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Johnson v. Prince George's County Board of Elections

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 27, 2018

MELVIN JOHNSON, et al.
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, et al.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this civil rights case are a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement filed by Defendant Maryland State Administrative Board of Elections (“State Board”) (ECF No. 13-38); and a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Linda Lamone, State Administrator (ECF No. 8). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss will be granted in part and Plaintiffs' state law claims will be remanded to state court.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background [1]

         Plaintiffs Melvin Johnson and Qaaree Palmer claim to be unregistered but eligible voters and residents of the state of Maryland who were detained in the Prince George's County Department of Corrections during the November 8, 2016 general election. (ECF No. 2 ¶¶ 2, 3). They assert that the State Board lacked a “strategy governing inmate voter registration and voting” and there was no “official local or statewide policy, procedure, or plan to register eligible voters desiring to do so by the October 18, 2016 deadline, or distribute ballots, absentee or otherwise, to pre-trial detainees or convicted misdemeanants who are registered voters wanting to exercise their right to vote[.]” (Id. ¶¶ 15, 17). Further, they allege that the State Board failed to provide information to inmates about “voting, voter eligibility, or voter registration” and “access to the ballot for persons eligible to register and/or vote[.]” (Id. ¶ 21). Thus, Plaintiffs claim that they were “denied the right to register, access to the ballot, and the right to vote in the November [2016] General Election by the City and State Board of Elections.”[2] (Id. ¶¶ 7, 8).

         B. Procedural Background

         On November 21, 2016, Plaintiffs commenced this action against the Prince George's County Board of Elections and the State Board in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland, alleging violations of the Maryland Election Law Article, Maryland Constitution, and United States Constitution. (ECF No. 13-1). On December 14, Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint, adding Linda Lamone as a defendant in her official capacity as State Administrator of the State Board. (ECF No. 2). On August 24, 2017, all claims against the Prince George's County Board of Elections were dismissed. (ECF No. 13-37). On September 1, Defendant State Board filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' second amended complaint in state court (ECF No. 13-38), and Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 13-44). Defendant Lamone was served with the summons and second amended complaint on September 18. (ECF No. 10 ¶ 1). On September 26, Defendant Lamone removed this action from the Circuit Court for Prince George's County with the consent of Defendant State Board. (ECF Nos. 1; 4). Defendant Lamone filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' second amended complaint on October 11, 2017, incorporating the arguments made in Defendant State Board's motion to dismiss by reference.[3] (ECF Nos. 8; 8-1, at 9 n.2). Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 14), and Defendant Lamone filed a reply (ECF No. 15).

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         Defendants assert that Plaintiffs' second amended complaint should be dismissed because (1) Plaintiffs failed to comply with the Maryland Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”) and thus their claims are barred by sovereign immunity; (2) Plaintiffs lack standing; (3) Plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and (4) Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for punitive damages.[4] Because this case was removed based on federal question jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim, it is appropriate first to consider whether Plaintiffs have standing to pursue this claim.

         A. Standing

         Any plaintiff seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court must establish standing. The doctrine of standing consists of two distinct “strands”: constitutional standing pursuant to Article III and prudential standing. Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004), abrogated on other grounds by Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1377 (2014). The requirements for constitutional standing reflect that Article III “confines the federal courts to adjudicating actual ‘cases' and ‘controversies.'” Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984), abrogated on other grounds by Lexmark Int'l, 134 S.Ct. 1377; see also Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1993) (“[S]tanding is an essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III[.]”). To establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate that:

(1) [he] has suffered an “injury in fact” that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000)).

         In addition to satisfying constitutional standing requirements, a plaintiff must also demonstrate that his claims are not barred by prudential limitations on a federal court's exercise of jurisdiction. Doe v. Sebelius, 676 F.Supp.2d 423, 428 (D.Md. 2009). In contrast to Article III standing, prudential standing “embodies ‘judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction.'” Elk Grove, 542 U.S. at 11 (quoting Allen, 468 U.S. at 751). One such limitation is that “a plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975). This limitation serves to “preclude a court from deciding ‘questions of broad social import in cases in which no individual rights will be vindicated'” and to ensure that “access ...


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