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Castine v. Zurlo

August 11, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge



Plaintiffs Susan R. Castine, Clinton County Democratic Party, and Martin Mannix ("plaintiffs") move for a preliminary injunction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65 enjoining defendants Clinton County Administrator Michael E. Zurlo and Clinton County ("defendants") from enforcing Clinton County Local Law No. 1 of year 2000 ("Local Law No. 1"). Defendants oppose plaintiffs's motion. Oral argument was held on July 27, 2010, in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.


In 2006, plaintiff Castine was elected to a four-year term as Town Justice for Beekmantown, New York, within defendant Clinton County, beginning on January 1, 2007 and ending December 31, 2010. On September 16, 2008, plaintiff Clinton County Democratic Party nominated her for Election Commissioner of the Clinton County Board of Elections. The Clinton County Legislature appointed her as Election Commissioner on October 22, 2008 for a two-year term beginning on January 1, 2009 and ending on December 31, 2010.

On July 12, 2010, plaintiff Castine filed her Democratic candidacy petition for re-election as Beekmantown Town Justice. Her bid for re-election is presently challenged by Terry Sears, the nephew of Republican Clinton County Legislator E. Thomas Sears. The primary elections are scheduled for September 14, 2010. On July 15, 2010, defendant Zurlo sent plaintiff Castine a letter informing her that she would be terminated from her position as Election Commissioner of the Board of Elections effective July 16, 2010, due to her candidacy for Town Justice and pursuant to Local Law No. 1. See Ex. A to Pls.' Compl., Dkt. No. 1. Local Law No. 1 states, in pertinent part:

Any person who shall become a candidate for elective public office shall be disqualified during the period of his or her candidacy from appointment or continued employment from the Board of Elections. The period of his or her candidacy shall be deemed to commence with the filing with the Board of Elections of a nominating or designating petition in furtherance of his or her candidacy unless he or she shall promptly file with the Board a written declination of candidacy.

Ex. B. to Pls.' Compl., Dkt. No. 1.

On July 16, 2010, plaintiff Castine sent defendant Zurlo a letter indicating her intention to continue her employment as Election Commissioner notwithstanding her candidacy for re-election as Beekmantown Town Justice. See Ex. C to Pls.' Compl., Dkt. No. 1. In her letter, plaintiff Castine explained that she believed Local Law No. 1 was in violation of and inconsistent with New York State Election Law § 3-200(4), which provides:

No person shall be appointed as election commissioner or continue to hold office who is not a registered voter in the county and not an enrolled member of the party recommending his appointment, or who holds any other public office, except that of commissioner of deeds, notary public, village officer, city or town justice, member of a community board within the City of New York or trustee or officer of a school district outside of a city.

N.Y. ELEC. LAW § 3-200(4).

Following plaintiff Castine's refusal to vacate her position as Election Commissioner, defendant Zurlo ordered the Clinton County Sheriff to escort her from her office on July 19, 2010. Plaintiff Castine was escorted that afternoon, and plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court the same day in which they allege, inter alia, the deprivation of their First Amendment rights due to defendants' enforcement of Local Law No. 1. An order to show cause and temporary restraining order was issued on July 20, 2010, enjoining defendants from enforcing Local Law No. 1 and otherwise preventing plaintiff Castine from performing her duties as Election Commissioner. See Order to Show Cause and TRO, Dkt. No. 5. As directed by the order, the parties appeared in Utica, New York on July 29, 2010 for oral argument as to plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. Decision was reserved, and the temporary restraining order was extended an additional fourteen days in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(b)(2). The parties were informed that a written decision would be issued beforehand, at which time the temporary restraining order would be lifted. See Text Minute Entry, Dkt. No. 11.


Generally, a preliminary injunction will be issued if the party requesting relief can show "'(1) irreparable harm and (2) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits of its claims to make them fair ground for litigation, plus a balance of the hardships tipping decidedly in favor of the moving party.'" City of N.Y. v. Golden Feather Smoke Shop, Inc., 597 F.3d 115, 120 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Lynch v. City of N.Y., 589 F.3d 94, 98 (2d Cir. 2009)). Although, under this standard, a likelihood of success on the merits is not always required, a moving party "cannot rely on the 'fair ground for litigation' alternative in challenging 'governmental action taken in the public interest pursuant to a statutory or regulatory scheme.'" Monserrate v. N.Y. State Senate, 599 F.3d 148, 154 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Plaza Health Labs., Inc. v. Perales, 878 F.2d 577, 580 (2d Cir. 1989)). Where the government acts pursuant to a statutory scheme that was the product of "reasoned democratic processes," the higher "likelihood of success on the merits" standard will apply. See Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of N.Y., 331 F.3d 342, 349 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Forest City Daly Hous., Inc. v. Town of N. Hempstead, 175 F.3d 144, 149 (2d Cir. 1999)); see also Able v. United States, 44 F.3d 128, 131-32 (2d Cir. 1995) (per curiam) ("We believe that in a case such as this, where the ...

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