United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
City, the preconditions in Thornburg v.
Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986) 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.
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.
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 ...