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La Rose v. Northampton County

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 19, 2017

SVEND LA ROSE, Plaintiff
v.
NORTHAMPTON COUNTY and LEHIGH COUNTY, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, C.J.

         Plaintiff Svend La Rose brings this civil action asserting claims arising under the United States Constitution against Northampton County and Lehigh County. He seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, I will grant Mr. La Rose leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his complaint.

         I. FACTS

         Svend La Rose “is a write-in candidate” for elected office on the Bethlehem City Council. (Compl. ¶ 3.) He claims that Northampton County and Lehigh County are violating the United States Constitution by acting in accordance with Section 701 of the Pennsylvania Election Code. Specifically, he alleges that these counties “deny people who are under 18 who have completed the sixth grade the right to vote [. . .] on the arbitrary and irrational grounds that they have not reached the magic age of 18 years.” (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9.) Mr. La Rose sets forth two causes of action based on this perceived injustice. First, he asserts a substantive due process claim based on an unconstitutional denial of the right to vote. Second, he claims that the counties violate the Constitution by denying this group the right to vote without equal protection of law, “but do not refuse to register people who are intellectually disabled to vote, even though such people are less mentally well-qualified to vote than such minors.” (Id. ¶ 9.) In support of these claims, he further asserts that the “common law of minority” is unconstitutional as applied, because it is “arbitrary, irrational, and not even reasonably related, let alone narrowly tailored, to any legitimate governmental interest, let alone a compelling interest.” (Id. ¶ 8.) Mr. La Rose seeks a writ of mandate “compelling defendants to register all persons who have completed the sixth grade, irrespective of age, to vote and to permit them to vote in elections.” (Id. at 2:21-23.) He believes that he has “the right to have literate minors registered and permitted to vote, ” because “[c]andidates for political office have an interest in having their voting bloc registered and permitted to vote.” (Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4.)[1]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court grants plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is not capable of paying the fees to commence this civil action. Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains “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) (quotations omitted). As plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).

         III. DISCUSSION

         After careful consideration, I find that Mr. La Rose lacks standing to raise his claims, and that even if he were a proper person to raise these claims, they fail on their merits. I will first address the standing issue, and then explain why Mr. La Rose has failed to state a claim.

         A. Standing

         “To satisfy the ‘case or controversy' standing requirement under Article III, § 2 of the United States Constitution, a plaintiff must establish that it has suffered a cognizable injury that is causally related to the alleged conduct of the defendant and is redressable by judicial action.” Pennsylvania Psychiatric Soc. v. Green Spring Health Servs., Inc., 280 F.3d 278, 283 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180- 81 (2000)). “Apart from the constitutional requirements for standing, courts have imposed a set of prudential limitations on the exercise of federal jurisdiction over third-party claims.” Id. at 287 (citations omitted). These “prudential concerns . . . prevent courts from ‘deciding questions of broad social import where no individual rights would be vindicated and . . . limit access to the federal courts to those litigants best suited to assert a particular claim.'” Id. at 287-88 (quoting Gladstone, Realtors v. Vill. of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99-100 (1979) (additional citation omitted)). Accordingly, a party seeking to rely on third-party standing must satisfy “three preconditions: 1) the plaintiff must suffer injury; 2) the plaintiff and the third party must have a ‘close relationship'; and 3) the third party must face some obstacles that prevent it from pursuing its own claims.” Id. at 288-89 (citations omitted).

         Mr. La Rose has not satisfied the first requirement of individual or third-party standing, because he has not suffered an injury. The complaint only contains the conclusory allegation that “literate minors” are Mr. La Rose's “voting bloc.” He has not pleaded any facts in support of his belief that, if literate twelve to eighteen year-olds with at least a sixth-grade education were permitted to vote, they would vote for him. His assertion is purely speculative, and “[i]t is well settled that resolution of constitutional issues should not be undertaken on the basis of speculation.” Walgren v. Bd. of Selectmen of Town of Amherst, Mass., 373 F.Supp. 624, 635 (D. Mass. 1974), aff'd sub nom. Walgren v. Bd. of Selectmen of Town of Amherst, 519 F.2d 1364 (1st Cir. 1975) (citing O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488 (1974); see also Walgren at 625, 637 (questioning whether a candidate for elected office, “a colorful and self-described radical [who] anticipated wide student support in the election, ” “could establish the bona fide injury in fact which is necessary to raise the rights of the students” in accordance with United States Supreme Court precedent). Mr. La Rose's confidence that he could secure the vote of twelve to eighteen year-olds is not sufficient to demonstrate that he has been, or will be, injured by their inability to register to vote.

         Because Mr. La Rose has not satisfied the injury requirement, I do not address the second and third elements for either individual or third-party standing. As explained below, however, even if Mr. La Rose could satisfy all of the requirements for individual or third-party standing, his claims fail on the merits.

         B. Failure to State a Claim

         Section 701 of the Pennsylvania Election Code Act provides in pertinent part that “[e]very citizen of this Commonwealth eighteen years of age, possessing the [required] qualifications, shall be entitled to vote at all elections.” 25 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 2811. The age requirement for voting in Pennsylvania is also codified by statute, which provides that “[a]n individual who will be at least 18 years of age on the day of the next election . . . shall be eligible to register” to vote as further provided by the statute. 25 Pa. C.S. § ...


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