United States v. Louisiana, Case No. 3:11-cv-00470-JWD-RLB

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Middle District of Louisiana
Writing for the CourtJUDGE JOHN W. deGRAVELLES UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
Docket NumberCase No. 3:11-cv-00470-JWD-RLB
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. STATE OF LOUISIANA; J. THOMAS SCHEDLER; LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HOSPITAL; BRUCE D. GREENSTEIN; LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES; and RUTH JOHNSON, Defendants.
Decision Date26 July 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA; J. THOMAS SCHEDLER;
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HOSPITAL; BRUCE D. GREENSTEIN;
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES;
and RUTH JOHNSON, Defendants.

Case No. 3:11-cv-00470-JWD-RLB

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

July 26, 2016


ORDER AND RULING ON THE MOTIONS TO DISMISS FILED BY DEFENDANTS AND THE MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

I. INTRODUCTION

As his second term neared its end, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "[T]hat government . . . [is] the strongest of which every man feels himself a part."1 Long after the franchise had expanded to

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more than the free men envisioned by this president and determined to realize its duty to promote the exercise of this most fundamental right, the United States Congress passed and the President signed the National Voter Registration Act of 19932 ("NVRA," "National Voter Registration Act," or "Act"),3 described by the latter as this nation's "newest civil rights law," MICHAEL WALDMAN, THE FIGHT TO VOTE 170 (2016).

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On April 19, 2011, pursuant to Section 1983 of the United State Code's forty-second (42) title4 and as permitted by this law's ninth section, Messrs. Roy Ferrand ("Ferrand")5 and Luther Scott, Jr. ("Scott") and the Louisiana State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") (collectively, "Scott Plaintiffs") sued the Defendants6 for purported violations of the NVRA in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, their case captioned Scott v. Schedler, No. 2:11-cv-00926-JTM-JCW ("Scott Matter").7 In the Scott Matter, after multiple hearings and a lengthy trial, the district

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court ("Scott Court") entered a permanent injunction against Defendants on January 22, 2013 ("First Injunction"). After the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed this order in part, the Scott Court issued an amended injunction on July 10, 2015 ("Amended Injunction"). On June 15, 2016, the Amended Injunction, appealed by Schedler, was vacated for its lack of specificity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d),8 the Scott Court's underlying factual findings still intact.

Based on this same law and many of the same circumstances, this case began on July 12, 2011, with the filing of the Complaint by the United States of America ("US," "United States," "Government," or "Plaintiff") pursuant to § 20510(a). At present, four issues must be resolved by this Court: (1) the relevance of the Scott Matter, including the Fifth Circuit's partial affirmation; (2) the NVRA's reach over transactions at voter registration agencies ("VRAs") that take place by phone, email, or online ("remote transactions"); (3) the minimal legal standard for compliance with this voting rights statute; and (4) whether the Defendants have run afoul of the NVRA and, if so, which remedy is most appropriate based on the evidence so far uncovered. In other words, jurisdictional and statutory questions have been squarely presented, even as many facts remain disputed.

Defendants and Plaintiff (collectively, "Parties") have filed the six dispositive motions now before this Court: (1) the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Schedler's MSJ"), (Doc. 336), filed by J. Thomas Schedler, the Louisiana Secretary of State and a defendant ("Schedler" or "SOS"); (2) the Motion to Dismiss Based on Res Judicata, Collateral Estoppel or Mootness

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("DCFS' MTD), (Doc. 340), tendered by two defendants, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals ("DHH");9 (3) the Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) ("LA's First MTD"), (Doc. 341), submitted by LA; (4) the Motion to Dismiss by Secretary of State for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction ("Schedler's MTD"), (Doc. 342); (5) LA's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(c) ("LA's Second MTD"), (Doc. 345), a second such filing made by LA; and (6) the United States' Motion for Summary Judgment ("US' MSJ"), (Doc. 360) (collectively, "Dispositive Motions").10 Schedler, SOS, DCFS, DHH, LA, and these entities' varied administrative heads, sued in their official capacities, (collectively, "Defendants"), oppose the US' MSJ. Invoking Rule 12, Defendants seek dismissal of the Complaint for a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or a failure to state a claim. In their filings, the US and three Defendants—Schedler, joined by DCFS and DHH—request judgment in their favor pursuant to Rule 56.

Each of these six motions has engendered distinct yet interrelated replies and responses. To Schedler's MSJ, the US has responded with the Memorandum in Opposition to Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("US' Opposition to Schedler's MSJ"), (Doc. 382), to which Schedler has replied with the Memorandum in Reply to Memorandum in Opposition to Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Schedler's MSJ Reply"), (Doc. 395). After the US submitted its Surreply Brief in Support of its Opposition to Defendant Schedler's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("US' Surreply to Schedler's Reply"), (Doc. 420), Schedler was allowed to file the

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Sur-Sur Reply to United States Surreply Submitted and Attached to Doc 411 ("Schedler's Surreply"), (Doc. 423).

The US has countered DCFS' MTD with the Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss Based on Res Judicata, Collateral Estoppel or Mootness ("US' Opposition to DCFS' MTD"), (Doc. 385); DCFS and DHH responded with the Reply to Opposition to Motion to Dismiss ("DCFS' Reply"), (Doc. 407).

LA's First MTD spawned its own series of filings, including the US' Response Brief in Opposition to the State of Louisiana's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) ("US' Opposition to LA's First MTD"), (Doc. 384), and Defendant State of Louisiana's Reply in Support of Its Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) ("LA's First Reply"), (Doc. 409).

Schedler's MTD was opposed by the United States' Memorandum in Opposition to SOS's Motion to Dismiss ("US' Opposition to Schedler's MTD"). (Doc. 388.) DCFS and DHH joined the opposition via the Response to Defendant Schedler's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction ("DCFS' Joinder Response"), (Doc. 389), defended by Schedler's Reply Memorandum to United States' Opposition to Schedler's Motion to Dismiss as Moot ("Schedler's MTD Reply"), (Doc. 415).

LA's Second MTD is supported by the Defendant State of Louisiana's Reply in Support of Its Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(c) ("LA's Second Reply), (Doc. 414), and opposed by the United States' Memorandum in Opposition to the State of Louisiana's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(c) ("US' Opposition to LA's Second MTD"), (Doc. 394).

The US' MSJ, supported by numerous exhibits, (Docs. 347-56), elicited DHH's Opposition to USA's Motion for Summary Judgment ("DHH's First Opposition to US' MSJ"),11

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(Docs. 398, 399);12 Defendant State of Louisiana's Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment ("LA's Opposition to US' MSJ"), (Doc. 400); and DCFS' Opposition to USA's Motion for Summary Judgment ("DCFS' Opposition to US' MSJ"), (Doc. 402), to which exhibits were separately docketed, (Docs. 403-06). The arguments raised in the US' MSJ were defended by the Combined Reply Memorandum in Support of the United States' Motion for Summary Judgment ("US' MSJ Reply"), (Doc. 444). Inevitably, the arguments in some of these filings mirror the assertions made in others.

Having waded through these papers, and considered the oral argument made by the Parties on May 17, 2016, this Court reaches four conclusions based on existing jurisprudence. First, neither preclusion nor mootness prevent the United States from maintaining this suit against the Defendants. While the Scott Court determined much, it did not decisively establish Defendants' requisite compliance with the NVRA and thus absolve them of liability for pre- and post-Scott violations.13 As this case's docket reveals, many of the factual allegations advanced herein either post-date or were left unexplored by the Scott Court, and as Defendants' own words attest, at least some purported violations lay beyond the Scott Court's purview. Since a finding of preclusion is rarely proper absent unequivocal congruence of fact and law, estoppel does not bar the US' present suit. Equally as importantly, as a matter of law, the US was never so intimately aligned with the Scott Plaintiffs as to make the latter the former's virtual representative or

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dominant director. In short, the doctrines of mootness and preclusion cannot foreclose this suit, the US too unique of a litigant and issues unresolved in Scott remaining.

Second, as the NVRA not only passes constitutional muster but also lodges responsibility for conformity with its dictates onto forty-four (44)14 "States," including LA, LA remains bound by its prescriptions. As such, it cannot, by pointing to its assignment of duties to subsidiary agencies and departments that it created, invoke state law as a mean of voiding liability imposed by a plainly written federal law. The same conclusion applies to DHH's attempt to absolve itself of any legal responsibility for the actions of subordinate actors with which it has contracted to perform services covered by the NVRA. Just as a state may not amend a federal statute by such delegation of both action and responsibility and thereby defy the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, neither can its own artificial and subordinate creations, like DHH and DCFS. Defendants, quite simply, must obey what Congress has duly passed and the Constitution unambiguously allows.

Third, in accordance with well-established principles of statutory construction, the NVRA must be read to encompass remote transactions. As Defendants insist, its structure arguably creates a modicum of ambiguity. But a rigorously contextual...

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