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Jacqueline C. Goodwin, Ronald G. Chapel, Roy E. Christ, Jr v. Ronald D. Castille

July 19, 2011

JACQUELINE C. GOODWIN, RONALD G. CHAPEL, ROY E. CHRIST, JR., LEONARD J. LEMELLE, JR., AND LYNETTE PASZEK, PLAINTIFFS
v.
RONALD D. CASTILLE, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF PENNSYLVANIA, THOMAS G. SAYLOR, J. MICHAEL EAKIN, MAX BAER, DEBRA MCCLOSKEY TODD, SEAMUS P. MCCAFFREY, AND
JOAN ORIE MELVIN, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS JUSTICES OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, COUNTY OF DAUPHIN, AND DAUPHIN COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Presently before the court is a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by the plaintiffs, Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ronald G. Chapel, Roy E. Christ, Jr., Leonard J. Lemelle, Jr., and Lynette Paszek, asking us to prevent the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from eliminating a magisterial district judge position for Magisterial District 12-1-03 for a period of at least six years, order the Dauphin County Board of Elections to schedule a primary election for the magisterial judgeship, and allow the winners of said primary to be placed on the general election ballot in November. (doc. 580.)*fn1 Plaintiffs are also seeking an expedited hearing on this matter. For the reasons that follow, we will deny both motions.

II. Background

On June 29, 2010, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, emailed all the president judges in Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System asking them to evaluate the number of magisterial districts in their judicial districts. (doc. 17, ex. A.) Citing the difficult economic climate, the state supreme court sought to eliminate magisterial districts if the office was vacant or will become vacant due to retirement of the magisterial district judge. (doc. 17, ex. A.) When conducting their evaluations, president judges were asked to consider population trends but more importantly caseloads when assessing magisterial districts.

On or about February 18, 2011, Magisterial District Judge Joseph Solomon, of Magisterial District 12-1-03, informed Dauphin County President Judge Todd Hoover of his plans to retire. (doc. 17, Ex. B.) Subsequently on March 1, 2011, Judge Hoover recommended that Magisterial District Judge Solomon's district be eliminated and consolidated with one or more of the other five magisterial districts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (doc. 17, Ex. C.) On the same day, Judge Hoover informed the Dauphin County Board of Elections of the likely elimination of Magisterial District 12-1-03. (doc. 17, Ex. D.) The preliminary ballots notified the plaintiffs of the possible elimination. (doc. 2, Ex. A.)

Prior to Judge Hoover's recommendation, the Dauphin County Board of Elections declared an election to fill the seat to be vacated by Magisterial District Judge Solomon. Decl. of Jacqueline G. Goodwin ¶ 6. Following this announcement and after circulating the necessary nomination petitions, plaintiffs were placed on the ballot for the primary election to be held on May 17, 2011. Decl. of Jacqueline G. Goodwin ¶ 7.

On April 15, 2011, the state supreme court issued an order eliminating Magisterial District 12-1-03 effective January 2, 2012, and decreed that the district would not be reflected on a primary or general election ballot. (doc. 2, Ex. B.) As a result of this order, no primary election occurred for the magisterial district judge position.*fn2

On May 20, 2011, plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging: (1) First Amendment violations for denial of right to associate, ballot access, and right to vote; (2) denial of their equal protections rights; (3) denial of substantive due process rights, claiming a liberty interest in ballot access and a state created liberty interest in voting; and (4) voter dilution under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chief Justice Castille subsequently filed a motion to dismiss. However on July 5, 2011, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding each justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and Dauphin County, as defendants. In addition, the amended complaint pleads that the judicial defendants are sued only in their official capacities.

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review - Preliminary Injunction When deciding whether to grant a preliminary injunction request, we must consider: (1) whether plaintiffs have shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits; (2) whether plaintiffs will be irreparably harmed by denial of relief; (3) whether granting preliminary injunctive relief will result in greater harm to the defendants; and (4) whether granting the injunction will be in the public interest. Illes v. de Jongh, 638 F.3d 169, 172 (3d Cir. 2011)(quoting McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 526 (3d Cir. 2009)). A preliminary injunction is an "extraordinary and drastic remedy" that should not be granted unless the plaintiffs make a clear showing for relief. Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972, 117 S.Ct. 1865 (1997).

In opposing plaintiffs' preliminary injunction request, the defendants primarily argue that plaintiffs' have failed to meet their burden showing a reasonable probability of success on the merits. More specifically, they raise the following arguments: (1) Eleventh Amendment immunity; (2) legislative immunity; (3) the justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, acting in their official capacities, are not persons for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and finally (4) plaintiffs fail to carry their burden establishing a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of each of their claims.*fn3

A. Legislative Immunity*fn4

The doctrine of legislative immunity grants to legislators absolute immunity for their legislative acts. Gallas v. Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 211 F.3d 760, 773 (3d Cir. 2000). The Supreme Court has recognized that in certain situations judges perform legislative acts. Id. (citing Forrest v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227, 108 S.Ct. 538 (1988)). In Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union of the United States, Inc., 446 U.S. 719, 100 S.Ct. 1967 (1908), the Supreme Court granted immunity to the Virginia Supreme Court and its chief justice in connection with that body's drafting and publication of the state bar code. Consumers Union, 446 U.S. at 734 ("[The Virginia Supreme Court] is exercising the State's entire legislative power with respect to regulating the Bar, and its members are the State's legislators for the purpose of issuing the Bar Code."). The Third Circuit has held that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is entitled to absolute legislative immunity from claims arising ...


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