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Dean v. Blumenthal

August 11, 2009

MARTHA DEAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
ROBERT FARR,
v.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL,



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Appeal from an April 9, 2007 judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Thompson, J.), dismissing a First Amendment challenge to a prohibition on contributions by, inter alia, certain law-firm employees to candidates for Connecticut Attorney General. We hold that all requested relief, other than damages, is moot and that appellee is entitled to qualified immunity from damages because there was no clearly established right under the First Amendment to receive campaign contributions at the time of the challenged conduct. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

Per curiam.

Argued: November 10, 2008

Before KATZMANN and HALL, Circuit Judges.*fn1

Martha Dean appeals from an April 9, 2007 judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Thompson, J.), dismissing her complaint. Dean, a former and possibly future candidate for Attorney General in Connecticut, argues that a contractual prohibition on contributions to candidates for the Office of the Attorney General from, inter alia, certain employees of private law firms that performed legal work for the State violated Dean's rights under the First Amendment. Because the challenged contractual language has not been enforced in over six years and could not reasonably be expected to be reimplemented, we hold that Dean's requested relief of a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and a cease-and-desist order are moot. We also hold that appellee Richard Blumenthal is entitled to qualified immunity from Dean's claim for damages because there was no clearly established right under the First Amendment to receive campaign contributions during the relevant period. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

BACKGROUND

Under Connecticut General Statute § 3-125, the Attorney General for the State of Connecticut ("Attorney General") "may procure such assistance as he [or she] may require" in carrying out his or her official responsibilities. Pursuant to this statute, the State of Connecticut, acting through its Attorney General, has contracted a portion of the State's legal business to the private bar.

From 1995 to October 2002, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal included and enforced the following provision in contracts with outside counsel:

No partner, owner, director and/or employee, with managerial and/or discretionary authority, of the COUNSEL may directly or indirectly make financial donations to any candidate for the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut during the course of this agreement.

The Attorney General interpreted this language to apply to all lawyers in a contracting law firm as well as to spouses of covered lawyers. According to the Attorney General, this provision was included in order to avoid the appearance that the contracting law firm was being awarded a contract in exchange for future campaign contributions.

In 2002, this policy was challenged by appellant Martha Dean, who was the Republican Party's candidate in Connecticut for the Office of the Attorney General. Her opponent was appellee Blumenthal, who at that time had held the office for twelve years. Prior to election day, Dean filed a complaint in which she alleged that Blumenthal's policy on campaign donations deprived her of "needed financing for her campaign as a result of willing contributors withholding contributions for fear of suffering the loss of the State's business." (Compl. ¶ 19.)Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Dean asserted that Blumenthal's policy both violated her right under the First Amendment to receive campaign contributions and deprived her of her "right to receive funding for her campaign from otherwise willing supporters without due process of law" in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Compl. ¶¶ 21--22, 26.) Dean also alleged violations of the Connecticut Constitution. She sought relief including damages, a judgment declaring the contractual bar on campaign contributions to be null and void, a cease-and-desist order, and a preliminary injunction enjoining the promulgation of the policy.

Approximately one week prior to the election, Blumenthal temporarily suspended the contractual prohibition on campaign contributions pending a final decision by the district court. A letter was faxed to all firms with contracts with the Office of the Attorney General notifying them of the suspension. Blumenthal, however, continued to refuse to accept any campaign contributions from partners and associates (as well as their spouses) of any law firm holding an outside counsel contract with the Attorney General's office. After winning re-election, Blumenthal moved to dismiss Dean's complaint.

Approximately four years passed between Blumenthal's motion to dismiss and the district court's eventual ruling. Because the lawsuit had not been resolved by the next election cycle in 2006, Blumenthal continued his suspension of the campaign contribution prohibition.*fn2 Once again, a letter was faxed to all firms with open contracts with the Office of the Attorney General notifying them of the policy's continued suspension. In addition, the Connecticut General Assembly passed campaign finance legislation in December 2005 that prohibited contributions from, inter alia, state contractors and prospective state contractors to certain committees affiliated with a candidate for the Office of Attorney General. See S. 2103, 2005 Gen. Assem., Spec. Sess. (Conn. 2005). As a result of this legislation, Blumenthal publicized to all firms with contracts with the Office of the Attorney General that the contractual bar on campaign contributions would be "wholly and permanently superseded" by the statutory ban as of December 31, 2006, the effective date of the campaign finance legislation.

In September 2006, the district court granted Blumenthal's motion to dismiss. The court held that Dean's claim under the Fourteenth Amendment failed because she could not demonstrate a liberty or property interest in the receipt of campaign contributions. It also dismissed Dean's state law claims as barred by the Eleventh Amendment.*fn3 During the following week, the district court dismissed Dean's remaining claim, which was based on the First Amendment. The district ...


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