Ciudadana v. Gracia, Civil No. 02-2191(DRD).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtDominguez
Citation283 F.Supp.2d 469
PartiesLimpieza CIUDADANA, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Aurelio GRACIA, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date21 July 2003
Docket NumberCivil No. 02-2191(DRD).
283 F.Supp.2d 469
Limpieza CIUDADANA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Aurelio GRACIA, et al., Defendants.
Civil No. 02-2191(DRD).
United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.
July 21, 2003.

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Salvador Tio-Fernandez, Santurce, PR, Jose R. Ortiz-Velez, San Juan, PR, Roberto A. Fernandez-Quiles, Hato Rey, PR, for Plaintiffs.

Ramon L. Walker-Merino, San Juan, PR, Rene Arrillaga-Belendez, Arrillaga & Arrillaga, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

DOMINGUEZ, District Judge.


I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs', Limpieza Ciudadana (hereinafter referred to as "LC" or the "party", et al.), Motion Requesting Preliminary Injunctive Relief (Docket No. 17), and subsequent Amended Complaint (Docket No. 29). Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to declare certain sections of the Puerto Rico Electoral Act, 16 P.R. Laws Ann. § 3101 et seq., and the Commonwealth Electoral Commission Regulations for the registration of a new political party by petition, in violation of the United States Constitution, specifically its First and Fourteenth Amendments. The instant case involves a constitutional challenge to Articles 3.001(3) and 3.002 of the Puerto Rico Electoral Act, 16 P.R. Laws Ann. §§ 3101(3) and 3102, for alleged violation of Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. Plaintiffs further challenge the validity of the regulations approved by the Commonwealth Electoral Commission (Puerto Rico State Elections Commission "PRSEC"), for the registration and access to the ballot of new, Commonwealth-wide political parties, "Reglamento para la Inscripción de Partidos por Petición", approved on January 22, 2002 (hereinafter referred to as "Regulation") (Joint Exhibit III). Plaintiffs request the Court to declare 16 P.R. Laws Ann §§ 3101(3) and 3102, and the Regulation in violation of the Constitution, on their face, as well as in their application to Plaintiffs.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are all citizens of Puerto Rico and of the United States, and are registered voters in compliance with the Puerto Rico Electoral Act, Act No. 4 of December 20, 1977, as amended, 16 P.R. Laws Ann. § 3101 et seq. Individual Plaintiffs are members of Co-Plaintiff Limpieza Ciudadana. Defendants are all members of the Commission, to wit, the Chairman of the Commission and the representatives of the three island-wide registered political parties, Partido Nuevo Progresista ("PNP"), Partido Popular Democrático ("PPD"), and Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño ("PIP"), respectively.1 The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico intervened in defense of the constitutionality of the statutes involved. (Docket Nos. 12 & 15).

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Plaintiffs move the Court to order Defendants to accept and validate Registration Petition Forms, "RPF"s (petitions to register a political party), signed and gathered by any citizen, regardless of whether or not signatures are gathered by members of the local bar. Plaintiffs challenge, and request the Court to enjoin Defendants and their agents from enforcing the requirement that Registration Petition Forms be gathered, signed and sworn by a lawyer-notary since such requirement allegedly violates their First Amendment rights. Plaintiffs also request the Court in injunctive mode to order Defendants to accept petitions gathered in the thirty (30) day period prior to filing at the State Elections Commission, rather than in the seven (7) day period prescribed in Article 3.002 of the Puerto Rico Electoral Act, 16 P.R. Laws Ann. § 3102. Plaintiffs further request the Court to order Defendants to accept "RPF"s filed with a list of registered voters organized by alphabetical order, regardless of the precinct were they are registered to vote. (Regulation of January 22, 2002, Article 4, Sections 4.5 and 4.7).

On March 14, 2003, the Court issued an Order mandating Defendants to show cause as to why "RPF"'s signed, gathered and notarized by an ad hoc notary (as opposed to notary public), should not be validated and accepted at the "PRSEC". Defendants were also ordered to show cause as to why ad hoc notaries should not be authorized to engage upon the process of registering new political parties by petition. The Court relied on the case decided by Hon. Chief Judge Laffitte, finding unconstitutional the requisite of registration by notary publics. Jose E. Pérez-Guzmán v. Aurelio Gracia, et. al., 260 F.Supp.2d 389 (D.P.R.2003). On the other hand, Plaintiffs were ordered to show cause as to why their petitions to invalidate the seven (7) day period requirement to file gathered petitions at the PRSEC, and to also invalidate the regulation section that provides for the RPF's to be filed with a list of registered voters in strict alphabetical order and by precinct number, should not be denied. The Court was under the impression that the latter requests potentially fell under the doctrine set forth under Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, 525 U.S. 182, 185-191, 208, 214, 119 S.Ct. 636, 142 L.Ed.2d 599 (1999), as the challenged statutes, not regulating the communicative aspect of the petition must be differentiated from the aspects of the law that regulate the electoral process per se (Docket No. 18).2

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PAGE CONTAINED FOOTNOTES

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Both parties appeared and submitted briefs showing cause.3 Defendants thereafter answered the Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 36). On July 11 and 14, 2003,

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the Court held a Hearing as to Plaintiffs' preliminary injunction request. Both parties submitted post-hearing briefs. (Docket Nos. 41 & 43).

Co-Plaintiff Limpieza Ciudadana is a new political party that has, prior to the filing of the instant case, registered its name and logo with the Elections Commission, as required under the Electoral Act. Individual Plaintiffs are requesting that the political party become a "Party by Petition".4

A "Party by Petition" as defined under the Electoral provisions and regulations, refers to:

[a]ny group of citizens, who, with the purpose of participating on the electoral ballots in the next election, register as a political party, on or before the 1st of June of the year of the elections, shall be considered a party by petition, by way of filing sworn petitions to that effect before the Commission, subscribed by a number of voters no less than five (5) percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for the position of Governor in the preceding general elections ... (Regulation of January 22, 2002, Article 1, Section 1.4(a)).

The Registration Process-

Under the Puerto Rico Electoral Act, and regulations approved thereunder, any group of citizens willing to create and register a new, Commonwealth-wide political party by petition must engage in the following initial registration process5:

a. Submit to the Commission a political platform, an emblem or logo, the name of the organization and the names of the citizens that conform its Board of Directors. (Translated Regulation of January 22, 2002, Article 2, Sections 2.1 and 2.2).

b. Wait for the Commission's approval of the name and emblem. This process requires both the name and the emblem to be published in a newspaper of Commonwealth-wide circulation in order to ascertain whether other citizens or organizations raise any objections as per the criteria for objections set by the Electoral Act and the regulations that the Commission approves.6 (Translated Regulation).

c. The Group of citizens proposing to register a political party shall file, with the Commission, a list of notary publics which they propose to use to swear the endorsement petitions. That also shall inform the addresses of these, as well as their signatures, and notarial seals. Any change that may come up as to these notaries shall be notified to the Commission at once.

The Commission shall reject endorsement petitions sworn to before a notary public whose name was not previously informed. With regards to the functions of the notaries in this process of registration by petition, the pertinent dispositions of the "Notarial Law of Puerto Rico" shall apply. (Translated Regulation, Article 3, Section 3.1).

d. Provide a copy of the Registration Petition Form to the voter in the presence of a notary public, for the voter to fill the RPF and for the notary to proceed

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to authenticate the voter's signature and identification, and swear the petition. The petition shall include the voter's name, electoral number, precinct number, address, mother's name, father's name, age, voter's signature, and notary public's signature and seal. (Translated Regulation, Article 4, Section 4.7)(See also, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, Docket No. 28, p. 8).

e. Gather notarized RPF's for submission to the Commission, and then organize and list the RPF's in alphabetical order, by electoral precinct, using the names of each registered voter that signs the RPF's, in order to submit them to the Commission in a term not to exceed seven (7) days after the signing, and notarization of the petition. The petitions shall be filed with the Office of the Commission no later than seven (7) days after been sworn to before the notary public. And, the registration petitions shall include a "Filed Petition Report" when filed, prepared in an original and five (5) copies identified by precinct. (Translated Regulation, Article 4, Sections 4.5 and 4.6).

f. Copies of the registration petitions, grouped by precinct with their corresponding report, shall be sent to the Validation Unit to judge as to the correctness, legality, and validity of each one, comparing them against the original registration petition and any other document that may come from the records and archives of the Commission. (Translated Regulation, Article 6, Section 6.1).

g. The Validation Unit has a period of forty five (45) days, from the date of the filing, to judge on...

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