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Gill v. Galvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 19, 2017

STEPHEN D. GILL, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM F. GALVIN, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Stephen D. Gill (“Gill”) has filed this lawsuit against Defendant William F. Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (“Galvin”) alleging constitutional violations concerning the affiliation and disaffiliation state statutes and their effect on Gill's ability to seek election as an unenrolled candidate. D. 1. Galvin has moved to dismiss. D. 15. For the reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS the motion.

         II. Standard of Review

         To consider a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must determine if the facts alleged “plausibly narrate a claim for relief.” Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012) (internal citation omitted). Reading the complaint “as a whole, ” the Court must conduct a two-step, context-specific inquiry. García-Catalán v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 103 (1st Cir. 2013). First, the Court must perform a close reading of the claim to distinguish the factual allegations from the conclusory legal allegations contained therein. Id. Factual allegations must be accepted as true, while conclusory legal conclusions are not entitled credit. Id. Second, the Court must determine whether the factual allegations present a “reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011). In sum, the complaint must provide sufficient factual allegations for the Court to find the claim “plausible on its face.” García-Catalán, 734 F.3d at 103.

         III. Factual Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the following factual allegations are from the complaint and, for the purposes of this motion, the Court presumes them to be true. This case concerns elections for the Plymouth and Norfolk Senate seat in the Massachusetts Senate (“Plymouth/Norfolk Seat”), which became vacant on January 4, 2016. D. 1 ¶ 6. Under three interrelated state statutes governing election procedures, a potential candidate in Massachusetts must be continually affiliated with a political party or disaffiliated from all political parties for ninety days prior to the date nomination papers are due to run in a party primary or to be listed on the ballot as an “unenrolled” (sometimes referred to as an independent) candidate, respectively. See Mass. Gen. L. c. 53, §§ 6, 10, 48 (the “Disaffiliation Statutes”); D. 1 ¶¶ 12-13 & n.3. On January 21, 2016, the State Senate determined that a special election to serve the remainder of the Plymouth/Norfolk Seat term (the “Special Election”) would be held on May 10, 2016, and party primaries for the Special Election would be held on April 12, 2016. D. 1 ¶¶ 7, 8, 22. Nomination papers for the Special Election were due on March 8, 2016. D. 1 ¶ 8, Ex. A. Candidates who wished to be listed on the ballot as unenrolled or independent candidates unaffiliated with a political party were required to be unenrolled from all political parties as of December 8, 2015, and to maintain that status through the March 8, 2016 due date for nomination papers. Mass. Gen. L. c. 53, § 6; D. 1, Ex. A.

         Gill alleges that he became aware of the vacancy of the Plymouth/Norfolk Seat while on active naval duty and intended to run in the Special Election as an unenrolled candidate. D. 1 ¶ 15. He thereafter discovered that he would not be able to run as such because he had not unenrolled from the Republican Party by December 8, 2015. D. 1 ¶¶ 17-18. Gill filed for and participated in the Republican primary for the Special Election, but lost that contest. D. 1 ¶¶ 19-22. By participating in the Republican primary for the Special Election, Gill was thereby precluded from entering the November 2016 general election for the Plymouth/Norfolk Seat as an unenrolled candidate (the “General Election”), because the disaffiliation deadline for this election was March 1, 2016. D. 1 ¶¶ 28-30. At the time of filing this lawsuit, Gill had filed the appropriate nomination papers to run in the Republican primary for the General Election, but sought injunctive relief from this Court to order Galvin to list Gill as an unenrolled candidate on the General Election ballot. D. 1 ¶¶ 31-33, 43-45. The Court, after briefing and a motion hearing, denied that relief. D. 14. Thereafter, Gill ran in the Republican primary for the General Election and therefore withdrew his nomination papers to be listed as an unenrolled candidate in the General Election on November 8, 2016. See D. 1 ¶ 31; D. 19 at 3.[1]

         IV. Procedural History

         Gill instituted this action on August 24, 2016. D. 1. After full briefing and argument, the Court denied Gill's motion for a preliminary injunction on September 7, 2016. D. 14. Galvin has now moved to dismiss. D. 15.

         V. Discussion

         A. Mootness

         Gill appears to concede that his claim for injunctive relief may be moot at this point. See D. 19 at 4. However, Gill argues his claims for declaratory relief are not moot because they are claims that are capable of repetition, yet evade review because of the timeline for elections. Id. at 4-5.

         “Federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide moot cases because their constitutional authority extends only to actual cases or controversies.” Iron Arrow Honor Soc'y v. Heckler, 464 U.S. 67, 70 (1983); see Duclerc v. Massachusetts Dept. of Correction, 10-cv-12050-DJC, 2012 WL 6615040, at *5 n.5 (D. Mass. Dec. 18, 2012) (recognizing that mootness is “‘the doctrine of standing set in a time frame: [t]he requisite personal interest that must exist at the commencement of the litigation (standing) must continue throughout its existence (mootness)'” (quoting Becker v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 230 F.3d 381, 386 n.3 (1st Cir. 2000)). A case is moot when “intervening events make ...


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