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Fuente v. South Carolina Democratic Party

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

February 25, 2016

Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Democratic Party; Mark Hammond, South Carolina Secretary of State; South Carolina State Election Commission; Billy Way, Jr., Chair of Election Commission; and Mark A. Benson, Marilyn Bowers, E. Allen Dawson, and Nicole Spain White, Election Commission Members, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

On February 2, 2016, Plaintiff Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente (“De La Fuente”) filed a Complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief determining that the decision of the South Carolina Democratic Party not to include him on the list of approved candidates to appear on South Carolina’s Presidential Primary Ballot “is unconstitutional and violative of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and violates 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.” Entry No. 1, Compl. ¶ 34. On February 22, 2016, De La Fuente filed a motion for preliminary injunction, asking the court to order a delay of the primary scheduled for February 27, or, alternatively, that his name be added to the primary ballot. For the reasons stated below, the motion for preliminary injunctive relief is denied.

BACKGROUND

On November 16, 2015, Plaintiff De La Fuente filed his Notice of Candidacy and formal written request with the South Carolina Democratic Party (“Democratic Party”), to be included on the ballot for the Party Presidential Primary, to be held on February 27, 2016. See Exhibit A to Complaint. With his notice, De La Fuente filed his pledge, campaign plan, certification of authorized representatives, and submitted a cashier’s check for the $2, 500 filing fee. Id.

Pursuant to the Democratic Party’s Delegate Selection Plan, the Executive Council of the Democratic Party met on December 7, 2015, to consider all Democratic presidential campaign filings. See Exhibit B to Complaint. The Council did not approve De La Fuente’s filing, as stated in the notification letter De La Fuente received December 29, 2015. Id. at ¶ 1.

De La Fuente filed suit in this court on February 2, 2016, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Democratic Party and Mark Hammond, the South Carolina Secretary of State. Compl. ¶ 1. De La Fuente requested that the Democratic Party be required to notify the Secretary of State to include him on the list of approved candidates for the Presidential Primary ballot for February 27, 2016. Compl. ¶¶ 33-34.

Defendant Mark Hammond, Secretary of State, filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim on February 19, 2016. Entry No. 14. Defendant Hammond amended this motion on February 22, 2016, indicating that De La Fuente had agreed to stipulate to Hammond’s Motion to Dismiss. Entry No. 18. De La Fuente filed an Amended Complaint on February 24, 2016, identifying the South Carolina State Election Commission (“Commission”) and its Chair and Members, in their official capacities, as new Defendants. Entry No. 29. Defendant South Carolina Democratic Party filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint on February 24, 2016. Entry No. 27.[1]

On February 22, 2016, De La Fuente submitted a motion for preliminary injunction and partial summary judgment pursuant to Rules 56 and 65(a), Fed. R. Civ. P.[2] Entry No. 17. Defendant Democratic Party filed a response in opposition to the motion for preliminary injunction and/or summary judgment on February 24, 2016. Entry No. 28. Defendants South Carolina State Election Commission and its members filed a response in opposition to the motion for preliminary injunction on February 24, 2016. Entry No. 31. A hearing on the preliminary injunction motion was held on February 24, 2016.

STANDARD

A preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy . . . which is to be applied only in [the] limited circumstances which clearly demand it.” Direx Israel, Ltd. v. Breakthrough Med. Corp., 952 F.2d 802, 811 (4th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citation omitted). The traditional purpose of a preliminary injunction is to “protect the status quo and to prevent irreparable harm during the pendency of a lawsuit ultimately to preserve the court’s ability to render a meaningful judgment on the merits.” In re Microsoft Corp. Antitrust Litig., 333 F.3d 517, 525 (4th Cir. 2003). To qualify for injunctive relief, a plaintiff must show (1) likelihood he will succeed on the merits; (2) likelihood he will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction; (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) that the injunction is in the public interest. Winter v. NRDC, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008); Real Truth About Obama v. FEC, 575 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2009), vacated on other grounds, 559 U.S. 1089 (2010).

The Winter-Real Truth standard requires the party seeking the injunction to make a “clear showing” that he is likely to succeed on the merits. Real Truth, 575 F.3d at 345; see also Winter v. NRDC, at 555 U.S. at 22. This standard compels the moving party to show that he is likely to prevail. Regardless of the balance of hardships, it is insufficient for the party to show only that “grave or serious questions are presented” in the litigation. Compare Real Truth, 575 F.3d at 346 with Blackwelder Furniture Co. of Statesville v. Seilig Mfg. Co., 550 F.2d 189, 196 (4th Cir. 1977).

Second, the moving party must make a clear showing that he is likely to be irreparably harmed if preliminary relief is denied. To meet this test, the party must show more than a mere possibility of harm. Winter, 555 U.S. at 21. Third, the moving party must show that the balance of equities tips in his favor. Id. at 21, 26. Fourth, the court must consider whether grant or denial of the injunction is in the public interest. The court must give “particular regard” to the public consequences of granting a preliminary injunction. Id. at 24; Real Truth, 575 F.3d at 347. The Fourth Circuit no longer recognizes a “flexible interplay” among these criteria. Instead, each requirement must be fulfilled as articulated. Real Truth, 575 F.3d at 347 (quoting Blackwelder, 550 F.2d at 196).

De La Fuente seeks mandatory injunctive relief here, asking that the court require the Democratic Party to notify the Secretary of State[3] to include him on the primary ballot for February 27, 2016. Thus, De La Fuente seeks to alter the status quo. Such “[m]andatory preliminary injunctive relief in any circumstance is disfavored, and warranted only in the most extraordinary circumstances.” In re Microsoft Corp., 333 F.3d at 525 (citation omitted). Consequently, “application of th[e] exacting standard of review [for preliminary injunctions] is even more searching when” the relief requested “is mandatory rather than prohibitory in nature.” Perry v. Judd, 471 F. App’x 219, 223-24 (4th Cir. 2012).

DISCUSSION

1. Likelihood of Success on Merits

De La Fuente alleges Constitutional due process violations and statutory equal protection violations against the South Carolina Secretary of State, the South Carolina Democratic Party, and, in his Amended Complaint, the South Carolina State Election Commission and its members. The merits of each claim are addressed in turn.

A. Defendant Mark Hammond, South Carolina Secretary of State

De La Fuente’s Complaint alleged that Mark Hammond, Secretary of State, is the state official responsible for administering elections. Compl. ¶ 5. While the Secretary of State has many duties, none of them involve oversight or authority over the conduct of elections in South Carolina. De La Fuente has agreed to dismissal with prejudice as to Defendant Hammond, Secretary of State. Entry No. 18, Ex. A.

B. Defendant South Carolina State Election Commission; Commission Chair Way, and Commission members Benson, Bowers, Dawson, and White

In his Amended Complaint, De La Fuente alleges that the South Carolina State Election Commission is the state agency responsible for administering elections in South Carolina. Am. Compl. ¶ 5. De La Fuente further asserts that Defendant Way is the Chair of the Commission, and that Defendants Benson, Bowers, Dawson, and White are Members of the Commission. These Defendants are sued in their official capacities. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6-7.

De La Fuente does not seek any relief from these Defendants in his Amended Complaint, merely noting that the Democratic Party should be required to notify the Commission to include him on the list of candidates to appear on the primary ballot. Am. Compl. ¶ 33. De La Fuente does not allege that the Commission was able to influence the list of candidates submitted by the Democratic Party, or that the Commission’s actions were unlawful or unconstitutional ...


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