Peterson v. Dean

Decision Date28 January 2015
Docket NumberNo. 14–5219.,14–5219.
PartiesLisa PETERSON; Mary Lynn Bush; Diane Cashon; Glenda C. McNutt; Dana Zehner; Brenda Kay Dodson; Patricia Lumpkins; Tycia L. Kesterson, Plaintiffs–Appellants, v. James DEAN, et al., Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

777 F.3d 334

Lisa PETERSON; Mary Lynn Bush; Diane Cashon; Glenda C. McNutt; Dana Zehner; Brenda Kay Dodson; Patricia Lumpkins; Tycia L. Kesterson, Plaintiffs–Appellants
v.
James DEAN, et al., Defendants–Appellees.

No. 14–5219.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Argued: Oct. 2, 2014.
Decided and Filed: Jan. 28, 2015.

Rehearing En Banc Denied March 9, 2015.
*


777 F.3d 336

ARGUED:W. Gary Blackburn, The Blackburn Firm, PLLC, Nashville, Tennessee,

777 F.3d 337

for Appellants. John I. Harris III, Shulman, Leroy & Bennett, P.C., Nashville, Tennessee, for DeKalb County Appellees. ON BRIEF:W. Gary Blackburn, The Blackburn Firm, PLLC, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellants. John I. Harris III, Shulman, Leroy & Bennett, P.C., Nashville, Tennessee, for DeKalb County Appellees. Jeffrey M. Ward, Thomas J. Garland, Jr., Milligan & Coleman PLLP, Greeneville, Tennessee, for Hawkins County Appellees. John D. Schwalb, John D. Schwalb, PLLC, Franklin, Tennessee, for Cannon County Appellees. Robert O. Binkley, Jr., Geoffrey A. Lindley, Rainey, Kizer, Reviere & Bell, P.L.C., Jackson, Tennessee, for Weakley County Appellees.

Before: SILER, CLAY, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.

GRIFFIN, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which SILER, J., joined. CLAY, J. (pp. 350–55), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

GRIFFIN, Circuit Judge.

In this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs, former county administrators of elections from eight counties in Tennessee, allege that following the 2008 statewide elections and a shift in the controlling political party in the state assembly, they were ousted from their positions by the defendants, county election commissioners, because of their actual or perceived political party affiliation, in violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of freedom of speech and equal protection. Plaintiffs sued defendants in their individual and official capacities, seeking monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief.

In a series of rulings, the district court winnowed plaintiffs' claims down to one: a Section 1983 claim for declaratory or injunctive relief against defendants in their official capacities as election commissioners. The parties and the district court agreed that the common and controlling issue was whether the statutory position of county administrator of elections in Tennessee is lawfully subject to patronage dismissal under Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976), and Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980). The district court answered this question in the affirmative, examining the inherent duties of county election administrator in the context of the categorical criteria of McCloud v. Testa, 97 F.3d 1536 (6th Cir.1996). The court therefore granted defendants' motions to dismiss and/or for summary judgment and entered a final judgment in favor of all defendants. Plaintiffs now appeal. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

I.

The eight plaintiffs in this case all served as county election administrators for their respective counties in Tennessee. The district court accurately described the statutory hierarchy of state and county election officials created by the Tennessee legislature, of which the county election administrators are a part:

The State Election Commission is a statutory creation. Codified at Tenn.Code Ann. § 2–11–101, the State Election Commission presently consists of seven members, four of whom are to be members of the majority party, three of whom are to be members of the minority party, and all of whom “shall first be nominated by a joint senate-house caucus of the members of the party of which such person is a member.” Tenn.Code Ann. §§ 2–11–103(a) & (b).1
777 F.3d 338
The State Election Commission is required to appoint five election commissioners for each county in Tennessee, three of whom “shall be members of the majority party” and two of whom “shall be members of the minority party.” Tenn.Code Ann. § 2–12–103(a). The five so appointed comprise the county election commission and these commissioners hold office for two years. Tenn.Code Ann. § 2–12–101.

Each county election commission, in turn, is required to “appoint an administrator of elections, who shall be the chief administrative officer of the commission and shall be responsible for the daily operations of the commission office and the execution of all elections.” Tenn.Code Ann. § 2–12–116(a)(1). The appointed administrator is required to have a high school diploma or GED, and “[i]n evaluating a prospective appointee, the commission shall consider the knowledge and experience of such prospective appointee in the following areas: administrative, managerial, instructional, communication, budgetarial, purchasing, promotional, legal and general office skills and other related skills necessary to fulfill the statutory requirements of administrator.” Id.
The job duties of the administrator are also prescribed by statute. Specifically, Tenn.Code Ann. § 2–12–201 [a] provides that his or her “duties include, but are not limited to, the following”:
(1) Employment of all office personnel ...
(2) Preparation of the annual operating budget and presentation of such budget to the election commission for approval;
(3) Upon approval by the county election commission, presentation of the annual budget to the county commission or other legislative body for funding;
(4) Requisition and purchase of any supplies necessary for the operation of the election commission office and the conduct of all elections;
(5) Maintenance of voter registration files, campaign disclosure records, and any other records required by this title;
(6) Conducting of instruction class for poll workers or designation of another qualified person to conduct such class;
(7) Preparation of all notices for publication required by this title;
(8) Preparation and maintenance of all fiscal records necessary for the daily operation of the election commission office and all elections. This may include any requests for funding or changes in funding, if necessary, after adoption of the current fiscal budget;
(9) Compilation, maintenance and dissemination of information to the public, the candidates, the voters, the press and all inquiring parties in regard to all aspects of the electoral process on all governmental levels;
(10) Promotion of the electoral process through supplemental registrations, public functions, press releases and media advertising whenever possible;
(11) Attendance at any required seminar and other educational seminars, as funding permits, to gain knowledge beneficial to the administration of the election commission office or to the electoral process;
(12) Having knowledge of all current laws pertaining to the election process
777 F.3d 339
and any changes mandated by the general assembly, and apprising the election commission, office staff, candidates, the press and the public in general of this information;
(13) Assistance in the planning and implementation of any plan of apportionment or reapportionment of any governmental entity involved in the electoral process;
(14) The county election commissioners may not employ themselves or any of their spouses, parents, siblings, in-laws or children as administrator;
(15) Preparation of a plan for placing precinct voting locations and presentation of such plan to the election commission for approval;
(16) Preparation of a plan for early voting sites and presentation of such plan to the election commission for approval; and
(17) Upon request, assist the:
(A) City councils, as appropriate, for cities located in the county;
(B) County legislative body;
(C) Local board of education; and
(D) Members of the general assembly representing the county, concerning redistricting in 2012, and thereafter every two-year period following each decennial census taken by the United States census bureau.

(Emphasis added.)

As these statutes reflect, in Tennessee the state legislature has established a system wherein the majority party has control of the state and county election commissions. Membership on these commissions is based explicitly on political party affiliation. The county commissions in turn appoint a county election administrator to assist in running the elections.

In the 2008 election, the majority and minority parties...

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    • 20 Septiembre 2017
    ...eleven of the Election Code, which created the state election commission. Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-11-101 (2014); see Peterson v. Dean, 777 F.3d 334, 337-38 (6th Cir. 2015) (describing the statutory hierarchy of state and county election officials). The seven members of the state election commis......
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    ...the position was "one with significant discretionary authority that includes ... handling the ... budget.").104 Peterson v. Dean , 777 F.3d 334, 347 (6th Cir. 2015).105 Connick , 461 U.S. at 151–52, 103 S.Ct. 1684.106 McBee , 730 F.2d at 1017.107 Stegmaier , 597 F.2d at 1040.108 Hobler v. B......
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