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VIETH v. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA

February 22, 2002

RICHARD VIETH NORMA JEAN VIETH, AND SUSAN FUREY, PLAINTIFFS
V.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL. DEFENDANTS



Richard L. Nygaard, William H. Yohn, Jr, Sylvia H. Rambo, U.S.D.J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

  OPINION OF THE COURT*fn1

Before the court are: (1) a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) filed by Defendants Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker, Secretary of State Kim Pizzingrilli, and Commissioner of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation Richard Filling ("Executive Officers"); (2) Defendant Executive Officers' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6); (3) a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Matthew Ryan and Robert Jubelirer ("Presiding Officers")*fn2 and (4) Defendant Presiding Officers' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A. Factual Allegations

Plaintiffs Richard Vieth, Norma Jean Vieth, and Susan Furey brought this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendant Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Defendant Executive Officers, and Defendant Presiding Officers. Plaintiffs' claims arise out of the enactment of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1200 ("Act 1"), Pennsylvania's Congressional redistricting plan, which Governor Schweiker signed into law on January 7, 2002.

Plaintiffs allege the following facts in their complaint: On December 28, 2000, the United States Secretary of Commerce reported the results of the year 2000 decennial national census to then President William J. Clinton. The tabulation indicated that as of April 1, 2000 Pennsylvania had a resident population of 12,281,054 persons. Accordingly, the Secretary of Commerce's report allotted Pennsylvania only nineteen Congressional representatives resulting in a decrease of two representatives from the results of the 1990 census.

Thus, the responsibility for adopting a Congressional redistricting plan fell to Pennsylvania's General Assembly, which failed to reach a compromise during the regular 2001 legislative session. The State House of Representatives passed one version, and the State Senate passed a different plan. The General Assembly, however, adjourned at an impasse on December 13, 2001.*fn3

In the meantime, prominent national figures in the Republican party — such as congressional Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Congressman Thomas M. Davis III, United States Senator Rick Santorum, and Karl Rove, political consultant to current President George W. Bush — began pressuring Governor Schweiker, a Republican, and the Republican members of the General Assembly to adopt the Senate redistricting plan as a punitive measure against Democrats for having enacted apparently pro-Democrat redistricting plans in other states. In response, Republican members of the state House and Senate began working together to reach an agreement. In the process, they effectively ignored all Democratic members of the General Assembly, including members of the Conference Committee appointed to resolve the impasse between the competing plans.

At the Conference Committee meeting on January 2, 2002, the Republicans presented the final version ("Senate Bill 1200") of the new redistricting plan. The Democratic members of the Conference Committee had no input on this version. Although the bill passed the Conference Committee, thus sending it for a vote before both houses, all Democratic members of the Conference Committee voted against the version, and all Republicans voted in favor. On January 3, 2002, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1200. On January 7, 2002, Governor Schweiker signed the bill into law as Act 1.

Plaintiffs, registered Democrats and Pennsylvania citizens, subsequently filed this suit to enjoin Act 1's implementation. Plaintiffs Richard and Norma Jean Vieth both reside in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, in a portion of the county that will fall in District 16 under Act 1. Plaintiff Susan Furey resides in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Under Act 1's precursor, Plaintiff Furey' s residence fell in District 13. However, under Act 1, Plaintiff Furey now resides in District 6. Defendants are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and various executive and legislative officers who were either responsible for enacting Act 1 or will be responsible for implementing it during the next Congressional election.

According to the results of the 2000 census, Pennsylvania has a population of 12,281,054. When divided equally among the nineteen Congressional districts, this results in a population of 646,371 or 646,372 people per district.*fn4 However, under Act 1, District 7 would have a population of 646,380. On the other hand, Districts 1, 2, and 17 would each have a population of 646,361. Thus, under Act 1 there is a nineteen-person deviation between the least populated and most populated districts. While this is less than the deviation under the 1992 plan, unlike that plan, Act 1 splits eighty-four local governments (including twenty-five counties and fifty-nine cities, boroughs or townships) among different congressional districts. Montgomery County, where Plaintiff Furey resides, is divided up among six different congressional districts. Under the 1992 plan, only twenty-seven local governments (nineteen counties and eight cities, townships or boroughs) were split between different districts. Additionally, Districts 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, and 19 have populations of over 646,372 without any legitimate justification.

Currently, the two major parties hold nearly equal support in the Commonwealth. of voters registered with one of the two major parties, 53.6% are registered Democrats and 46.4% are registered Republicans. In November 2000, during the last election held under the 1992 plan, voters in Pennsylvania elected eleven Republican congressman and ten Democratic congressman to serve in Washington. In those twenty-one congressional races, Democrats garnered 50.6% of the aggregate vote, with Republicans receiving 49.4%. Democrats also received more total votes than Republicans, by a margin of 50.1% to 49.9%, in the five statewide races in 2000.*fn5 Yet despite this nearly equal split, Democrats will likely win only six of Pennsylvania's nineteen congressional seats. Thus, Act 1 is "designed to ensure that Republicans would win at least 13 of the 19 congressional seats." (Amd. Compl. at ¶ 32.) "It cements Republican power and effectively reduces Democrats to being a small minority of the Commonwealth's congressional delegation for the coming election and likely the coming decade." (Id. at ¶ 33.)

As a direct result, Act 1 "dramatically affects the Democratic Party's prospects for success in congressional elections in Pennsylvania . . . and will reduce the choices that voters . . . will have in Pennsylvania elections." (Id. at ¶ 35.) "Because of the bias . . . the Democratic Party will have greater difficulty in fielding competitive candidates." (Id.) Thus, Act 1 operates "to essentially shut Democrats and Democratic voters out of the political process." (Id. at ¶ 36.) Plaintiffs, in particular, "will suffer harm . . . [because they] will now be increasingly represented by members of Congress who do not represent their views." (Id. at 37.)

B. Procedural History

On December 21, 2001, Plaintiffs filed the original complaint in this matter. Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed a motion to convene a three-judge panel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(b)(1). By an order dated January 23, 2002, the court granted Plaintiffs' motion and requested that Chief Judge Edward Becker of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals appoint the members of the panel. Chief Judge Becker appointed the current panel: The Honorable Richard Nygaard, United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals; The Honorable William H. Yohn, Jr., United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; and The Honorable Sylvia Rambo, Senior United States District Court Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

On January 22, 2002, Plaintiffs filed a motion requesting that the court set a deadline of February 18, 2002 for the state courts to conclude all litigation pertaining to Act 1.*fn7 Additionally, Plaintiffs filed an expedited motion for appointment of the three-judge panel. By an order dated January 24, 2002, the court denied Plaintiffs' motion to set a deadline and denied, as moot, Plaintiffs' expedited motion to convene a three-judge panel. By a separate order issued on January 24, 2002, the court set the case for an evidentiary hearing to be conducted on February 11 and February 12, 2002.

Also on January 24, 2002, both Defendant Presiding Officers and Executive Officers filed the separate motions to dismiss which are currently before the court. Defendant Presiding Officers followed this with a motion to abstain, filed on January 25, 2002. By separate orders, the court established an expedited briefing schedule for both the motions to dismiss and the motion for abstention.

Defendant Presiding Officers filed a motion for reconsideration and vacatur of the court's January 24, 2002 order that set the captioned matter for an evidentiary hearing starting February 11, 2002. The court held a telephone conference on January 29, 2002, which all parties attended, in order to discuss the reconsideration motion. During the conference call, counsel informed the court that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued an order that afternoon requiring the Commonwealth Court to hold a hearing on Act 1 by February 1, 2002. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ordered the Commonwealth Court to issue findings of fact and conclusions of law by February 8, 2002 addressing the validity of Act 1 under the Pennsylvania Constitution. In light of these circumstances, by an order dated January 30, 2002, the court delayed the evidentiary hearing until March 11, 2002 and set an expedited discovery schedule.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

1. Legal Standard

"A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the jurisdiction of the court to address the merits of the plaintiff's complaint." Ballenger v. Applied Digital Solutions, Inc., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1518 at *8 (D. Del. January 31, 2002). The motion should be granted where the asserted claim is "insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy." Coxson v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 935 F. Supp. 624, 626 (W.D. Pa. 1996) (citing Growth Horizons v. Delaware County, 983 F.2d 1277, 1280-81 (3d Cir. 1993)). Additionally, a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may present either a facial or factual challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. See Mortensen v. First Federal Savings and Loan, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977).

This case presents a facial challenge because Defendants do not dispute, at this juncture, the existence of the jurisdictional facts alleged in the complaint. See 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 12.30[4] (3d ed. 1999) (explaining the difference between a facial and factual challenge to subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)). Therefore, the court must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Zinerman v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118 (1990); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990).

2. Partisan Gerrymandering Claim

In their motions to dismiss, Defendants contend that claims of partisan gerrymandering are non-justiciable. Thus, according to Defendants, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear such claims. However, Defendants also acknowledge that in Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U.S. 109 (1986), the Supreme Court held that such claims are justiciable as equal protection violations. Instead of arguing for dismissal, Defendants wish to have their objections to this holding noted on the record in case they seek to raise the issue at a later time. Accordingly, the court notes the objection.

3. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Defendant Commonwealth of Pennsylvania seeks dismissal of the claims against it arguing that it is immune from suit in federal court based on Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. At a minimum, the Eleventh Amendment stands for two propositions: "first, that each State is a sovereign entity in our federal system; and second, that it is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent." Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996) (internal quotations omitted). Thus, the Eleventh Amendment "prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies." Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 791 (1978). This bar applies regardless of whether the plaintiff seeks monetary damages or injunctive relief against a State. Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 58 (citing Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85, 90 (1982) ("It would be a novel proposition indeed that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar a suit to enjoin the State itself simply because no money judgment is sought.")).

Under certain circumstances, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar federal courts from entertaining suits against States. First, suit is permitted where the State has waived its immunity. Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241 (1985). Second, sovereign immunity does not apply if Congress validly abrogates it through its enforcement powers pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 57-73. Third, Eleventh Amendment immunity is inapplicable where the plaintiff sues State officials in their official capacity seeking only prospective relief. Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908).

In this case, Plaintiffs have brought suit against the Commonwealth thereby implicating its sovereign immunity. Plaintiffs do not contend that the Commonwealth has waived its immunity, nor could they. Pennsylvania has clearly reserved its power to invoke sovereign immunity. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8521(b) (2001). Likewise, Plaintiffs could not contend that by enacting § 1983, Congress validly abrogated Pennsylvania's sovereign immunity. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1978) ("[Section] 1983 does not explicitly and by clear language indicate on its face an intent to sweep away the immunity of the States; nor does it have a history which focuses directly on the question of state liability and which shows that Congress considered and firmly decided to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the States."). Ex Parte Young is not implicated here. The Commonwealth is the only defendant to raise sovereign immunity as a defense.

Because the Eleventh Amendment bars suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under the circumstances present in this case, the court will dismiss the action against the ...


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