Davidson v. City of Cranston, C.A. No. 14-91L

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
Citation188 F.Supp.3d 146
Docket NumberC.A. No. 14-91L
Parties Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry, Sylvia Weber And American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Inc., Plaintiffs, v. City of Cranston, Rhode Island, Defendant.
Decision Date24 May 2016

188 F.Supp.3d 146

Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry, Sylvia Weber And American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Inc., Plaintiffs,
City of Cranston, Rhode Island, Defendant.

C.A. No. 14-91L

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island.

Signed May 24, 2016

Lynette J. Labinger, Roney & Labinger LLP, Providence, RI, Adam Lioz, Demos, Washington, DC, Brenda Wright, Demos, Brighton, MA, Sean J. Young, ACLU, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Christopher M. Rawson, Lovett Schefrin Harnett, Normand G. Benoit, David J. Pellegrino, Partridge, Snow & Hahn LLP, Providence, RI, for Defendant.


RONALD R. LAGUEUX, Senior United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. The Complaint was brought by four named plaintiffs, all residents and registered voters from Cranston, Rhode Island, along with The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Inc., on behalf of its members who reside in Cranston (henceforth collectively identified as "Plaintiffs"). Defendant is the City of Cranston, Rhode Island. Plaintiffs allege that the Redistricting Plan adopted by Cranston in 2012 violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, because the inclusion of the State's entire prison population in a single city ward operates to dilute the voting strength and political influence of the residents of the other wards. For the reasons explained below, the Court denies Defendant's motion for summary judgment; instead granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs.


Cranston's 2012 Redistricting Plan is based on population numbers generated by the United States Census Bureau as part of its every-ten-year census count, most recently undertaken in 2010. As this Court explained in its earlier decision (denying Defendant's motion to dismiss, at 42 F.Supp.3d 325, 326 (D.R.I.2014) ), the Census Bureau has historically counted prison

188 F.Supp.3d 147

inmates as residents of the district where their prison is located. In 2010, the Census Bureau counted 3,433 prisoners at Rhode Island's only state prison, the Adult Correctional Institutions (the "ACI"), and included the prisoners as Cranston residents. When Cranston drew its city ward boundaries in 2012, it included the entire prison population in Ward Six, where the ACI is geographically located.

According to the Census, as of April 2010, Cranston had a total population of 80,387, with Ward Six's population at 13,642. Cranston has a total of six wards, each made up of approximately 13,500 residents.1 According to Defendant, the total maximum deviation among the population of the six wards is less than ten percent. However, if, as Plaintiffs advocate, the prisoners are subtracted from Ward Six's population, its total population is reduced to 10,209. Without the prison population, the deviation between the largest ward and Ward Six is approximately 35%.2

Each ward elects one representative to the City Council and one to the School Committee. Additionally, three at-large city councilors and one at-large school committee member are selected by voters from all six wards. Although the City includes ACI's prison inmates in Ward Six, the majority of inmates cannot vote in the Ward. Rhode Island's Constitution states that no one who has been convicted of a felony may vote while incarcerated. R.I. Const. Art. II, § 1. Prisoners at the ACI for reasons other than a felony conviction may vote only by absentee ballot at their pre-incarceration domiciles. Rhode Island Gen. Laws § 17–1–3.1(a)(2). According to the demographic experts retained by the parties, 153 or 155 prisoners came from Cranston at the time of the Census. Eighteen of those had pre-incarceration addresses located in Ward Six.

The population of the ACI is transient. Inmates may be serving sentences or awaiting trial. According to Plaintiffs' demographic expert, the median length of stay for those serving a sentence at the ACI is 99 days. The median stay for those awaiting trial is three days. The ACI's principal research technician Caitlin O'Connor stated that approximately 37% of the population is serving a felony sentence. Applying that percentage to the eighteen inmates with pre-incarceration addresses in Ward Six leaves between six and seven inmates who could be eligible to vote in Ward Six.

The ACI inmate population does not participate in the civic life of Cranston or Ward Six. Inmates are only rarely permitted to leave the facility. Approximately 15-25 inmates from minimum security check out on a daily basis to participate in work release programs. A slightly larger number, 60-100, leave the prison for work details, but are prohibited from interacting with the public. Similarly, some inmates may be furloughed for family or health emergencies, at which time they are accompanied by correctional officers and are not permitted to interact with the public. Inmates may not leave the prison to visit in the community, make use of parks or other municipal recreational facilities, use the roads or ride on public transportation. In addition, they are not able to send their children to Cranston public schools based on their ACI address.

The City provides only minimal services to the ACI, which is located on a state-operated campus. Although the Cranston

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police occasionally deliver a prospective inmate to the prison, most requests for police services are handled by the State Police, which maintains an office at the ACI. The Cranston Fire Department does provide services to the ACI, although calls to the ACI represent only a negligible percentage of the Department's total calls per year.

Cranston's elected officials do not campaign or endeavor to represent their ACI constituents. Nor do they enact regulations or ordinances that bear on conditions at the ACI. Ward Six city councilor Michael Favicchio is in his third term and campaigned actively in the Ward in 2010, 2012 and 2014. However, his only trips to the ACI have been made in connection with his law practice. The school committee member from Ward Six, along with the four at-large elected officials, report that they have had no contact with anyone incarcerated at the ACI. Similarly, Mayor Allan Fung, who has served as Cranston's mayor since his election in 2008, reports that he has only visited the ACI once during his mayoral tenure, for a tour of the facility. He recalls no contact with any inmates during this visit. Mayor Fung remembers receiving a letter from an inmate complaining about her medical care, but he doesn't think that he responded to the letter. There is no record of the City Council discussing any issues relating to the welfare of ACI's inmates, or of any city councilor being contacted by family members on behalf of any ACI inmate. As might be expected, in deposition testimony, these officials all reported expending much time and effort in canvassing and outreach to other Cranston residents during their campaigns, and in constituent services following their elections.

Plaintiffs' Complaint states one cause of action: that Defendant's Redistricting Plan violates Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, causing them ongoing and irreparable harm by diluting their votes in municipal elections. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Redistricting Plan is unconstitutional, and they seek to enjoin future elections in Cranston until an acceptable plan is developed.

Standard of Review

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must look to the record and view all the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Continental Cas. Co. v, Canadian Univ. Ins. Co., 924 F.2d 370, 373 (1st Cir.1991). Once this is done, Rule 56(c) requires that summary judgment be granted if there is no issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A material fact is one affecting the lawsuit's outcome. URI Cogeneration Partners, L.P. v. Board of Governors for Higher Education, 915 F.Supp. 1267, 1279 (D.R.I.1996). The ultimate burden of persuasion is on the moving party to show that the undisputed facts entitle it to summary judgment as a matter of law. Jaroma v....

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1 books & journal articles
  • Prison Malapportionment: Forging a New Path for State Courts.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 130 No. 5, March 2021
    • March 1, 2021
    ...(N.D. Fla. 2016) (describing the plaintiffs' challenge to the Jefferson County districting scheme); Davidson v. City of Cranston, 188 F. Supp. 3d 146, 148 (D.R.I. 2016) (describing plaintiffs' allegation to Cranston's redistricting (94.) Final 2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Si......

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