Chen v. City of Houston

Citation9 F.Supp.2d 745
Decision Date06 May 1998
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A. H-97-1180.,Civ.A. H-97-1180.
PartiesEdward CHEN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF HOUSTON, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
9 F.Supp.2d 745
Edward CHEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF HOUSTON, Defendant.
No. Civ.A. H-97-1180.
United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division.
May 6, 1998.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Paul Loy Hurd, Monroe, LA, Douglas E. Markham, Houston, TX, Robert Popper, New York City, for Plaintiffs.

Claude Robert Heath, Bickerstaff Heath et al, Sydney W. Falk, Jr., Bickerstaff Heath Smiley Pollan Kever and McDaniel, Austin, TX, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ATLAS, District Judge.


I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, residents of the Defendant City of Houston (the "City,"),1 filed this voting rights case alleging that the City engaged in racial gerrymandering in developing its 1997 city council redistricting plan. The 1997 redistricting was required because the City in late 1996 annexed the Kingwood area with a population of over 40,000 and three other populated areas with a combined population of almost 5,000 persons.2 In July 1997, the City's 1997 redistricting plan received Department of Justice preclearance pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c ("Section 5").

Plaintiffs allege that the City's decision to assign the newly-annexed Kingwood area in northeast Houston to the Clear Lake area in southeast Houston as District E violates several provisions of the United States Constitution. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the 1997 redistricting plan violates the requirement for ballot secrecy; violates their rights under the First Amendment to petition for redress of grievances and to assemble for political purposes; violates their rights under the Equal Protection Clause to associate with fellow citizens for political purposes and to advocate for the candidate of their choice; and violates the Equal Protection Clause's "one-person, one-vote" principle. Plaintiffs also allege that the 1997 redistricting plan constitutes racial gerrymandering in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

The case is now before the Court on the City's Motions for Summary Judgment [Docs. # 59, # 60, # 62, # 61 and # 55] as to each of these five claims, and on the City's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Blum and Vera [Doc. # 63].3 Plaintiffs have filed their opposition to the Motions, and the City has filed its Replies. Plaintiffs, without leave of court, subsequently filed a further response to the City's Replies. Plaintiffs' Brief in Further Opposition to Defendant's Motion

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for Summary Judgment on Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment Claims [Doc. # 83] ("Plaintiffs' Surreply"). Based on the Court's careful consideration of the entire record in this case, the evidence presented by the parties, and the applicable authorities, the Motions each are GRANTED.

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

The United States Supreme Court has held that a motion for summary judgment is properly granted unless there is evidence "on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. The judge's inquiry, therefore, unavoidably asks whether reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict...." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Rule 56 is an integral part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, recognizing a party's right to demonstrate that certain claims have no factual or legal basis and to have those unsupported claims disposed of prior to trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Because of the "sensitive nature of redistricting and the presumption of good faith that must be accorded legislative enactments," and the "intrusive potential of judicial intervention into the legislative realm," federal courts should carefully apply the proper summary judgment analysis when assessing "the adequacy of a plaintiff's showing at the various stages of [redistricting] litigation and determining whether to permit discovery or trial to proceed." Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 916-17, 115 S.Ct. 2475, 132 L.Ed.2d 762 (1995).

"Summary judgment is required when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, presents no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Sanders v. Casa View Baptist Church, 134 F.3d 331, 334 (5th Cir.1998). The burden is on the nonmovant to demonstrate with "significant probative evidence" that there is an issue of material fact warranting a trial. Texas Manufactured Housing Ass'n v. Nederland, 101 F.3d 1095, 1099 (5th Cir.1996), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 2497, 138 L.Ed.2d 1003 (1997). The nonmovant's burden cannot be satisfied by conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, metaphysical doubt as to the facts, or a mere scintilla of evidence. Douglass v. United Services Automobile Ass'n, 65 F.3d 452, 459 (5th Cir.1995), revised on other grounds, 79 F.3d 1415 (5th Cir.1996) (en banc); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (en banc).

B. Standard for Article III Standing

An alleged lack of Article III standing is a basis for a motion to dismiss and several motions for summary judgment filed by the City. The Motion to Dismiss Blum and Vera is based on the City's position that Plaintiff Blum does not have standing because his claims are moot, and that Plaintiff Vera does not have standing because he is not a properly registered voter in the City. Additionally, the City's Motions for Summary Judgment on the Ballot Secrecy, the First Amendment, the Equal Protection, and the One-Person One-Vote Claims are based in part on the City's position that Plaintiffs' admissions during deposition testimony establish that they lack standing to assert those particular claims.

An element of the case and controversy requirement of Article III of the United States Constitution is that a plaintiff must have standing to assert the claim or claims presented in the complaint. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). A plaintiff does not have Article III standing unless three requirements are satisfied:

First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact" — an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) "actual or imminent, not `conjectural' or `hypothetical.'" Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of — the injury has to be "fairly ... trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not ... th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before

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the court." Third, it must be "likely," as opposed to merely "speculative," that the injury will be "redressed by a favorable decision."

Id. at 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130 (citations omitted); Gore, Inc. v. Espy, 87 F.3d 767, 771 (5th Cir.1996). The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing these three elements. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130.

III. MOTION TO DISMISS BLUM AND VERA

The City has filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Blum and Vera [Doc. # 63] ("Motion to Dismiss") based on an alleged lack of Article III standing. To challenge the City's redistricting plan, a plaintiff must be a resident of the district which he seeks to challenge. United States v. Hays, 515 U.S. 737, 745, 115 S.Ct. 2431, 132 L.Ed.2d 635 (1995).

A. Plaintiff Blum

It is undisputed that Plaintiff Blum does not currently live within the City. Blum Deposition ("Depo."), Exh. A to Motion to Dismiss, at 6. Blum does not anticipate voting in any City elections while living at his new address. Id. As a result, Blum no longer has a personal stake in the outcome of this proceeding, in which only injunctive and other prospective relief is sought. Blum's claims are dismissed as moot.

B. Plaintiff Vera

Plaintiff Vera has not been a resident of District H, the only district in which he is registered to vote, since 1978. Vera Second Interrogatory Response, Exh. C to Motion to Dismiss, at # 4. He has lived at his current address, which is in District A, since October 1990. Id.; Vera Depo., Exh. B to Motion to Dismiss, at 5. Prior to October 1990, Vera lived at 14818 Weil Place. Vera Depo. at 35-36. The Weil Place address is in District B. Declaration of Sherry McCall, Exh. E to Motion to Dismiss.

To qualify as an eligible voter in District H under the Texas Election Code, an individual must be a resident of that district. Texas Election Code § 11.001(2). A person's residence is defined as his "domicile, that is, one's home and fixed place of habitation to which one intends to return after any temporary absence." Texas Election Code § 1.015(a).

Vera argues that District H remains his residence because his "intentions, if they ever would come true, are to move back" to that district. Vera Depo. at 7-8. Vera has neither alleged nor presented evidence that he is temporarily away from District H for employment, health or financial reasons.4 Indeed, the undisputed evidence establishes that Vera has chosen to live in the City in districts other than District H for approximately twenty years. His claimed intention to return some day, which Vera concedes may not "come true," if not legally frivolous, is patently insufficient as a matter of law to support a finding that Vera is a current resident of District H. See Alvarez v. Espinoza, 844 S.W.2d 238, 248 (Tex.App. — San Antonio 1992, writ dism'd w.o.j.) (although claimed intention to reside in the district, voter had not actually lived within the district for several years).

Vera's reliance on his having improperly continued to vote in District H and to serve in election positions serving District H during the past twenty years is misplaced.5

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There is no evidence that Vera advised the voter registrar that he had moved from the address in District H as required by section 15.021(a) of the...

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