LINDA H. LAMONE, et al.
IAN SCHLAKMAN, et al.
Argued: October 18, 2016
Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. C 02-cv-16-2906
Barbera, C.J. Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty,
case involves a challenge under the election law article to a
candidate's qualifications to appear on the ballot.
See Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law § 12-202(a) (2002,
2010 Repl. Vol., 2016 Supp.). Ian Schlakman and Frank
Richardson (Appellees), along with Dan Sparaco, were among
the candidates in the 2016 General Election vying for a seat
representing Councilmanic District Twelve on the Baltimore
City Council.Appellees challenged the decisions of the
Baltimore City Board of Elections ("City Board") to
certify Mr. Sparaco as an eligible candidate and the State
Board of Elections ("State Board") to include him
as a candidate for the District Twelve seat on the 2016
General Election ballot. They maintained that Mr.
Sparaco's failure to comply with statutory filing
requirements in a timely manner disqualified him from running
for election as a candidate for the District Twelve vacancy.
Appellees sought to have the City Board withdraw its
certification of Mr. Sparaco's candidacy and the State
Board strike his name from the ballot. When the relief they
sought was not forthcoming, Appellees went to court.
initially challenged Mr. Sparaco's qualifications in
court by filing on August 25, 2016 an action against the
State Board of Elections in the United States District Court
for the District of Maryland, seeking an injunction
"prohibiting . . . [the] State Board from violating
Maryland Law" and other relief. The federal court
dismissed Appellees' lawsuit out of hand because then
counsel had not been admitted to practice before the federal
September 20, 2016, Appellees then filed the instant action
in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County against Linda H.
Lamone and Armstead B. C. Jones, Jr., in their official
capacities as the Administrator of the State Board of
Elections and Election Director of the Baltimore City Board
of Elections, respectively. See Md. Code Ann., Elec.
Law § 6-209(a) (2002, 2010 Repl. Vol., 2015 Supp.);
Elec. Law § 12-203(a)(3).
September 22, after notifying the Boards' counsel,
Appellees submitted an ex parte request for an
immediate temporary restraining order. See Md. Rule
15-504. The Circuit Court granted the request on September 22
and issued the temporary restraining order directing
Appellants to remove Mr. Sparaco's name from ballots and
granting further relief. On September 23, Appellants filed
direct appeals both to the Court of Special Appeals as well
as this Court. See Elec. Law § 12-203(a)(3). On
that date, this Court entered an order staying both the
temporary restraining order and all further Circuit Court
proceedings pending our review. On September 27, Appellants
filed a "Petition for Certiorari and Request for
Expedited Review." On October 6, we granted
certiorari, before consideration of the direct
appeal by the Court of Special Appeals. Lamone, et al.,
v. Schlakman, 450 Md. 214, 147 A.3d 393 (2016). We also
allowed Appellants' request for expedited review and
heard oral argument on October 18, following which we entered
an order lifting the stay, vacating the temporary restraining
order, and remanding the case to the Circuit Court with
instructions to dismiss the complaint. Id. The
mandate issued forthwith, and we now explain the reasons for
have advanced the following question for our review:
Did the circuit court err in entering an ex parte
temporary restraining order that requires the defendants to
remove the name of a qualified candidate from the ballot in
Baltimore City Councilmanic District No. 12 for the 2016
reasons set forth below, we agree that the temporary
restraining order was granted in error. Appellees' state
court challenges to the State Board's and City
Board's actions were untimely and are barred by laches.
Moreover, Appellees have not demonstrated any basis for
relief on the merits under any theory of action or avenue for
relief. The City Board's certification of Mr. Sparaco as
a qualified candidate, and the State Board's listing of
his candidacy, complied with the provisions of the Election
operative facts are not in dispute. Ian Schlakman was the Green
Party candidate for the District Twelve Councilmanic seat on
the Baltimore City Council. Frank W. Richardson and Dan
Sparaco were independent candidates for the same vacancy. By
February 3, 2016, Appellees Schlakman and Richardson had each
filed a declaration of intent or certificate of candidacy
with the Baltimore City Board of Elections, filings that were
required of them as part of the process by which each would
qualify for a place on the ballot for the District Twelve
seat. See generally Elec. Law §§ 5-301(a),
(d); COMAR 33.01.06.01B (2) (definition of "candidate
filing document" includes certificate of candidacy and
declaration of intent).
a run for the District Twelve seat, Dan Sparaco formed a
candidate committee in September 2015, and filed his campaign
finance report with the State Board of Elections on January
13, 2016. See Elec. Law § 13-202. He did not
file his declaration of intent by February 3, however.
Instead, on May 20, 2016, Mr. Sparaco filed suit in the
United States District Court for the District of Maryland,
challenging the constitutionality of the early filing
deadline for unaffiliated candidates. Sparaco v. Lamone,
No. 1:16-cv-1579-GLR (D. Md). Mr. Sparaco voluntarily
dismissed this suit on August 15, 2016.
11, 2016, Mr. Sparaco filed with the City Board his
declaration of intent to seek nomination by petition for the
District Twelve seat. On August 2, the City Board approved
the petition signatures that had been submitted by Mr.
Sparaco, and certified his candidacy pursuant to Elec. Law
§ 6-208(b)(1), which governed the certification of
petitions. The State Board included Mr. Sparaco's
name on the ballot and on August 31 posted on its website
ballot proofs that included his name, as well as those of
August 25, 2016, Appellees filed suit in the United States
District Court for the District of Maryland, seeking to
enjoin what they perceived as the State Board's violation
of the Maryland Election Law. Schlakman et al. v. Md.
State Bd. of Elections, No. 1:16-cv-02968 (D. Md.). They
complained that the State Board was effectively rewriting the
statute's candidate filing deadline by including Mr.
Sparaco's name on the ballot, and that the State
Board's actions had harmed their campaign for the
contested seat because they would be forced to "compete
in an election against an ineligible candidate."
federal suit was dismissed on September 20 because their
former attorney was not admitted to the bar of that court.
The district judge ordered all pleadings stricken, noting
that the clerk had not been authorized to accept any previous
filings, and prohibited the clerk from receiving the
complaint and "all subsequent filings."
See D. Md. Loc. Adm. R. 101.1(a), (b)(i), (ii),
102.1(a)(i) (D. Md.).
action before us was docketed on September 20 in the Circuit
Court for Anne Arundel County. Appellees contested the
Boards' actions pursuant to Elec. Law §§ 6-209
and 12-202(a). In an eight-count complaint, they sought
declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as the issuance of
a writ of mandamus and a temporary restraining order which
would "require that [Appellants] remove the name of Dan
Sparaco from any and all ballots to be distributed to voters
in Baltimore City Councilmanic District No. 12 for the 2016
General Election." On September 20, Appellees'
attorney notified counsel for the Boards that they would be
filing a motion for a "TRO/preliminary injunction"
in the Circuit Court. Appellees served the Boards' counsel
with the TRO motion and accompanying documents on September
September 22, 2016, the Circuit Court issued the temporary
restraining order that is the subject of this appeal. The
court found that there were "no material facts in
dispute." The court also concluded:
3. [The] Court finds that Plaintiffs, registered voters and
candidates for the Baltimore City Council in Councilmanic
District No. 12, have raised a substantial question
concerning whether Defendants are violating Maryland law by
their including the name of Dan Sparaco as a candidate for
Baltimore City Council in Councilmanic District No. 12 on
ballots to be distributed to voters for the 2016 General
Election. [The] Court further finds that the Defendants'
actions, unless restrained, may act in contravention of the
Plaintiffs' claimed rights before this Court has had the
opportunity to determine those rights and effectively moot
this case. [The] Court finds that this outcome would harm
Plaintiffs' legitimate interests. The Court further finds
that this harm will be immediate, substantial, and
* * *
5. Accordingly, Linda H. Lamone, in her official capacity as
State Administrator, Maryland State Board of Elections, and
Armstead B. C. Jones, Sr., in his official capacity as
Election Director, Baltimore City Board of Elections
(collectively "Defendants") are ORDERED to remove
the name of Dan Sparaco from any and all ballots to be
distributed to voters in Baltimore City Councilmanic District
No. 12 for the General Election and ENJOINED from
distributing to voters any ballot containing the name of Dan
Sparaco as a candidate for election in the 2016 General
Election. FURTHER, those working under Defendants'
direction and in concert with them shall be and hereby are
ENJOINED temporarily to take any action to frustrate or
impede this relief.
appeal and our grant of certiorari followed.
Schlakman, 450 Md. at 214, 147 A.3d at 393 (2016).
review the Circuit Court's decision to issue a temporary
restraining order for an abuse of discretion. See
Schisler v. State, 394 Md. 519, 534, 907 A.2d 175, 185
(2006). See generally LeJeune v. Coin Acceptors,
Inc., 381 Md. 288, 300-01, 849 A.2d 451, 458-59 (2004)
(reviewing a preliminary injunction). To the extent the
Circuit Court's exercise of discretion is based on an
interpretation of law, that aspect of the ruling below is
reviewed de novo, because "even with respect to
a discretionary matter, a trial court must exercise its
discretion in accordance with correct legal principles."
LeJeune, 381 Md. at 301, 849 A.2d at 459 (citation
and internal quotation marks omitted); see Cabrera v.
Penate, 439 Md. 99, 106, 94 A.3d 50, 54 (2014) (de
novo review of circuit court's interpretation of
Election Law Article). We review the factual findings of the
lower court for clear error. See Toms v. Calvary Assembly
of God, Inc., 446 Md. 543, 551, 132 A.3d 866, 871 (2016)
(citations and quotation marks omitted).
above standards of review govern appellate review of all
interlocutory injunctions. Cf. Fritszche v. Md. State Bd.
of Elections, 397 Md. 331, 340, 916 A.2d 1015, 1020
(2007) (addressing four factors to determine whether TRO
should issue); Schisler, 394 Md. at 534, 907 A.2d at
175 (applying the four factors in review of TRO); In re
Kimmer, 392 Md. 251, 260 n. 13, 896 A.2d 1006, 1012 n.
13 (2006) (stating that to determine "whether to issue a
temporary restraining order, the trial court must examine and
find four factors[.]"). "[W]here the issue is
whether a party is precluded by laches from challenging an
action of another party, we shall review the trial
court's ultimate determination of the issue de
novo[.]" Liddy v. Lamone, 398 Md. 233,
248-49, 919 A.2d 1276, 1286-87 (2007).
sought review of the City Board's actions pursuant to
Elec. Law §§ 6-209(a) and 12-202. Appellants
initially responded that Appellees may not rely on Elec. Law
§ 6-209 to attack the candidacy of Mr. Sparaco.
of the Election Law Article governs petitions, including
petitions in support of a candidate's nomination.
See Elec. Law § 6-208(c)(1). Subtitle 2 governs
the content of petitions, determinations as to their format
or the sufficiency of local law or charter amendment on a
ballot, validation of signatures and affidavits of petition
circulators, the processes for filing, and the final
determination of the sufficiency of the petitions. Further,
Subtitle 2 affords judicial review to challenge
determinations with respect to petitions and time limitations
for filing for judicial review. See Elec. Law
§§ 6-201-6-210. Elec. Law § 6-209 provides:
§ 6-209. Judicial Review.
(a) In general -
(1) A person aggrieved by determinations made under
§6-202, § 6-206, or § 6-208(a)(2) of this
subtitle may seek judicial review:
(i) in the case of a statewide petition, a petition to refer
an enactment of the General Assembly pursuant to Article XVI
of the Maryland Constitution, or a petition for a
congressional or General Assembly candidacy, in the Circuit
Court for Anne Arundel County; or
(ii) as to any other petition, in the circuit court for the
county in which the petition is filed.
(2) The court may grant relief as it considers appropriate to
assure the integrity of the electoral process.
(3) Judicial review shall be expedited by each court that
hears the cause to the extent necessary in consideration of
the deadlines established by law.
(b) Declaration relief. - Pursuant to the Maryland
Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act and upon the complaint of
any registered voter, the circuit court of the county in
which a petition has been or will be filed may grant
declaratory relief as to any petition with respect to the
provisions of this title or other provisions of law.
terms, Elec. Law § 6-209 applies to determinations made
with respect to the validity or sufficiency of petitions and
their supporting documentation, and does not address the
specific qualifications or eligibility of a candidate.
Moreover, even if Title 6 provided an avenue to Appellees for
their challenge to Mr. Sparaco's candidacy, their
complaint was filed in the wrong court and came too late.
See Elec. Law § 6-209(a)(1)(ii). Elec. Law
§ 6-210 sets forth various deadlines in the petition
process, and provides the following deadlines for seeking
§ 6-210. Schedule of process.
* * *
(e) Judicial review - (1) Except as provided in
paragraph (2) of this subsection, any judicial review of a
determination, as provided in § 6-209 of this subtitle,
shall be sought by the 10th day following the determination
to which the judicial review relates.
(2)(i) If the petition seeks to place the name of an
individual or a question on the ballot at any election,
except a presidential primary election, judicial review shall
be sought by the day specified in paragraph (1) of this
subsection or the 63rd day preceding that election, whichever
day is earlier. (ii) If the petition seeks to place the name
of an individual on the ballot for a presidential primary
election in accordance with § 8-502 of this article,
judicial review of a determination made under §
6-208(a)(2) of this subtitle shall be sought by the 5th day
following the determination to which the judicial review
the City Board certified Mr. Sparaco's petition pursuant
to then Elec. Law § 6-208(b)(1), Elec. Law § 6-209
does not provide a remedy for Appellees to challenge Mr.
Sparaco's candidacy based on their assertion that he
failed to adhere to the deadlines for filing his candidacy
documents. Appellees were required to pursue their challenge
pursuant to the statutory provision, Elec. Law § 12-202,
that was enacted to provide relief "from any act or
omission relating to an election[.]"
12-202 of the Election Law Article governs judicial
challenges to certain irregularities in relation to an
election; it provides "judicial redress for any act or
omission that violates the Election Law Article[.]"
Ross v. State Board of Elections, 387 Md. 649,
667-68, 876 A.2d 692, 703 (2005). It "is the mechanism
for challenging the qualifications of a candidate seeking
election[.]" Cabrera v. Penate, 439 Md. at 109,
94 A.3d at 56. Elec. Law § 12-202(b) by its terms,
affords a party the opportunity to challenge irregularities
as elaborated in Elec. Law § 12-202(a) by
"seek[ing] judicial relief . . . in the appropriate
circuit court[, ]" and constitutes general judicial
review authority when no other Election Law provisions apply.
Cf. Citizens Against Slots at the Mall v. PPE Casino
Resorts Maryland, LLC, 429 Md. 176, 190, 55 A.3d 496,
505 (2012) (Elec. Law §§ 12-201 through 12-203
authorize judicial review and appeal in absence of other
judicial review provisions in Election Law Article).
§ 12-202. Judicial challenges.
(a) In general. - If no other timely and adequate
remedy is provided by this article, a registered voter may
seek judicial relief from any act or omission relating to an
election, whether or not the election has been held, on the
grounds that the act or omission:
(1) is inconsistent with this article or other law applicable
to the elections process; and (2) may change or has changed
the outcome of the election.
(b) Place and time of filing. - A registered voter
may seek judicial relief under this section in the
appropriate circuit court within the earlier of:
(1) 10 days after the act or omission or the date the act or
omission became known to the petitioner; or (2) 7 days after
the election results are certified, unless the election was a
gubernatorial primary or special primary election, in which
case 3 days after the election results are
on Elec. Law § 12-202(b)(1), Appellants contend that
Appellees acted too late to seek declaratory, injunctive and
mandamus relief in the circuit court because their complaint
fell outside of the ten-day "window" afforded by
Elec. Law § 12-202(b)(1) for a challenger to seek a
remedy for acts or omissions relating to an election. They
also aver that Appellees' challenge is foreclosed by
to avoid procedural default, Appellees insist that the filing
of their federal action "within 10 days of their
becoming aware" of the allegedly improper certification
of Mr. Sparaco as a candidate for the District Twelve seat
tolled the running of the Section 12-202(b)(1) limiting
period. Appellees accordingly urge this Court to credit their
filing in the United States District Court under the savings
provision of Maryland Rule 2-101(b), which elaborates when a
federal filing may be deemed to be timely filed in our
courts. They also maintain that their filing for a writ ...