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SMITH v. CITY OF PINE BLUFF

May 22, 1986

ROBERT J. SMITH, et al, PLAINTIFFS
v.
CITY OF PINE BLUFF, et al DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WOODS

 Preliminary Statement

 This suit was filed on September 14, 1983 by a number of black citizens of Pine Bluff, Arkansas for declaratory and injunctive relief against at-large voting for members of the Pine Bluff City Council. The statutory and constitutional bases were stated to be the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973, and Amendments Fourteen and Fifteen of the United States Constitution.

 The complaint alleges that according to the 1980 census, the population of the City of Pine Bluff is 50.36% white and 49.63% black and the voting population is 55.2% white and 44.7% black; that Pine Bluff has a long history of discrimination; and that voting is racially polarized. The at-large voting system, according to the complaint, denies plaintiffs "an opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice." An injunction has been prayed against at-large elections, and declaratory relief has been sought under the above-noted statute and constitutional provisions.

 In the answer filed October 4, 1983, the defendants pleaded res judicata inasmuch as the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Dove v. Moore, 539 F.2d 1152 (8th Cir. 1976) had affirmed a holding by U. S. District Judge Oren Harris that at-large elections in Pine Bluff were not violative of any of the statutes or constitutional provisions relied on by plaintiffs. On the basis of this decision, defendants moved for summary judgment on November 21, 1983. After plaintiffs were granted additional time to respond, on February 8, 1984, I denied the motion on the ground that recent legislative and judicial developments might presage a different result from that reached in Dove v. Moore, supra. However, the suit was not maintained as a class action because no motion for class certification was filed within 90 days after filing the complaint as required by the local rules. In the November, 1984 election an initiated act was placed on the ballot which called for the election of aldermen by wards in the City of Pine Bluff. The vote was 5594 to 4352 in favor of the proposal. On February 25, 1985 defendants moved to dismiss the complaint as moot.

 On April 24, 1985 plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint which restated the allegations in the original complaint and included a paragraph concerning the adoption of the initiated act.

 On June 3, 1985 another supplemental complaint was filed which contained the additional allegation that "on information and belief" the City Council is considering a redistricting plan that fails to give consideration to the rights of the black population. This complaint was answered on June 12, 1985 by defendants, who again raised the mootness issue. Defendants pointed out that no redistricting plan had been promulgated and any allegations as to its provisions would be purely speculative.

 I found that the matter had become moot with the abrogation of at-large voting which was the thrust of the litigation and on December 5, 1985 granted the motion to dismiss. Since no redistricting plan had yet been adopted, I felt that the allegations in the supplemental complaint were purely speculative. By way of relief, plaintiffs had requested that the Court fashion a redistricting plan and order it into effect to avoid any potentially unfavorable plan that the Council might develop. Such an approach, in my opinion, would be highly undesirable and not in accord with existing legal precedents. It was my feeling that when the Council developed a plan, new litigation could be instituted if it did not meet statutory and constitutional standards. I did not feel free to speculate about the content of such a plan. On January 15, 1986 plaintiffs noticed an appeal to the Court of Appeals from my order of dismissal. On January 20, 1986 the Council adopted a redistricting plan. On April 11, 1986 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered this court to reinstate the plaintiffs' cause of action to permit an amendment to the complaint and to hold a hearing as to whether the May 27, 1986 election should be enjoined. The amended complaint filed May 9, 1986 alleges that the Council's redistricting plan was adopted to dilute minority voting strength. The plaintiffs pray that the May 27, 1986 primary be enjoined and that another election be held "pursuant to a fairly drawn, single member district plan." The hearing ordered by the Court of Appeals was held on May 13, 1986 and after hearing the testimony and considering the briefs filed herein, I make the following findings of facts and reach the following conclusions of law.

 Findings of Fact

 2. The City of Pine Bluff is governed by a mayor and an eight (8) member council. Until the passage of an initiated act in the 1984 election, the city was divided into four (4) wards. The ward lines had not been changed since 1920. Voting for members was at-large, although an alderman had to run from the ward wherein he resided. Two aldermen were elected from each of the four wards.

 3. A majority vote is required to win in the primary and general election. (Answer, para. 27).

 4. On August 5, 1985 the Council met and specifically addressed the problem of redistricting. Chester Hynes, a black member of the Council, was designated Chairman of the Committee of the Whole to receive input from the public and to hold public hearings on proposals.

 5. The Council adopted four criteria for the plan: (1) substantially equal population in the wards; (2) no splitting of precincts; (3) no dilution of the voting strength of minorities; and ...


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