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League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 16, 2018

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF MICHIGAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RUTH JOHNSON, in her official capacity as Michigan Secretary of State, Defendant.

          HONORABLE GORDON J. QUIST, United States District Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF STANDING

          HONORABLE ERIC L. CLAY, UNITED STATES CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Stay and to Dismiss for Lack of Standing.[Dkt. No. 11.] On March 14, 2018, this Court issued an order severing and disposing of the portion of Defendant's motion that requested a stay of proceedings. [Dkt. No. 35.] The remainder of Defendant's motion, which we refer to as Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Standing, is now fully briefed and argued. For the reasons that follow, we GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Standing.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 22, 2017, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, along with several individuals, (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [Dkt. No. 1] against Defendant Ruth Johnson, in her official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Michigan. Plaintiffs challenge Michigan's current apportionment plan, which was implemented by the state legislature as Michigan Public Act 129 of 2011. Plaintiffs bring claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, alleging that the current apportionment plan violates Plaintiffs' constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs challenge the current apportionment plan “district by district and in its entirety.” [Dkt. No. 1, Compl. ¶ 36, at PageID #16.]

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant invokes Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to challenge this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs lack standing on the face of their complaint. Defendant distinguishes between Plaintiffs' attempts to challenge the current apportionment plan on a statewide basis and on a district by district basis, focusing the majority of her arguments on Plaintiffs' statewide claims. We agree with Defendant that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring their claims on a statewide basis. However, we reject Defendant's arguments that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring their claims on a district by district basis.

         I. Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. “A Rule 12(b)(1) motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction can challenge the sufficiency of the pleading itself (facial attack) or the factual existence of subject matter jurisdiction (factual attack).” Cartwright v. Garner, 751 F.3d 752, 759 (6th Cir. 2014). A facial attack, raised here, “goes to the question of whether the plaintiff has alleged a basis for subject matter jurisdiction, and the court takes the allegations of the complaint as true for purposes of Rule 12(b)(1) analysis.” Id.

         II. Analysis

         “Standing includes three constitutional requirements: ‘a plaintiff must show: (1) it 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.'” Wuliger v. Manufacturers Life Ins. Co., 567 F.3d 787, 793 (6th Cir. 2009). “A plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating standing and must plead its components with specificity.” Id. (quoting Am. Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Inc. v. Taft, 385 F.3d 641, 645 (6th Cir. 2004)).

         A. Standing of Individual Plaintiffs

         1. Statewide Standing

         Defendant first argues that the individual Plaintiffs lack standing to bring their claims on a statewide basis, asserting that the injuries the individual Plaintiffs allege are “necessarily district specific.” [Dkt. No. 20 at PageID #194.] In other words, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs' alleged injuries are traceable only to their districts and not to the apportionment plan as a whole. The Supreme Court has not provided guidance regarding the geographic nature of political gerrymandering injuries. In two separate cases, the Supreme Court has analyzed political gerrymandering claims and found that the plaintiffs had failed to articulate a satisfactory method of measuring and redressing their claimed injuries. See generally Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267 (2004); Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U.S. 109, 113 (1986). Neither case resolved the question now before this Court.

         However, the Supreme Court recently analyzed the nature of a plaintiff's injury in the analogous context of racial gerrymandering. In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, 135 S.Ct. 1257, 1262, 1265 (2015), the Supreme Court reviewed a challenge to Alabama's redistricting plan for both houses of the Alabama legislature. Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, opened his analysis by examining the “geographic nature of the racial gerrymandering claims”:

The District Court repeatedly referred to the racial gerrymandering claims as claims that race improperly motivated the drawing of boundary lines of the State considered as a whole.
A racial gerrymandering claim, however, applies to the boundaries of individual districts. It applies district-by-district. It does not apply to a State considered as an undifferentiated “whole.” We have consistently described a claim of racial gerrymandering as a claim that race was improperly used in the drawing of the boundaries of one or more specific electoral districts. We have described the plaintiff's evidentiary burden similarly.
Our district-specific language makes sense in light of the nature of the harms that underlie a racial gerrymandering claim. Those harms are personal. They include being “personally ... subjected to [a] racial classification, ” as well as being represented by a legislator who believes his “primary obligation is to represent only the members” of a particular racial group. They directly threaten a voter who lives in the district attacked. But they do not so keenly threaten a voter who lives elsewhere in the State. Indeed, the latter voter normally lacks standing to pursue a racial gerrymandering claim.
Voters, of course, can present statewide evidence in order to prove racial gerrymandering in a particular district. And voters might make the claim that every individual district in a State suffers from racial gerrymandering. But this latter claim is not the claim that the District ...

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