Mullin v. Sussex Cnty., C.A. No. 11–580–LPS.

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Delaware
Writing for the CourtSTARK
Citation861 F.Supp.2d 411
PartiesBarbara MULLIN, Julie Jackson, Pastor John Steinbruck, and William O'Connor, Plaintiffs, v. SUSSEX COUNTY, DELAWARE, Sussex County Council, and Michael H. Vincent, in his official capacity as County Council President, Defendants.
Docket NumberC.A. No. 11–580–LPS.
Decision Date15 May 2012

861 F.Supp.2d 411

Barbara MULLIN, Julie Jackson, Pastor John Steinbruck, and William O'Connor, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUSSEX COUNTY, DELAWARE, Sussex County Council, and Michael H. Vincent, in his official capacity as County Council President, Defendants.

C.A. No. 11–580–LPS.

United States District Court,
D. Delaware.

May 15, 2012.


[861 F.Supp.2d 415]


David L. Finger, Esquire of Finger & Slanina, LLC, Wilmington, DE, Ayesha N. Khan, Esquire, Alex J. Luchenitser, Esquire, and Brooke R. Hardy, Esquire of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Joseph S. Shannon, Esquire and Artemio C. Aranilla, II, Esquire of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, DE, for Defendants.


MEMORANDUM OPINION

STARK, District Judge.

Pending before the Court are two motions: (1) a Motion to Dismiss (D.I. 7) filed by defendants Sussex County, Delaware (the “County”), Sussex County Council (the “Council”), and Michael H. Vincent, in his official capacity as County Council President (collectively, “Defendants”), and (2) a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (D.I. 20) filed by plaintiffs Barbara Mullin, Julie Jackson, Pastor John Steinbruck, and William O'Connor (collectively, “Plaintiffs”). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and grant Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary Injunction.

BACKGROUND
I. Factual Background

The Council holds weekly meetings that are open to the public. (D.I. 1 ¶ 14) Since at least 2006,1 the Council has opened its meetings with a recitation of The Lord's Prayer,2 led by the Council President. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 16, 19) While reciting The Lord's

[861 F.Supp.2d 416]

Prayer, the Council President stands and faces the audience, and most members of the audience stand and bow their heads. ( Id. ¶ 16; D.I. 22 at A33 ¶ 22, A38 ¶ 16, A50 ¶ 14)

The version of The Lord's Prayer delivered at the Council meetings is as follows:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy Name;

Thy Kingdom come;

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the Kingdom,

The power,

And the glory forever.

Amen.

(D.I. 1 ¶ 20)

Plaintiffs are Sussex County citizens who have attended Council meetings in the past and plan to do so in the future. ( Id. ¶¶ 7–10) Each of the Plaintiffs is offended by the Council's recitation of The Lord's Prayer. ( See id.) Two of the Plaintiffs, who are Christians, are offended because they feel that the Council's practice co-opts and debases their faith. ( Id. ¶¶ 8–9) The other two Plaintiffs are non-Christian and are offended because they feel the Council's practice demeans and excludes their beliefs. ( Id. ¶¶ 7, 10)

II. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their complaint (the “Complaint”) on June 30, 2011. (D.I. 1) The Complaint alleges that the County's practice of having the Council President recite The Lord's Prayer at the opening of Council meetings violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. amend. I § 1, and the Delaware Constitution's corresponding provision, Del. Const. art. I § 1. ( Id.) In lieu of an answer, Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss on August 10, 2011. (D.I. 7) Defendants contend that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring their claims and that the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ( Id.)

On December 1, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a). (D.I. 20) The parties completed briefing on Plaintiffs' motion on January 4, 2012. ( See D.I. 32) The Court held oral argument on both motions on January 11, 2012. ( See Motions Hr'g Tr., Jan. 11, 2012 (D.I. 44) (hereinafter “Tr.”))

At oral argument, the parties made a joint request that the Court treat the pending motions as cross-motions for summary judgment. (Tr. at 3, 6) Additionally, Defendants moved to strike one or both of the declarations of Plaintiffs' expert, David Harrington Watt. ( Id. at 7–8) In the event that the Court did not strike Mr. Watt's declarations, Defendants also requested the opportunity to supplement the record in response to issues Mr. Watt raised in his second declaration. ( Id. at 75) By Order dated January 12, 2012, the Court denied the parties' joint request to treat the pending motions as cross-motions for summary judgment, denied Defendants' request to strike, and permitted Defendants to supplement the record. (D.I. 36 ¶¶ 1–4) The Court also stayed discovery. ( Id. ¶ 5; D.I. 38; D.I. 49) The parties' supplemental submissions relating to the pending motions were all filed by February 2, 2012. ( See D.I. 41; D.I. 42; D.I. 43)

LEGAL STANDARDS
I. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Standing

“A motion to dismiss for want of standing is ... properly brought pursuant

[861 F.Supp.2d 417]

to Rule 12(b)(1), because standing is a jurisdictional matter. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the Court must accept as true all material allegations set forth in the complaint, and must construe those facts in favor of the nonmoving party.” Ballentine v. United States, 486 F.3d 806, 810 (3d Cir.2007) (internal citations omitted); see also Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 102, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998) (noting that standing is “threshold jurisdictional question”). A court may grant a motion to dismiss for lack of standing only if, after, “accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief.” Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 481–82 (3d Cir.2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

There are three requirements for Article III standing: (1) injury in fact, which means an invasion of a legally protected interest that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal connection between the injury and the challenged conduct, which means that the injury fairly can be traced to the challenged action of the defendant and has not resulted from the independent action of some third party not before the court; and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision, which means that the prospect of obtaining relief from the injury as a result of a favorable ruling is not too speculative. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992).

In addition to establishing Article III standing, a party must establish “prudential standing.” See Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11–12, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004); Twp. of Lyndhurst v. Priceline.com Inc., 657 F.3d 148, 154 (3d Cir.2011). Prudential standing embraces the following principles:

(1) the plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties; (2) even when the plaintiff has alleged reasonable injury sufficient to meet the requirements of Article III, the federal courts will not adjudicate abstract questions of wide public significance which amount to generalized grievances pervasively shared and most appropriately addressed in the representative branches; and (3) the plaintiff's complaint must fall within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute or constitutional guarantee in question.

Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 485 (3d Cir.1998) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).


The party invoking federal jurisdiction has the burden to establish standing to sue. See Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130. Each of the standing requirements “must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation.” Id. “At the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice, for on a motion to dismiss we presum[e] that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “When ruling on motion to dismiss for lack of standing, federal courts may consider affidavits and other factual materials in the record.” Nat'l Ass'n of State Utility Consumer Advocates v. F.C.C., 457 F.3d 1238, 1251 (11th Cir.2006).

[861 F.Supp.2d 418]

II. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

Evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires the Court to accept as true all material allegations of the complaint. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir.2004). “The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” In re Burlington Coat Factory Secs. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir.1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the Court may grant such a motion to dismiss only if, after “accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief.” Maio, 221 F.3d at 481–82 (internal quotation marks omitted).

However, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).’ ” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). While heightened fact pleading is not required, “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” must be alleged. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1974. At bottom, “[t]he complaint...

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6 practice notes
  • Stokes. v. DeMatteis, Civ. No. 21-144-CFC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • July 30, 2021
    ...has failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to withstand dismissal under the Delaware Constitution. See Mullin v. Sussex Cty., 861 F. Supp. 2d 411, 424 (D. Del. 2012). As discussed, the Complaint fails to state claims under § 1983 or the Delaware Constitution and will be dismissed. P......
  • Freedom From Religion Found., Inc. v. Brewer, 1 CA-CV 12-0684
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • June 11, 2013
    ...protected by the law invoked. Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 474-75; Allen, 468 U.S. at 751; see also Mullin v. Sussex County, Delaware, 861 F. Supp. 2d 411, 417 (D. Del. 2012) ("In addition to establishing Article III standing, a party must establish prudential standing." (internal quotation ma......
  • Kelly v. City of Parkersburg, Civil Action No. 6:13–cv–23260.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • October 16, 2013
    ...to political speech is “fully in accord with the public's interest in free speech and association.”); Mullin v. Sussex Cnty., Del., 861 F.Supp.2d 411, 428 (D.Del.2012) (“[T]he public interest favors an environment in which there is not any governmental favoritism of a specific religion in v......
  • Parkell v. Pierce, C.A. No. 17-157-LPS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • June 22, 2018
    ...has failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to withstand dismissal under the Delaware Constitution. See Mullin v. Sussex Cty., 861 F. Supp. 2d 411, 424 (D. Del. 2012). Accordingly, Count V will be dismissed.Page 25 IV. LEAVE TO AMEND Plaintiff requests that, if the Court is inclined ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Stokes. v. DeMatteis, Civ. No. 21-144-CFC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • July 30, 2021
    ...has failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to withstand dismissal under the Delaware Constitution. See Mullin v. Sussex Cty., 861 F. Supp. 2d 411, 424 (D. Del. 2012). As discussed, the Complaint fails to state claims under § 1983 or the Delaware Constitution and will be dismissed. P......
  • Freedom From Religion Found., Inc. v. Brewer, 1 CA-CV 12-0684
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • June 11, 2013
    ...protected by the law invoked. Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 474-75; Allen, 468 U.S. at 751; see also Mullin v. Sussex County, Delaware, 861 F. Supp. 2d 411, 417 (D. Del. 2012) ("In addition to establishing Article III standing, a party must establish prudential standing." (internal quotation ma......
  • Kelly v. City of Parkersburg, Civil Action No. 6:13–cv–23260.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • October 16, 2013
    ...to political speech is “fully in accord with the public's interest in free speech and association.”); Mullin v. Sussex Cnty., Del., 861 F.Supp.2d 411, 428 (D.Del.2012) (“[T]he public interest favors an environment in which there is not any governmental favoritism of a specific religion in v......
  • Parkell v. Pierce, C.A. No. 17-157-LPS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • June 22, 2018
    ...has failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to withstand dismissal under the Delaware Constitution. See Mullin v. Sussex Cty., 861 F. Supp. 2d 411, 424 (D. Del. 2012). Accordingly, Count V will be dismissed.Page 25 IV. LEAVE TO AMEND Plaintiff requests that, if the Court is inclined ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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