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De La Fuente v. Lamone

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 5, 2017

ROQUE DE LA FUENTE, Plaintiff,
v.
LINDA LAMONE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge

         Roque (“Rocky”) De La Fuente, the pro se plaintiff, was an unaffiliated candidate for President of the United States in 2016. ECF 1, ¶ 4. De La Fuente filed suit on August 2, 2016, against Linda Lamone, in her capacity as Administrator of the State Board of Elections (“Board”), and twenty unnamed defendants, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See ECF 1. He claims that he was subjected to an unconstitutional burden to gain placement on the ballot in Maryland. Id.

         In particular, De La Fuente claims that on Friday, July 29, 2016, in connection with the settlement of another federal case, to which plaintiff was not a party, the Board agreed to reduce "the statewide independent petition requirement in 2016", so as to expand “the ability for a voter in Maryland to vote for the candidate more representative of their choice." ECF 1 at 1. However, he complains that he could not benefit from the change because, under Md. Code (2017 Repl. Vol.), § 5-703(f)(1) of the Election Law Article ("E.L."), the deadline for an unaffiliated candidate to submit the requisite signatures was "a mere 1 business day after the" settlement agreement. Id.[1] In his view, "the deadline place[d] an extraordinary if not impossible burden to gather the signatures required by this deadline." Id.

         In his suit, De La Fuente seeks, inter alia, a declaration that Maryland‘s "statutory scheme unconstitutionally infringes upon the Plaintiffs right to ballot access and to participate in the electoral process." Id. at 5. Moreover, he sought an Order placing him on the 2016 presidential ballot in Maryland, as well as a declaration extending the deadline for the submission of signatures by twenty or more days. Id.[2] But, plaintiff concedes that most of his requests are now moot, except for a declaration that E.L. § 5-703 "unconstitutionally infringes" on his "right to ballot access" and unduly burdens other unqualified presidential candidates. ECF 12 at 3-4.

         The docket does not reflect service on Lamone or anyone else. See docket. Nevertheless, on October 11, 2016, defendants moved to dismiss (ECF 4), supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 4-1 (collectively, "Motion"). De La Fuente sought an extension of time in which to respond (ECF 6), which I granted. ECF 7. He filed his opposition on January 23, 2017, well after the November 2016 presidential election. ECF 12 ("Opposition"). Defendants replied. ECF 13 ("Reply").

         In their submissions, defendants argue, inter alia, that the case should be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), because plaintiff has not demonstrated that he has Article III standing and because the case is now moot. See ECF 4-1; ECF 13. Defendants also argue that dismissal is appropriate under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) because, in their view, plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See ECF 4-1. De La Fuente counters that he has Article III standing and contends that some of the relief sought in the Complaint is not moot. ECF 12.

         The Motion is fully briefed. No hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6.

         The Court is mindful of its obligation to construe liberally the pleadings of a pro se litigant, which are "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also White v. White, 886 F.2d 721, 722-23 (4th Cir. 1989). I have done so. Nevertheless, for the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion.

         I. Background

         The Maryland Code provides that a candidate for public office who is not affiliated with any political party may be nominated for office by petition. E.L. § 5-703(b). Section 5-703(e) is titled "Petition signatures requirements." E.L. § 5-703(e)(1) provides:

A candidate who seeks nomination by petition may not have the candidate's name placed on the general election ballot unless the candidate files with the appropriate board petitions signed by not less than 1% of the total number of registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office for which the nomination by petition is sought, except that the petitions shall be signed by at least 250 registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office.

         Section 5-703(e)(3) states: "The number of registered voters required to satisfy the requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be determined as of January 1 of the year of the primary election for which the nomination is sought." One percent of the total number of eligible voters in the State as of January of 2016 was approximately 38, 000 people. See Maryland State Bd. of Elections, Voter Registration Activity, January, 2016, available at: https://go.usa.gov/x5M9v (providing that there were a total of 3, 768, 669 active registered voters as of January 2016).

         E.L. §5-703(f) is also relevant. It provides, id: "[A] petition that contains the required number of signatures specified under subsection (e)(1) of this section shall be filed with the appropriate board by 5 p.m. on the first Monday in August in the year in which the general election is held." August 1, 2016 was the first Monday in August 2016.[3]

         Pertinent to the case sub judice, on July 24, 2015, Greg Dorsey, an unaffiliated candidate for United States Senate in the 2016 general election, filed suit in this Court against, inter alia, Lamone, challenging the requirement that unaffiliated candidates must obtain signatures from 1% of eligible voters in the state. Dorsey v. Lamone, et al, GLR-15-2170 (D. Md.), ECF 1.[4] As noted, for 2016, the 1% provision would have required an unaffiliated candidate to gather about 38, 000 signatures. See also ECF 12 at 3. Dorsey claimed that the requirement that unaffiliated candidates obtain approximately 38, 000 signatures to gain ballot access under E.L. § 5-703 was unconstitutional, given that a candidate intending to run for political office as a representative of a new political party could gain access to the ballot with only 10, 000 signatures, in accordance with E.L. §§ 4-102(b)(2)(i) and 5-703.1. GLR-15-2170, ECF 1 at 2.

         On June 10, 2016, Judge Russell denied defendants‘ motion to dismiss, observing that Dorsey had stated "a plausible claim that Maryland‘s ballot access requirements for unaffiliated candidates are unconstitutional." Id., ECF 13. Thereafter, on July 29, 2016, the Friday before the August 1, 2016 ...


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