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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Phillips County Election Commission of Phillips County

January 18, 2006

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, PHILLIPS COUNTY BRANCH, PHILLIPS COUNTY, ARKANSAS; ELECTED MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF WEST HELENA, NATHAN ASHWOOD, CLARENCE RICHARDSON, EDDIE LEE AND CALVIN HOLDEN PLAINTIFFS
v.
PHILLIPS COUNTY ELECTION COMMISSION OF PHILLIPS COUNTY, ARKANSAS AND THE COUNTY OF PHILLIPS, STATE OF ARKANSAS DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James M. Moody United States District Judge

ORDER

Pending before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to name indispensable parties. For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.

The Phillips County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and four members*fn1 of the West Helena City Council bring this lawsuit pursuant to the 42 U.S.C. § 1971 ("Voting Rights Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 1983. The plaintiffs are challenging the (1) constitutionality of Arkansas Code Annotated § 14-40-1201, et seq. which allows for the consolidation of cities, or incorporated towns, and (2) new redistricting maps for the Helena-West Helena voting districts.*fn2 Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that Arkansas Code Annotated § 14-40-1201, et seq. and the redistricting maps for Helena-West Helena are in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that the plaintiff city council members have a federal and state right to serve out their elected terms.

Defendants are the Phillips County Election Commission which is charged with the elections associated with the consolidation of Helena and West Helena, and Phillips County which is a subdivision of the State of Arkansas.

Defendants contend that (1) all the candidates for the city council of Helena-West Helena are indispensable parties because they have a property interest in serving their elected terms; (2) the City of West Helena is an indispensable party because it has an interest in the election; (3) the executive branch of the State of Arkansas is an indispensable party because it has the obligation to defend the challenged statute*fn3 ; and (4) numerous persons involved in litigation in two related state-court actions involving the consolidation of Helena and West Helena are indispensable parties because they are proponents of consolidation. In support of its argument, defendants contend that plaintiffs have not named any person or entity that has a stake in the outcome of the litigation. Defendants specifically argue that the Phillips County Election Commission has no stake in the outcome of the lawsuit because its duties are ministerial in nature.

Plaintiffs contend that the pending motion is moot because (1) Helena and West Helena have consolidated; (2) the Helena-West Helena City Council election have been held; and (3) defendants waived the issue of indispensable parties when they participated in the hearing on the motion for injunctive relief without raising the issue.

The Court finds that the pending motion is not moot. If the Court were to ultimately rule in favor of plaintiffs on the issues of the constitutionality of the challenged statutes, it could result in the Court setting aside the consolidation of Helena and West Helena, and the November 8, 2005 election results. In addition, the failure to join a party indispensable under Rule 19 can be raised anytime up to the trial on the merits of a case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(2).

"Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19, a nonparty is indispensable to an action if (1) the nonparty is necessary; (2) the nonparty cannot be joined; and (3) the action cannot continue in equity and good conscience without the nonparty." United States ex rel. Steele v. Turn Key Gaming, Inc., 135 F.3d 1249, 1251 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Pembina Treaty Comm. v. Lujan, 980 F.2d 543, 544-45 (8th Cir. 1992)); Fed.R.Civ.P. 19.

A party is necessary if

(1) in the person's absence complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties, or (2) the person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in the person's absence may (i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect that interest or (ii) leave any of the persons already parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations by reason of the claimed interest.

Dominium Austin Partners, L.L.C. v. Emerson, 248 F.3d 720 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)).

A party cannot be joined for various reasons such as venue, jurisdiction, or immunity. Ranger Transp., Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, 903 F.2d 1185 (8th Cir. 1990) (venue and jurisdiction); United States ex rel. Steele v. Turn Key Gaming, Inc., 135 F.3d at 1251 (immunity).

The Court must consider whether the action cannot continue in equity and good conscience without the nonparty by considering:

[F]irst, to what extent a judgment rendered in the person's absence might be prejudicial to the person or those already parties; second, the extent to which, by protective provisions in the judgment, by the shaping of relief, or other measures, the prejudice can be lessened or avoided; third, whether a judgment rendered in the person's absence will be adequate; fourth, ...


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