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De La Fuente v. South Carolina Democratic Party

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

July 20, 2017

Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Democratic Party, Defendants

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On February 2, 2016, Plaintiff Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief determining the decision of the South Carolina Democratic Party not to include him on the list of approved candidates to appear on the Presidential Primary Ballot was “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, Plaintiff filed a motion for preliminary injunction, seeking a delay of the primary scheduled for February 27, or, alternatively, that his name be added to the primary ballot. Preliminary injunctive relief was denied on February 25, 2016. ECF No. 35. All Defendants other than South Carolina Democratic Party (“SCDP”) were dismissed from the case at that time.

         Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint against SCDP on April 20, 2016, seeking nominal and compensatory damages for alleged violation of due process and discrimination. ECF No. 58. SCDP filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 112), Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 123), and SCDP filed a reply on July 7, 2017 (ECF No. 125). This matter is now ripe for resolution.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On November 16, 2015, Plaintiff, a Hispanic-American male, filed his Notice of Candidacy and formal written request with SCDP to be included on the ballot for the Party Presidential Primary, to be held on February 27, 2016. ECF No. 58 at ¶ 7. With his notice, Plaintiff filed his pledge, campaign plan, certification of authorized representatives, and submitted a cashier's check for the $2, 500 filing fee. Id.

         In order to be granted access to the presidential preference primary ballot, SCDP must certify candidates as meeting “the qualifications in the United States Constitution, statutory law and party rules.” S.C. Code § 7-11-20(B)(2). In addition, SCDP's Delegate Selection Plan requires candidates be “generally acknowledged or recognized in the news media throughout the United States as viable candidates for that office, and who are actively campaigning for the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary.” ECF No. 112-1 at 14.

         Plaintiff gained a level of recognition in the media prior to submitting his name to appear on the South Carolina primary ballot, and was certified by four states for inclusion on their ballots. ECF No. 123-6-12; ECF No. 123-13, 14.

         Pursuant to SCDP's Delegate Selection Plan, the Executive Council met on December 7, 2015, to consider all Democratic presidential campaign filings. ECF No. 112-3 at ¶ 6. The Council decided Plaintiff did not have nationwide recognition as a viable presidential candidate, and had not campaigned in South Carolina. Id. at. ¶ 9. Therefore, it did not approve Plaintiff's filing, and notified him by letter Plaintiff received December 29, 2015. ECF No. 58 at ¶ 8.

         At least one other candidate was not certified for appearance on the ballot: Lloyd Kelso, a Caucasian from North Carolina who SCDP notes indicate “was not active in his state politics and officials there are unaware of him. He has no staff in SC, no [sic] aware of any campaign visits, no planned engagements and has only reached out to Dorchester County.” ECF No. 112-3 at 5. In contrast, Willie Wilson, an African American, had “hired staff in SC, visited the state twice, reached out to clergy and elected officials for endorsements, sponsored both the presidential forum and debate, and paid $20, 000 to help with the filing fee.” Id. The Executive Council approved Mr. Wilson's inclusion on the ballot. Id.

         STANDARD

         Summary judgment should be granted if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). It is well established that summary judgment should be granted “only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts.” Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Properties, 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and the court must view the evidence before it and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         Rule 56(c)(1) provides as follows:

(1) A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:
(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., ...

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