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McMillan v. New York State Board of Elections

October 15, 2010

JAMES E. MCMILLAN III, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS AND NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

ONLINE PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff James E. "Jimmy" McMillan III brings this action, pro se, against the New York State Board of Elections ("State Board") and the Board of Elections in the City of New York ("City Board") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking both monetary and injunctive relief. The State Board moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or, in the alternative, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The City Board moves to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. For the reasons stated below, the State Board's motion to dismiss is granted. The City Board's motion to dismiss is granted with respect to claims for damages accruing prior to June 2, 2007. With respect to all remaining claims for damages, the City Board's motion to dismiss is treated as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 and is granted. Finally, the City Board's motion to dismiss is granted with respect to McMillan's claim for permanent injunctive relief.

BACKGROUND

McMillan is the founder and leader of the Rent is Too Damn High party. In 2005 and 2009, McMillan ran for Mayor of New York City, and in 2006, he ran for Governor of New York State. In 2005, his party's full name appeared on the mayoral ballot, but electoral authorities subsequently removed the word "Damn" from the party's name, listing McMillan as a candidate for the "Rent is Too High" party on the 2006 gubernatorial and 2009 mayoral ballots.

McMillan brings this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State and City Boards, alleging that elimination of the word "Damn" from his party's name in 2006 and 2009 constituted a violation of his federal constitutional rights. Defendants maintain that the party name was altered because the seventeen letters in "Rent is Too Damn High" made it too long to fit on the ballot. They point to provisions of the New York Election Law that authorize abbreviation of party names containing more than fifteen letters "whenever limitations of space so require." See N.Y. Elec. Law § 7-104(2) (electronic voting machines); id. § 7-106(10) (paper ballots). McMillan, however, asserts that the word "Damn" was excised from the party name for religious reasons. He further alleges that the defendants permitted the names of other parties containing more than fifteen letters to be printed on the ballot, and that elimination of the word "Damn" from his own party's name was arbitrary and discriminatory.

McMillan filed his initial complaint on June 2, 2010, seeking damages of $50 million as well as a permanent injunction granting the "Rent is Too Damn High" party a guaranteed appearance on all future statewide ballots. McMillan attached a number of exhibits to his initial complaint. Also on June 2, McMillan moved for a preliminary injunction requiring defendants to include the "Rent is Too Damn High" party on the general election ballot in November of this year. In response to an order to show cause why the requested preliminary injunctive relief should not be granted, the State Board submitted both a memorandum of law and an affidavit. Similarly, the City Board submitted a memorandum and affidavit, along with several exhibits. At oral argument on June 16, 2010, McMillan provided the Court with still further exhibits that pertained both to the claims asserted in his complaint and to his request for a preliminary injunction.

Following oral argument, I denied McMillan's motion as moot, as the parties had settled upon a mutually agreeable abbreviation of the party's name -- "Rent is 2 Damn High" -- to be printed on the November ballot should McMillan succeed in collecting the required number of signatures for an independent nomination under New York's election law.*fn1 McMillan v. New York State Bd. of Elections, No. 10-CV-2502 (JG)(VVP), 2010 WL 2607272, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. June 25, 2010).

Meanwhile, on July 1, McMillan filed an amended complaint, seeking $350 million in damages and a permanent injunction requiring defendants to include "Rent is 2 Damn High" on all future ballots. Additional exhibits were attached to the amended complaint. On July 19, the City Board filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Along with its notice of motion, the City Board filed a notice to McMillan explaining that written materials outside the pleadings had been submitted to the Court, alerting him that the Court might treat the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment, and encouraging him to submit affidavits and other documentary evidence in support of his claims. Claiming sovereign immunity, the State Board moved on July 21, 2010 to dismiss McMillan's amended complaint for lack of jurisdiction or, in the alternative, failure to state a claim. Again, the State Board submitted with its motion an affidavit and a number of exhibits.

Oral argument was held on the motions to dismiss on September 10, 2010. I informed the parties that, given the number of exhibits and affidavits that had been submitted, I was inclined to treat portions of the defendants' motions as motions for summary judgment. I invited the parties to bring to my attention any facts or evidence relevant to the motions that they believed I did not have before me.

DISCUSSION

A. Liberal Construction of a Pro Se Plaintiff's Submissions

Where a plaintiff proceeds pro se, the court must liberally construe his obligation on the part of the court to make reasonable allowances to protect pro se litigants from inadvertent forfeiture of important rights because of their lack of legal training.'" Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)) (alteration in original). In construing McMillan's submissions, I therefore "interpret them 'to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" See McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)).

B. The State Board's 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss

1. Legal Standard

The State Board moves for dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), alleging lack of subject matter jurisdiction in light of the Eleventh Amendment. A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. Nowak v. Ironworkers Local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2d Cir. 1996). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Aurecchione v. Schoolman Transp. Sys., Inc., 426 F.3d 635 (2d Cir. 2005). The court must construe all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Marakova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000).

The Second Circuit has held that an action is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction where a plaintiff's claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Madden v. Vermont Supreme Court, 8 Fed. App'x 128, 129 (2d Cir. 2001). More recently, the Second Circuit has stated in dicta that Eleventh Amendment immunity may not be a matter of subject matter jurisdiction governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) when raised in a motion to dismiss, and might be more properly treated as a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition v. Rowland, 494 F.3d 71, 77 n. 4 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Wisc. Dep't of Corr. V. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381 (1998)). Without resolving the issue, the court noted that the distinction is significant in one respect: "while we must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true when adjudicating a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) . . . in adjudicating a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, a district court may resolve disputed factual issues by reference to evidence outside the pleadings, including affidavits." Id. (citations omitted). This distinction does not affect the outcome here; in evaluating the State Board's assertion of sovereign immunity, I look only to the pleadings and to state and federal law.

2. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

McMillan's Section 1983 claims against the State Board are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and are therefore dismissed. See Iwachiw v. New York City Bd. of Elections, 217 F.Supp.2d 374, 379 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) (dismissing § 1983 claims against the New York State Board of Elections on the basis of sovereign immunity), aff'd, 126 Fed. App'x. 27 (2d Cir. 2005). The State Board is a state agency for the purposes of the Eleventh Amendment.*fn2 Id. The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit for money damages or an injunction in federal court against such a state agency unless either Congress has clearly abrogated the state's immunity or the state has unequivocally waived its immunity. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n. 14. Section 1983 does not abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 342-43 (1979), and the state has not waived its immunity with respect to the claims asserted by McMillan, see Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673 (1974) ("[W]e will find waiver only where stated 'by the most express language or by ...


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