Shaw v. Barr, Civ. A. No. 92-202-CIV-5-BR.

Decision Date07 August 1992
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 92-202-CIV-5-BR.
Citation808 F. Supp. 461
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of North Carolina
PartiesRuth O. SHAW, et al., Plaintiffs, v. William BARR, et al., Defendants.

Robinson O. Everett, Durham, NC, for plaintiffs.

Margaret Person Currin, U.S. Atty., R.A. Renfer, Asst. U.S. Atty., E.D.N.C., Raleigh, NC, John R. Dunne, Asst. Atty. Gen., Steven H. Rosenbaum, J. Gerald Herbert, and Rebecca J. Wertz, Attorneys, Voting Section Civ. Rights Div., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, DC, for federal defendants.

Lacy H. Thornburg, Atty. Gen., Edwin M. Speas, Jr., Sr. Deputy Atty. Gen., H. Jefferson Powell, Sp. Counsel to Atty. Gen., Tiare B. Smiley, Norma S. Harrell, Daniel F. McLawhorn, Sp. Deputy Attys. Gen., N.C. Dept. of Justice, Raleigh, NC, for state defendants.

Before PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge, BRITT, District Judge*, and RICHARD L. VOORHEES, Chief District Judge.**


PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge, with whom BRITT, District Judge, joins:

Plaintiffs Ruth O. Shaw, Melvin G. Shimm, Robinson O. Everett, James M. Everett, and Dorothy G. Bullock, all citizens of the State of North Carolina and registered voters in Durham County, brought this action against William Barr, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, and John Dunne, in his official capacity as Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Civil Rights Division (hereinafter, together, the "federal defendants"), and against various North Carolina state officials and agencies (hereinafter, collectively, the "state defendants"), challenging on constitutional and statutory grounds the congressional redistricting plan adopted by the State of North Carolina. Jurisdiction of this three-judge district court is based on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 2284, and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. The case came before us on motions of both the federal and the state defendants to dismiss the action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state claims against them upon which relief could be granted, and of the federal defendants to dismiss as well under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Following a hearing on the motions, we concluded that they should be granted, announced our decision orally, and entered an order of dismissal on April 27, 1992. Issuance of a written opinion was deferred in view of the imminence of the Democratic and Republican primary elections scheduled for May 5, 1992.


As a result of population increases reflected in the 1990 Decennial Census, North Carolina became entitled to a twelfth seat in the United States House of Representatives. Accordingly, on July 9, 1991, the General Assembly of North Carolina enacted legislation to redistrict the state into twelve congressional districts. The redistricting plan as originally enacted included one district, the First District, that had a majority of black persons of voting age, and of black persons registered to vote. This proposed majority-minority district was centered in the northeastern part of the state.

Because 40 of North Carolina's 100 counties are covered by the special provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the General Assembly submitted its redistricting plan for preclearance by the Attorney General of the United States.1 On December 18, 1991, the Attorney General, by letter of the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, interposed formal objection, under Section 5, to the General Assembly's proposed redistricting plan.

Objection was based on the fact that "the proposed configuration of the district boundary lines in the south-central to southeastern part of the state appear to minimize minority voting strength given the significant minority population in this area of the state." Letter of John R. Dunne, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, to Tiare B. Smiley, Special Deputy Attorney General, State of North Carolina (Dec. 18, 1991). It appeared, the letter asserted, that the General Assembly "chose not to give effect to black and Native-American voting strength in this area, even though it seems that boundary lines that were no more irregular than found elsewhere in the proposed plan could have been drawn to recognize such minority concentration in this part of the state." Id.2 It was also noted that the General Assembly

was well aware of significant interest on the part of the minority community in creating a second majority-minority congressional district in North Carolina. For the south-central to southeast area, there were several plans drawn providing for a second majority-minority congressional district, including at least one alternative presented to the legislature.... These alternatives, and other variations identified in our analysis, appear to provide the minority community with an opportunity to elect a second member of congress of their choice to office, but, despite this fact, such configuration for a second majority-minority congressional district was dismissed for what appears to be pretextual reasons.


In response to the Attorney General's objection to the proposed redistricting plan, the General Assembly enacted the redistricting legislation at issue here (the "Plan") on January 24, 1992. The Plan creates a second majority-minority district, the Twelfth District, not in the south-central to southeast area of North Carolina, where many had advocated locating a second majority-minority district, but in a thin band, sometimes no wider than Interstate Highway 85, some 160 miles long, snaking diagonally across piedmont North Carolina from Durham to Gastonia.3 As a result of the tortured configuration of the Twelfth District and other features of the Plan, many precincts, counties, and towns in North Carolina are divided among two or even three congressional districts. Plaintiffs are residents of an area that was so affected. Before the challenged redistricting, plaintiffs Shaw, Shimm, Robinson Everett, and Bullock, all residents of Durham County, had been registered to vote in the Second District. Under the Plan, Shaw and Shimm will vote in the Twelfth District; Robinson Everett and Bullock will continue to vote in the Second District. Plaintiff James Everett, also a resident of Durham County, registered to vote after the Plan was adopted. He will vote in the Twelfth District.

Plaintiffs then brought this action on March 12, 1992, seeking as end relief a permanent injunction against implementation of the Plan on the ground that it is unconstitutional, and in the interim a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order enjoining the appropriate state defendants from "taking any action in preparation for primary or general elections for the U.S. House of Representatives." Complaint at 16. Following designation of this three-judge court and upon indications that both the state and federal defendants proposed filing motions to dismiss the claims against them on dispositive legal grounds, a scheduling order was entered to permit hearing of the motions before the scheduled primary on May 5, 1992. The matter then came on for hearing on April 27, 1992, as scheduled, and was considered by the court on the pleadings, the motions to dismiss with supporting and opposing legal memoranda, and oral argument of the parties. Because of the imminence of the scheduled primary elections on May 5, 1992, we announced orally our decision to grant the motions and entered an order of dismissal on April 27, 1992, deferring issuance of a written opinion. Our reasons for decision follow.


Preliminarily, we note that in entertaining and deciding motions to dismiss on the merits or on subject matter jurisdiction grounds on the basis of bare-bones pleadings, courts are under special obligation to construe the pleadings liberally in favor of the pleader, especially in considering motions to dismiss for failure to state claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See generally 5A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 1357 (1990) (hereinafter Wright & Miller). Indeed, where any perceived pleading insufficiency relates only to factual matters, dismissal on the merits is ordinarily inappropriate, with leave to amend and deferral of decision to summary judgment or trial on appropriately amended pleadings and discovery materials being the appropriate course. Id. at 360-67. When, however, it is apparent from the pleadings, motions, legal memoranda, matters of public record, and other matters properly within the range of judicial notice, that only legal issues are presented, decision on the merits may be appropriate without the need for further factual development, whether by pleading amendment, discovery, or evidentiary proceedings. This is true even where decision requires analysis of difficult constitutional issues and involves rejection of constitutional claims asserted by the pleader on their basis. See, e.g., United Jewish Organizations, Inc. v. Carey, 430 U.S. 144, 97 S.Ct. 996, 51 L.Ed.2d 229 (1976) (constitutional voting rights claim); Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, 106 S.Ct. 2841, 92 L.Ed.2d 140 (1986) (constitutional "privacy" claim). In considering whether a pleading is thus legally rather than merely factually insufficient, however, a court must in fairness at this early stage inquire whether the allegations could support relief on any legal theory within the range of reason and the ultimate constraints of the adversarial process. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-02, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Harrison v. U.S. Postal Service, 840 F.2d 1149, 1152 (4th Cir.1988).

We have considered the claims here in light of these general principles and the related familiar ones that all purely factual allegations, but not legal conclusions, in the complaint are to be taken as true, etc. 5A Wright & Miller § 1357, at 304-21.


We first address the claim alleged against the federal defendants and challenged by...

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