League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. City of Boerne

Decision Date28 September 2011
Docket Number10–50416.,Nos. 10–50290,s. 10–50290
Citation80 Fed.R.Serv.3d 871,659 F.3d 421
PartiesLEAGUE OF UNITED LATIN AMERICAN CITIZENS, DISTRICT 19, Plaintiff–Appellee,v.CITY OF BOERNE; Patrick R. Heath, Mayor; R.L. Bien; Donald L. Gourley; Ann Reissig; Ben Stafford; Randy Bedwell, all in their official capacities as members of the City Council for the City of Boerne, Kendall County, Texas, Defendants–Appellees,Michael R. Morton, Movant–Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit


Christian J. Ward, Ryan Bates, Gregory Scott Coleman, Sr. Atty., Richard Bernard Farrer, Kevin James Terrazas (argued), Yetter Coleman, L.L.P., Austin, TX, Gerald Dale McFarlen, Law Office of Gerald D. McFarlen, P.C., Boerne, TX, for MovantAppellant.Jose Garza (argued), San Antonio, TX, for PlaintiffAppellee.William Michael McKamie (argued), Bradford Eugene Bullock, McKamie Krueger, L.L.P., San Antonio, TX, Claude Robert Heath, Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado & Acosta, L.L.P., Austin, TX, for DefendantsAppellees.Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.Before BARKSDALE, DENNIS and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.DENNIS, Circuit Judge:

The appellant, Michael R. Morton, seeks to intervene in a suit under the Voting Rights Act that was originally filed in 1996 by the League of United Latin American Citizens, District 19 (LULAC), against the city of Boerne, Texas. LULAC and the city reached a settlement agreement in 1996, and the district court entered a consent decree which provided that city council members would thereafter be elected through at-large elections with cumulative voting. In 2009, LULAC and the city filed a joint motion to reopen the case and modify the consent decree in order to switch to a single-member-district system. The district court granted that motion. Morton, a resident and registered voter in Boerne who opposes the change, filed a motion to intervene. The district court denied the motion on the grounds that Morton lacked standing. Morton has appealed. The city and LULAC have filed appellate briefs urging affirmance of the district court's denial of Morton's motion to intervene; they argue that he lacks standing and that this appeal is moot. Morton contends that he has standing and has a right to intervene. He further argues that this court should render judgment in his favor because the district court lacked the power to reopen the case, and alternatively because LULAC's and the city's motion fail to justify the modification of the consent decree. We conclude that (1) Morton has standing; (2) the case is not moot; and (3) Morton has a right to intervene in the case under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, we REVERSE the district court's denial of Morton's motion to intervene. We also conclude that (1) the district court had the power to modify the consent decree; but (2) the district court abused its discretion in granting LULAC and the city's motion to modify because the record did not show that modification was warranted. Therefore, we VACATE AND REMAND the district court's order granting the modified consent decree.


In 1995, the city of Boerne, Texas, adopted a home rule charter pursuant to article XI, section 5 of the Texas Constitution. The city charter provided for, inter alia, a city council with five members elected on an at-large, numbered-post basis. Under the charter, elections were to be held once per year for two-year terms, with three council members to be elected in one year and two council members plus the mayor to be elected the next year. See City of Boerne Home Rule Charter §§ 3.02, 4.05(B).1

The Texas Constitution provides that city charters may be adopted or amended “by a majority vote of the qualified voters of said city, at an election held for that purpose.” Tex. Const. art. XI, § 5. In accordance with this state constitutional provision, the city charter of Boerne states: Amendments to this Charter may be framed, proposed, and adopted in the manner provided by the laws of the State of Texas.” City of Boerne Home Rule Charter § 10.07.

Soon after the city adopted its charter, LULAC brought suit in federal court under the Voting Rights Act against the city and its mayor and city council members in their official capacities. LULAC's complaint alleged that the city charter's at-large, numbered-post election system unlawfully diluted the voting strength of minority voters, specifically Mexican–Americans, in violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.2 In December 1996, the city and LULAC reached a settlement agreement which provided that city council members would be elected on an at-large basis through cumulative voting3 instead of the numbered-post system. The district court entered a consent decree in accordance with the settlement agreement.

The city thereafter held elections in accordance with the consent decree. One Hispanic member was elected to the city council in 1997. She was then reelected unopposed in 1999 and 2001; both of those elections were canceled because no candidate opposed any of the incumbents. In 2003, the Hispanic council member faced an opposing candidate for the first time and was defeated. LULAC and the city have stipulated that no Hispanic candidate has run for a position on the city council since 2003.

On December 2, 2009, the city council held a special meeting to discuss changing from at-large elections to single-member districts. Michael R. Morton, the appellant, spoke at that meeting in opposition to the change. The council voted 3–2 to file a joint motion with LULAC, asking the federal district court to enter a modified consent decree providing for single-member districts.

At the same meeting, the council also passed an ordinance establishing five single-member districts and delineating their boundaries. However, the issue was not submitted to the voters, as would be required under the Texas Constitution in order to modify the city charter. Thus, the provisions of the city charter, as originally enacted in 1995, requiring an at-large, numbered-post voting system, remain unamended. City of Boerne Home Rule Charter §§ 3.02, 4.05(B).

On December 9, 2009, the city and LULAC filed a joint motion asking the district court to reopen the case and enter a modified consent decree. The joint motion stated: “The cumulative voting system has failed to produce the results desired by either LULAC or the CITY .... The parties wish to modify the Compromise Settlement Agreement to provide for election of the City Council under a single member electoral district system instead of cumulative voting, in hopes of producing the desired remedy with respect to minority candidate and voter participation and voting strength.”

The district court entered an order reopening the case and adopting the proposed modified consent decree on December 11, 2009. The order did not give specific reasons for the court's decision or contain any findings of fact or conclusions of law. It stated, inter alia, “that upon completion of all steps necessary to implement the single member district electoral process ..., the parties shall promptly present a joint motion to dismiss to the Court.”

On January 6, 2010, Morton filed a motion to intervene, seeking to oppose the modified consent decree. The district court denied this motion on March 17, 2010, on the grounds that Morton lacked Article III standing, relying primarily on Lance v. Coffman, 549 U.S. 437, 127 S.Ct. 1194, 167 L.Ed.2d 29 (2007).

Meanwhile, also on January 6, 2010, the city submitted the proposed change to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) for preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. See generally Nw. Austin Mun. Utility Dist. No. 1 v. Holder, 557 U.S. 193, 129 S.Ct. 2504, 2509–10, 174 L.Ed.2d 140 (2009) (describing the preclearance requirement under section 5). The DOJ granted preclearance on March 8, 2010.

The city and LULAC filed a joint motion to dismiss on April 14, 2010, and the district court granted that motion on April 19, 2010. Morton, who had already filed a timely notice of interlocutory appeal from the denial of his motion to intervene, then filed a timely notice of appeal from the district court's order dismissing the case. The two appeals were consolidated.


The district court denied Morton's motion to intervene because it concluded that he lacked Article III standing. We review a district court's decision to dismiss for lack of standing de novo. E.g., Ordonez Orosco v. Napolitano, 598 F.3d 222, 225 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 389, 178 L.Ed.2d 87 (2010).

Under Ruiz v. Estelle, 161 F.3d 814 (5th Cir.1998), a would-be intervenor must establish that he has Article III standing if, inter alia, he is not seeking any relief that is “also being sought by at least one subsisting party with standing to do so.” Id. at 830. Morton is plainly seeking different relief from what the subsisting parties, LULAC and the city, are seeking, because he urges the court to reject the amended consent decree that LULAC and the city jointly sought. Therefore, as the district court correctly held, Morton must establish that he has Article III standing.

The three well-known components of standing are injury in fact, causation, and redressability. E.g., Mims v. Stewart Title Guar. Co., 590 F.3d 298, 302 (5th Cir.2009). The district court held that Morton failed to establish injury in fact, in that he had stated “only a generalized grievance rather than a concrete and particularized injury that is required for standing.” The Supreme Court has explained, We have consistently held that a plaintiff raising only a generally available grievance about government—claiming only harm to his and every citizen's interest in proper application of the Constitution and laws, and seeking relief that no more directly and tangibly benefits him than it does the public at large—does not state an Article III case or...

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