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Huot v. City of Lowell

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 21, 2017

CHANMONY HUOT, VLADIMIR SALDANA, CHAMPA PANG, THOEUN KONG, LIANNA KUSHI, DENISSE COLLAZO, SUE J. KIM, SOADY OUCH, TOOCH VAN, CARMEN BERMUDEZ, KEI KAWASHIMA-GINSBERG, DANIEL K. UK, AND FAHMINA ZAMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS; KEVIN J. MURPHY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS LOWELL CITY MANAGER; LOWELL CITY COUNCIL; RITA MERCIER, RODNEY M. ELLIOTT, EDWARD J. KENNEDY, JR., JOHN J. LEAHY, WILLIAM SAMARAS, JAMES L. MILINAZZO, DANIEL P. ROURKE, COREY A. BELANGER, JAMES D. LEARY, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS MEMBERS OF THE LOWELL CITY COUNCIL; LOWELL SCHOOL COMMITTEE; STEPHEN J. GENDRON, JACQUELINE DOHERTY, CONNIE A. MARTIN, ROBERT J. HOEY, JR., ROBERT JAMES GIGNAC, ANDRE DESCOTEAUX, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS MEMBERS OF THE LOWELL SCHOOL COMMITTEE; LOWELL ELECTION AND CENSUS COMMISSION; AND BEVERLY ANTHES, JOSEPH MULLEN, THEL SAR, THOMAS FR. O'BRIEN, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS MEMBERS OF THE LOWELL ELECTION AND CENSUS COMMISSION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          WILLIAM G. YOUNG DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Chanmony Huot, Vladimir Saldaña, Champa Pang, Thoeun Kong, Lianna Kushi, Denisse Collazo, Sue J. Kim, Soady Ouch, Tooch Van, Carmen Bermudez, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Daniel K. Uk, and Fahmina Zaman (“Plaintiffs”), have brought this action against the City Of Lowell, Massachusetts; Kevin J. Murphy, in his official capacity as Lowell City Manager; Lowell City Council; Rita Mercier, Rodney M. Elliott, Edward J. Kennedy, Jr., John J. Leahy, William Samaras, James L. Milinazzo, Daniel P. Rourke, Corey A. Belanger, James D. Leary, in their official capacities as Members of the Lowell City Council; Lowell School Committee; Stephen J. Gendron, Jacqueline Doherty, Connie A. Martin, Robert J. Hoey, Jr., Robert James Gignac, Andre Descoteaux, in their official capacities as Members of the Lowell School Committee; Lowell Election and Census Commission; and Beverly Anthes, Joseph Mullen, Thel Sar, and Thomas FR. O'Brien, in their official capacities as Members of the Lowell Election and Census Commission (“Defendants”), alleging that the Defendants' at-large election system violated the Plaintiffs' rights under (1) Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301 (“Section 2”), (2) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (3) the Fifteenth Amendment. The Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that it does not state a claim upon which relief may be granted because (1) the Plaintiffs do not plead sufficient facts to allege the existence of a large and geographically compact district that would create a majority-minority district, and (2) minority groups may not aggregate their claims and form a minority coalition in order to sustain a claim under Section 2. The Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that they pled sufficient facts to show a majority-minority district can exist and that minority coalition claims are in fact cognizable under Section 2. After a hearing on October 17, 2017, this Court DENIED the Defendants' motion to dismiss because (1) the Plaintiffs demonstrated in their complaint that a majority-minority district could exist if certain neighborhoods were combined, and (2) the majority of circuits and district courts that address the issue have persuasively concluded that minority coalitions may maintain claims under Section 2. This memorandum explains the Court's reasoning.

         A. Procedural History

         The Plaintiffs filed a complaint seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against the Defendants on May 18, 2017. Compl. 1, ECF No. 1. The Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Failure State Claim (“Defs.' Mot.”), ECF No. 17. The parties fully briefed the issues. See Defs.' Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem.”), ECF No. 18; Pls.' Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Dismiss (“Pls.' Opp'n”), ECF No. 21.

         B. Facts Alleged

         The Plaintiffs are members of the City of Lowell's minority community and are also registered voters. Compl. ¶¶ 15-27. The Defendants are the City of Lowell, its City Manager, its City Council, members of the City Council, its School Committee, members of the School Committee, the Lowell Election and Census Commission, and members of the Election and Census Commission. Id. ¶¶ 28-35.

         There are nine members in the Lowell City Council and six members in the Lowell School Committee. Id. ¶ 37. Members of the City Council and School Committee are elected in biennial elections, held in odd-numbered years, and each candidate is elected at-large, city-wide, in a plurality voting system. Id. ¶¶ 38-39. The City of Lowell (“City”) is divided into eleven separate wards, with each ward encompassing three precincts. Id. ¶ 40. The City votes as a single entity in an at-large, plurality winner-take-all election system, a majority bloc of voters can elect all of their preferred candidates to the Lowell City Council and Lowell School Committee. Id. This election system allegedly dilutes the voting power of the City's Hispanic/Latino and Asian-American communities. Id.

         Minorities constitute over 49% of the City's total population, and Hispanics/Latinos and Asian-Americans combined comprise approximately 40% of the total population. Id. ¶ 45. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011-2015 American Community Survey, non-Latino whites constitute approximately 50.7% of the City's total population, 55.7% of its voting age population, and 61% of its citizen voting age population. Id. ¶ 46. Asian-Americans constitute approximately 21.8% of the City's total population, 21% of its voting age population, and 17% of its citizens voting age population. Id. Hispanics/Latinos constitute approximately 18.1% of the City's total population, 15.4% of its voting age population, and 15.5% of its citizen voting age population. Id. Blacks/African Americans constitute approximately 7.1% of the City's total population, 6.7% of its voting age population, and 5.3% of its citizen voting age population. Id. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, non-Latino whites constitute 52.8% of the total population and 58.1% of the voting age population, Asian-Americans constitute 20.0% of the total population and 18.8% of the voting age population, Hispanics/Latinos constitute 17.3% of the total population and 14.3% of the voting age population, and Blacks/African Americans constitute 6% of the total population and 5.6% of the voting age population. Id. The growth in the City's minority populations has been steady and significant over the last three decades. Id. ¶ 47. Such diversity is not reflected on the Lowell City Council or the Lowell School Committee. Id. ¶ 48.

         There is allegedly a history of voting discrimination in the City. Id. ¶ 90. Despite the size of each population, there is not a single Asian-American or Hispanic/Latino sitting on the Lowell City Council or Lowell School Committee. Id. ¶ 50. Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino candidates won only two seats in the last five Lowell City Council elections. Id. No Asian-American or Hispanic/Latino candidates won a seat on the Lowell School Committee in the last five elections. Id.

         In the City, the preconditions in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986)[1] are allegedly met, and the totality of the circumstances allegedly demonstrate that Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino voters together have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice to the Lowell City Council and Lowell School Committee. Id. ¶ 59. The City's Hispanic/Latino and Asian-American residents together are allegedly sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to form a majority of the total population, voting age population, and citizen voting age population in at least one district of a reasonable and properly apportioned district-based election system. Id. ¶ 60. A district comprising portions of the Acre, Lower Highlands, and Highlands neighborhoods of the City allegedly can be drawn. This district would allegedly satisfy the Gingles precondition that Asian-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos form a majority in a single member district. Id. ¶ 61. The City's Hispanic/Latino and Asian-American voters are allegedly politically cohesive as a coalition minority group and they tend to vote together in support of minority candidates of their choice, particularly Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino candidates. Id. ¶ 62. The City's predominantly white majority electorate allegedly votes as a bloc in support of different candidates from those supported by Asian-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos, and bloc voting by the predominately white majority consistently defeats the candidates preferred by Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino voters. Id. ¶ 63. In 2013, two Cambodian-American candidates lost their elections for City Council despite heavy support from Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino voters. Id. ¶ 65. In 2015, four Cambodian-American candidates ran for City Council and two ran for the School Committee. Id. ¶ 66-67. Both groups lost despite heavy support from Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino voters. Id. In all elections, the white majority voting bloc allegedly overwhelmingly favored other candidates and elected its top choice candidates. Id. ¶¶ 65-67.

         Only four Asian-American or Hispanic/Latino candidates have ever been elected to the Lowell City Council, and none has ever been elected to the Lowell School Committee. Id. ¶¶ 64-68. No Asian-American or Hispanic/Latino candidate has been elected to either body since the 2011 election, despite the fact that these groups together comprise approximately 40% of the City's population. Id. Candidates elected by the predominantly white majority bloc are allegedly less responsive to the needs and concerns of minority communities in the City. Id. ¶ 72.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Defendants moved to dismiss on two grounds. First, the Defendants argued that the Plaintiffs did not plead a sufficiently large and geographically compact district in which they would constitute the voting majority, in accordance with the first factor under Gingles. See 478 U.S. at 50; see also Defs.' Mem. 6-9. Second, they argued that the Plaintiffs should not be allowed to proceed with their claims because Section 2 does not allow for different minority groups to aggregate their claims as a minority coalition. Defs.' Mem. 9-13. The Court concluded that the Defendants' arguments were meritless. The Court will address the Defendants' coalition claim first, given that a ruling in their favor under this ...


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