Perkins v. McAdams

Decision Date29 September 2014
Docket NumberNO. 4:13-CV-00131-DMB-JMV,4:13-CV-00131-DMB-JMV
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
PartiesSHERIEL F. PERKINS; THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI EX REL. SHERIEL F. PERKINS PLAINTIFFS v. CAROLYN MCADAMS DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This is an election contest brought by Plaintiff Sheriel F. Perkins and the State of Mississippi on relation of Sheriel F. Perkins against Defendant Carolyn McAdams, the current Mayor of Greenwood, Mississippi.1 In her complaint, Plaintiff challenges the results of the June 4, 2013, Greenwood, Mississippi, mayoral election. Doc. #3.

IProcedural History
A. Original Complaint

On June 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of Leflore County, Mississippi. In her original complaint, Plaintiff alleged that she "was one of two candidates for Mayor of the City of Greenwood, Mississippi, in the General Election held on June 4, 2013." Doc. #3 at ¶ 4. Plaintiff further alleged that the final certification of results, which showed a victory for her opponent Defendant Carolyn McAdams, were "erroneous, arbitrary, capricious, [and] incorrect." Id. at ¶ 9.

Of relevance here, Plaintiff alleged that various election officials engaged in "racially motivated manipulation of the electoral process to the detriment of the African American voters in Greenwood Doc. #3 at ¶¶ 20, 22, 25. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that the election officials gave African American voters "incorrect information concerning affidavit (provisional ballots)" and denied such voters the opportunity to cast provisional ballots. Id. at ¶ 25.

Based on her initial allegations, Plaintiff alleged federal causes of action arising from violations of: (1) "Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965" (Counts Six and Eight), (2) "Help America Vote Act, 42 U.S.C. [§] 15482" (Count Seven); and (3) substantive and procedural due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count Eleven). Doc. #3 at ¶¶ 20-25, 30-31.

B. Removal, Motion to Remand, and Amendment

On July 24, 2013, Defendant removed the action to this Court. Doc. #1. In her notice of removal, Defendant, citing Counts Six, Seven, and Eight, stated that "this Court has federal question jurisdiction of certain claims asserted by Plaintiff against Defendant and supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims because they are related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.

On August 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend her complaint. Doc. #10. In her motion, Plaintiff sought leave to "file a first amended complaint to delete the Sixth, Seventh, and Eleventh causes of action based on federal law and references to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Help America Vote Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 15[4]82 and the substantive and procedural due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. The brief accompanying the motion described the motion as seeking "leave to file a first amended complaint to voluntarily delete and dismiss any and all federal claims and references to federal claims." Doc. #11 at 3.

The day after filing the motion to amend, Plaintiff filed a motion to remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Doc. #12. On September 9, 2013, Defendant filed a timely response in opposition to the motion to remand. Doc. #19. Plaintiff did not file a reply to Defendant's response within the time allowed.2 However, on September 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file out of time a reply in support of her motion to remand. Doc. #23. The same day, Plaintiff filed an "amended" motion for leave to file the reply. Doc. #24. In her amended motion, Plaintiff represents that the motion for leave is unopposed. Id.

On January 2, 2014, the Magistrate Judge assigned to this matter granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. Doc. #26. The amended complaint, which was filed the following day, omitted all references to federal statutes and the United States Constitution. Doc. #28.

On January 17, 2014, Defendant filed an amended motion to dismiss combined with a motion to strike in the same document. Doc. #31. Plaintiff timely responded to the dual motion. Doc. #34. On February 5, 2014, the Court directed Defendant to file her motions separately. Accordingly, on February 10, 2014, Defendant filed a second amended motion to dismiss and a separate motion to strike. Docs. #35 & #37. The same day, Defendant replied to Plaintiff's response to the January 17 motion. Doc. #39.

IIMotion for Leave to Reply

In her amended unopposed motion for leave to file an out of time reply in support of the motion to remand, Plaintiff asserts that the failure to file the reply within the time allowed is attributable to a calendaring oversight by her attorney. Doc. #24. Upon consideration, the Courtwill grant Plaintiff's amended unopposed motion for leave [24]. The reply brief submitted out of time [25] will be deemed timely filed. The original motion for leave [23] will be denied as moot.

IIIMotion to Remand
A. Applicable Standard

"The right of removal is entirely a creature of statute and a suit commenced in a state court must remain there until cause is shown for its transfer under some act of Congress. These statutory procedures for removal are to be strictly construed. It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited federal jurisdiction and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction." Hood ex rel. Mississippi v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., 737 F.3d 78, 84 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal citations, punctuation, and quotation marks omitted). When considering a motion for remand, "[a]ny ambiguities are construed against removal and in favor of remand to state court." Id. "To determine whether jurisdiction is present for removal, [federal courts] consider the claims in the state court petition as they existed at the time of removal." Manguno v. Prudential Prop. and Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002) (internal citation omitted).

B. Analysis

With few exceptions, none of which are relevant here, subject matter jurisdiction in federal court is conferred through either: (1) federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331; or (2) diversity jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Here, there is no dispute that the parties are not diverse so as to implicate diversity jurisdiction. Accordingly, the sole question is whether Plaintiff's original state court complaint invoked federal question jurisdiction.

28 U.S.C. § 1331 provides district courts with "original jurisdiction of all actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." "To determine whether a case is one 'arising under' federal law for these purposes, [courts] ordinarily apply the well-pleaded complaint rule." New Orleans & Gulf Coast Ry. Co. v. Barrois, 533 F.3d 321, 328 (5th Cir. 2008) (internal citations omitted). The well-pleaded complaint rule, in turn, provides that:

[W]hether a case is one arising under the Constitution or a law or treaty of the United States, in the sense of the jurisdictional statute, ... must be determined from what necessarily appears in the plaintiff's statement of his own claim in the bill or declaration, unaided by anything alleged in anticipation of avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant may interpose.

Id. (alterations in original) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 10 (1983)).

Here, there is no dispute that Plaintiff's original complaint asserted two claims through federal statutes (the Voting Rights Act and Help America Vote Act) and one claim under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Nevertheless, Plaintiff argues that federal question jurisdiction is absent because: (1) her federal claims are "frivolous or insubstantial;" (2) Defendant's notice of removal did not "cite[], mention[] or address[]" "the requirements of the Grable & Sons Metal Prods. v. Darue Eng'g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308 (2005) decision;" (3) the federal court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971); and (4) the notice of removal does not argue that the VRA or HAVA completely preempt state law.3 Doc. #11.

"In federal question cases[], where the complaint is so drawn as to seek recovery directly under the Constitution or laws of the United States, the federal court, but for two possible exceptions[,] must entertain the suit. The two exceptions are where the federal question clearlyappears to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or where such a claim is wholly insubstantial and frivolous." Southpark Square Ltd. v. City of Jackson, 565 F.2d 338, 341 (5th Cir. 1977) (internal punctuation, quotation marks, and citations omitted). Here, Plaintiff takes the position that her HAVA and VRA claims are wholly insubstantial or frivolous because the statutes do "not apply to garden variety election irregularities," and do not "create ... private right[]s of action in the context of a state law election contest." Doc. #13 at 5, 9 (citing Broyles v. State of Texas, 618 F.Supp.2d 661, 692-98 (S.D. Tex. 2009)).

As an initial matter, contrary to Plaintiff's contention, "[o]rganizations and private parties have been permitted to enforce Section 2 of the VRA ...." Veasey v. Perry, ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, No. 13-cv-00193, 2014 WL 3002413, at *8 (S.D. Tex. July 2, 2014) (collecting cases). Furthermore, the language from Broyles on which Plaintiff relies held that "circuit courts faced with claims that election irregularities violated due process and equal protection rights have uniformly declined to endorse action under § 1983 with respect to garden variety election irregularities." Broyles, 618 F. Supp. 2d at 694 (emphasis added). In so holding, the Broyles court explicitly distinguished "garden variety irregularities," such as human...

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