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

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


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 from its reorganization of a judicial district. Gallas, 211 F.3d at 775-77. This immunity provides a complete defense to claims for damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. Consumers Union, 446 U.S. at 730-34; See Gallas, 211 F.3d at 776-77.

The question before us is whether the justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court performed a legislative function when they eliminated Magisterial District 12-1-03. To this end, the Third Circuit employs a two-part test in determining whether an act is legislative. Gallas, 211 F.3d at 774. First, the judicial action must be "substantively" legislative. Essentially, a legislative act is one that involves policy-making decisions, "or, to put it another way, legislation involves linedrawing." Id. Second, the action must be "procedurally" legislative-passed by means of an established procedure. Id.

It is clear that the Pennsylvania Constitution grants the state supreme court the authority to set the number and boundaries of magisterial districts within each judicial district. Pa. Const. Art. V, § 7.*fn5 Here, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the elimination of Magisterial District 12-1-03 pursuant to this explicit grant of authority. This decision was a "policy-making decision of general scope, rather than a decision affecting a small number or a single individual." Gallas, 211 F.3d at 774. The original memorandum regarding magistrate vacancies was addressed to all the president judges of Pennsylvania's judicial districts. (doc. 17, Ex. A.) The president judges were given specific instructions to evaluate population trends and caseloads when determining whether districts should be eliminated for budgetary reasons. (doc. 17, Ex. A.) In essence, the state supreme court's memorandum of June 29, 2011 represented a reevaluation and overhaul of the magisterial districts within Pennsylvania. Furthermore, it was only after consultation with President Judge Hoover that the justices of the state supreme court eliminated the district in a per curiam order. (doc. 2, Ex. B.)

These facts in conjunction with the authority granted by the Pennsylvania Constitution clearly demonstrate that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was engaged in the type of linedrawing that is the hallmark of a legislative act. In addition, given the state supreme court's issuance of a per curiam order and the evaluation process undertaken by members of Pennsylvania's judiciary, the order eliminating Magisterial District 12-1-03 was procedurally legislative. Therefore, we conclude that when the justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania eliminated the magisterial district at issue they were acting in their legislative capacity, and thus are entitled to legislative immunity.*fn6 Based on the preceding, we conclude that plaintiffs have failed to show a reasonable probability of success on merits for their claims.

B. Dauphin County Defendants

Plaintiffs amended complaint states that the Dauphin County defendants were added solely because they were an indispensable party and not for any allegations of wrongdoing. Based on our conclusion that the justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are immune from suit, we conclude that the plaintiffs also have failed to meet their burden showing a likelihood of success on the merits for any claim against the Dauphin County defendants.*fn7

IV. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, we conclude that plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden showing a likelihood of success on the merits. We see no reason to address the other factors required for a preliminary injunction because the first factor overwhelmingly favors denial of plaintiffs' request. Inasmuch as the defendants are immune from suit, we conclude that further proceedings would be futile, and it is appropriate that this case be dismissed.

We will issue an appropriate order.

William W. Caldwell

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

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

CIVIL NO. 1:CV-11-979

ORDER AND NOW, this 19th day of July, 2011, upon consideration of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction (doc. 3), and for the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and an expedited hearing are denied.

2. Defendants' motion to dismiss the original complaint (doc. 18) is dismissed as moot.

3. Plaintiffs' complaint is dismissed.

4. The Clerk of Court shall close this file.

William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


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