss and opposed equitable relief on September 18, 2020. (Docket Nos. 27–28, 33, 35, 38–39.)

494 F.Supp.3d 117

Defendants met the deadline set by this Court. See Docket No. 24.

Plaintiffs’ deadline to reply to or otherwise oppose any of the defendants’ motions or filings was September 21. Id. On that date, plaintiffs sought an extension. (Docket No. 36.) The Court granted the extension. (Docket No. 37.) Plaintiffs finally made their filing on September 23, 2020.2 (Docket No. 44.)

II. Justiciability

"Federal courts are not courts of general jurisdiction; they have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress ...." Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541, 106 S.Ct. 1326, 89 L.Ed.2d 501 (1986). The Court cannot turn to the merits of plaintiffs’ complaint without ensuring itself that it has power to adjudicate the claims. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 98–102, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998).

The following pages in this section may seem complex, but "[m]uch more than legal niceties are at stake here." Id. at 101, 118 S.Ct. 1003. The limits on federal courts’ jurisdiction are necessary to, among other things, the independence of state and territorial governments and the separation of powers within the federal government. Id.; Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law, 404 U.S. 202, 212, 92 S.Ct. 418, 30 L.Ed.2d 383 (1971).

To help the reader, here is a preview of this section. Most of the plaintiffs’ claims will be dismissed because they are not justiciable. The only claims that survive this section are the claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983 concerning violations of the Federal Constitution against Rosado and Vélez in their official capacities. This table also summarizes the analysis in this section:

Parties Bases of Claims Action Reason
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, CEE, and Office of the Electoral Comptroller Section 1983, Federal Constitution, and Puerto Rico Constitution Dismissed without prejudice Immunity
Rosado and Vélez in official capacities Section 1983 Not dismissed Justiciable
Rosado and Vélez in official capacities Federal Constitution Dismissed with prejudice Claims can be vindicated through section 1983
Rosado in official capacity, Dávila in personal capacity, and Vélez in official and personal
...

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