Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente & Rocky 2016 LLC v. DNC Servs. Corp.

Decision Date23 April 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 18-336 (RC)
PartiesROQUE "ROCKY" DE LA FUENTE and ROCKY 2016 LLC, Plaintiffs, v. DNC SERVICES CORPORATION and DEBORAH WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

ROQUE "ROCKY" DE LA FUENTE and ROCKY 2016 LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
DNC SERVICES CORPORATION and DEBORAH WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, Defendants.

Civil Action No.: 18-336 (RC)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

April 23, 2019


Re Document Nos.: 6, 14

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO CONSOLIDATE

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Roque De La Fuente, proceeding pro se, is a Mexican-American entrepreneur from California who unsuccessfully ran in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. With the benefit of hindsight, he believes that the deck was stacked against his campaign from the start. He claims that Defendants, the Democratic National Committee ("DNC") and its then-chairperson,1 Deborah Wasserman Schultz, thwarted his campaign because he was a threat to steal Hispanic-American votes from Hillary Clinton, votes necessary to seal her nomination for the 2016 election. He seeks over $6 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages, under breach of contract, promissory estoppel, race discrimination, conspiracy to violate civil rights, and misrepresentation theories. Mr. De La Fuente's breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and misrepresentation theories all fail for similar reasons: He has not

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adequately identified a definite promise or offer of contract terms, nor has he sufficiently explained why it was reasonable for him to take action based on the vague and indefinite communications he has identified. Mr. De La Fuente's discrimination theory fails because he has not plausibly alleged that Defendants thwarted his campaign efforts because of his race. And Mr. De La Fuente's conspiracy theory fails because he has not adequately identified an agreement between two or more people, or organizations, to deprive him of his civil rights. That said, the Court believes that Mr. De La Fuente is entitled to another bite at the apple. Thus, the Court will dismiss Mr. De La Fuente's complaint without prejudice.

II. BACKGROUND

Mr. De La Fuente is a Mexican-American "entrepreneur, businessman, and real estate developer" from San Diego, California. Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1. On October 1, 2015, he registered a political campaign committee, "Rocky 2016," with the Federal Election Commission ("FEC"), and began a campaign to seek the Democratic Party nomination for the 2016 Presidential election. See id. ¶ 9. He notified the DNC of his campaign in a December 2015 letter, in which he also sought "campaign support and general information on the Democratic Party's nominating process." Id. ¶ 13.

Mr. De La Fuente claims that Defendants made certain promises that caused him to pursue his unsuccessful campaign, which cost approximately $6.7 million when all was said and done. See id. ¶ 16. First, Mr. De La Fuente alleges that he would not have entered the DNC's "nomination process" absent Article Five, Section Four of the DNC's Charter and Bylaws. See id. ¶¶ 28, 34. That provision states, in relevant part, that the DNC's chairperson—at the time, Ms. Schultz—"shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between Presidential

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candidates and campaigns."2 Id. ¶ 28. According to Mr. De La Fuente, the provision requires the DNC to "be an objective facilitator among candidates," and it forbids the DNC from "endors[ing]" or "differentiat[ing] between 'sanctioned' and/or 'unsanctioned' candidates." Id. ¶ 31. Second, Mr. De La Fuente alleges that a DNC employee, "Ms. Dacey," sent "correspondence" to him in which the DNC promised to "provide assistance . . . through introductions to State Party officials, logistical resources, and general political assistance." Id. ¶ 15. Third, Mr. De La Fuente alleges that the DNC "expressly agreed to provide all registered Democratic Presidential candidates and campaigns access to the DNC's voter data base [sic] and other logistical assistance, guidance, resources to permit candidates to build their campaigns . . . ." Id. ¶ 32.

Mr. De La Fuente claims that despite these promises, Defendants did not help his campaign in any way. In fact, Mr. De La Fuente alleges, Defendants actively sabotaged him. The DNC told its "state affiliate party organs" that Mr. De La Fuente was not an "endorsed" or "sanctioned" candidate, which caused the Nevada State Democratic Party to withhold from him the locations of its Democratic caucus sites. See id. ¶¶ 43-46.3 The DNC also failed to make good on its promise to introduce Mr. De La Fuente to key state officials, which caused him to be denied access to South Carolina's primary ballot. See id. ¶¶ 50-51. The DNC's conduct

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"ensure[d] that [Mr.] De La Fuente would not meet the required polling thresholds necessary to" secure invitations to "important debates and town hall meetings." Id. ¶ 53. And the DNC refused to grant Mr. De La Fuente access to its Voter Data File, a "compilation of all registered Democrats in the United States," which included "vital voter information." See id. ¶¶ 59-62, 76-77, 81. Mr. De La Fuente alleges that "only selected Caucasian Democratic presidential candidates" were given that access. Id. ¶ 80.

Mr. De La Fuente has a theory for why Defendants would want his campaign to fail, a theory that permeates his filings. Mr. De La Fuente is Hispanic-American, part of "a vital and growing constituency within the Democratic Party." Id. ¶ 19. His "more moderate economic and social policy agenda aligns more closely to the experiences of Hispanic-America's religious and entrepreneurial instincts than the more radical policies advanced by any of the other candidates that sought the 2016 Democratic Party nomination." Id. According to Mr. De La Fuente, Defendants recognized his "growing traction with Hispanic-American voters" in late 2015 and early 2016, voters that Hillary Clinton needed to secure the Democratic nomination. Id. ¶ 20. This was a problem for the DNC, as it was "biased in favor of" Secretary Clinton; it "devoted its considerable resources to supporting [her] over any of the other Democratic candidates . . . ." Id. ¶ 41. Defendants "thus considered [Mr.] De La Fuente's race and ethnicity as a threat to Hillary Clinton's campaign that needed to be curtailed and marginalized to save her candidacy." Id. ¶ 23. At the same time, Defendants "desired the public trappings of a contested presidential nominating process," leading them to seek candidates like Mr. De La Fuente to enter the race in the first place. Id. ¶ 38.

In February 2018, Mr. De La Fuente and his campaign, proceeding pro se, brought this lawsuit, asserting that Defendants engaged in actionable misrepresentations, contract- and

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promise-based violations, and constitutional violations.4 Shortly thereafter, Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint.5 See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot."), ECF No. 6. More recently, Mr. De La Fuente moved to consolidate this case with Wilson v. DNC Services Corporation, No. 17-cv-730 (D.D.C. Apr. 19, 2017), overseen by Judge McFadden. See generally Pls.' Mot. Consolidation, ECF No. 14. Both of those motions are now ripe for the Court's consideration. The Court will consider Defendants' motion first, then Mr. De La Fuente's motion.

III. DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

Defendants have moved to dismiss Mr. De La Fuente's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but instead whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See, e.g., Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 530 (2011). When considering such a motion, the Court accepts the complaint's factual allegations as true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). However, the Court need not accept the complaint's legal conclusions as true, see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556

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U.S. 662, 678 (2009), nor must it presume the veracity of legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations, see Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "To survive a motion to dismiss, [the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In other words, the factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At this stage, the Court is limited to considering "the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [the Court] may take judicial notice." Hurd v. D.C. Gov't, 864 F.3d 671, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997)).

This Court construes pro se complaints liberally. See Atherton v. D.C. Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Thus, Mr. De La Fuente's complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Id. (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). Even under this liberal standard, a pro se complainant must plead facts that allow the Court to infer "more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. at 681-82 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). A court considering a pro se plaintiff's complaint should look to "all filings, including filings responsive to a motion to dismiss," Brown v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 152 (D.C. Cir. 2015), to discern whether the plaintiff has "nudged [his] claim[s] across the line from conceivable to plausible," id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "The Court need not," however, "assume the role of the pro se plaintiff's advocate." Mehrbach v. Citibank, N.A., 316 F. Supp. 3d 264, 268 (D.D.C. 2018). It need not stalk the...

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