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De La Fuente v. Cortes

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 21, 2017

ROQUE “ROCKY” DE LA FUENTE, Plaintiff,
v.
PEDRO A. CORTÉS, in his official capacity as the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and JONATHAN MARKS, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Hon. John E. Jones, Jugde.

         Plaintiff Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against Defendants Pedro A. Cortés and Jonathan Marks (“Defendants”), in their official capacities as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Commissioner of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation, respectively. Plaintiff brings his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging 12 counts of violations of his constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Qualifications Clause of Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution. Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 34). For the reasons that follow, this Motion shall be granted.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a Complaint on August 15, 2016, followed by an Amended Complaint on August 18, 2016. (Docs. 1, 4). Defendants initially filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim on August 25, 2016. (Doc. 10). However, we stayed the case by Order dated September 14, 2016, (Doc. 15), pending resolution of unsettled state law in state court. Following a decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, we issued an Order lifting the stay on November 15, 2016. (Doc. 18). Defendants subsequently filed another Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim on December 1, 2016. (Doc. 21). Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint on January 9, 2017, (Doc. 25), which we granted by Memorandum and Order on April 24, 2017. (Doc. 32). Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint on May 14, 2017. (Doc. 33). Defendants subsequently filed the present Motion to Dismiss on May 26, 2017. (Doc. 34). Defendants filed their supporting brief on June 8, 2017, (Doc. 37), Plaintiff filed his opposition brief on June 22, 2017, (Doc. 40), and Defendants filed their reply brief on June 30, 2017. (Doc. 41).

         Having been fully briefed, the matter is ripe for review.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has set forth the facts of this case as follows. Plaintiff was a candidate in the 2016 election for President of the United States. (Doc. 33, ¶ 20). He sought the Democratic nomination during the primaries and subsequently entered the general election as an independent candidate. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 22). In Pennsylvania, Plaintiff was on the primary ballot seeking the Democratic nomination. (Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff ultimately was unsuccessful in his bid to receive the Democratic nomination. Following the primary election in Pennsylvania, Plaintiff submitted to Defendants nomination papers to appear as an independent candidate in the general election. (Id. at ¶ 24). Because Plaintiff previously had been a candidate for the Democratic nomination, Defendants rejected Plaintiff's nomination papers pursuant to 25 P.S. § 2911(e)(5). (Id. at ¶ 25). Plaintiff has announced that he intends to run in the 2020 presidential election either as a Democratic nominee or as an independent. (Id. at ¶¶ 29, 30).

         During the 2016 campaign, registered Republicans were prevented from circulating Plaintiff's nomination petitions pursuant to 25 P.S. § 2869(a). (Id. at ¶ 50). In addition, unregistered qualified electors were prohibited from circulating nomination petitions for Plaintiff pursuant to 25 P.S. §§ 2869(a) and 2911(d). (Id. at ¶ 51). Plaintiff intends to hire the same professional circulators in 2020 that he used in 2016. (Id. at ¶ 52).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for both lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), respectively.

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims are not ripe and moot, that Plaintiff lacks standing, and that Plaintiff's federal claim against § 2911(e)(5) is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. A Rule 12(b)(1) challenge comes in two fundamental forms: facial or factual attacks. In re Horizon Healthcare Servs. Inc. Data Breach Litig., 846 F.3d 625, 632 (3d Cir. 2017). “The former challenges subject matter jurisdiction without disputing the facts alleged in the complaint, and it requires the court to ‘consider the allegations of the complaint as true.'” Davis v. Wells Fargo, 824 F.3d 333, 346 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294, 302 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2006)). A factual challenge, by contrast, “attacks the factual allegations underlying the complaint's assertion of jurisdiction.” Davis, 824 F.3d at 346. In a factual challenge, “the court ‘is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.' … ‘[N]o presumptive truthfulness attaches to [the] plaintiff's allegations.'” Id. (quoting Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). In the instant case, Defendants have not challenged the factual allegations of Plaintiff's Complaint, but have argued that, even if those facts are true, Plaintiff has not sufficiently pled jurisdiction. Thus, we conclude that Defendants have raised a facial challenge and will proceed with the same standard of review as a 12(b)(6) motion.

         In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). In resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally should consider only the allegations in the complaint, as well as “documents that are attached to or submitted with the complaint, …and any matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.” Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006).

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirement of Rule 8(a). Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, “in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint attacked by Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level….” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 235 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Accordingly, to satisfy the plausibility standard, the complaint must indicate that defendant's liability is more than “a sheer possibility.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Under the two-pronged approach articulated in Twombly and later formalized in Iqbal, a district court must first identify all factual allegations that constitute nothing more than “legal conclusions” or “naked assertions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are “not entitled to the assumption of truth” and must be disregarded for purposes of resolving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Next, the district court must identify “the ‘nub' of the … complaint - the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s].” Id. Taking these allegations as true, the district judge must then determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. See id.

         However, “a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57). Rule 8 “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.” Id. at 234.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges that 25 P.S. § 2911(e)(5) (Counts I and IV), § 2911(e)(6) (Counts II and V), and § 2911.1 (Counts III and VI) violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Qualifications Clause in Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also alleges that 25 P.S. § 2869(a) (Counts VII, VIII, IX, and X) and § 2911(d) (Counts XI and XII) violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments both facially and as applied. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on several grounds: (1) Plaintiff's claims are moot and not ripe, (2) Plaintiff lacks standing, (3) res judicata bars any claim against § 2911(e)(5), and (4) each of the challenged laws is constitutional under controlling case law.

         We begin with Defendants' jurisdictional arguments that Plaintiff's claims are moot and not ripe, that Plaintiff lacks standing, and that res judicata acts as a bar to the § 2911(e)(5) challenge.

         1. Rule 12(b)(1) - ...


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