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Winstead v. Stodola

September 13, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wm. R. Wilson, Jr. United States District Judge


This case was dismissed without prejudice because Plaintiffs did not file a brief in accordance with instructions given at the end of the August 13, 2007 hearing.*fn1 Plaintiffs ask for reconsideration of the dismissal, and have belatedly filed the requested brief.

Pending are Plaintiffs' Motion to Set Aside Order (Doc. No. 33), Motion to Correct the Clerk's Minutes (Doc. No. 34), Motion for Order to Accept (Doc. No. 35), and Motion to Disqualify Tom Carpenter (Doc. No. 38). Defendants responded to these Motions.*fn2 Plaintiffs also filed an Amended Complaint.*fn3

I. Background

Plaintiffs bring this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1973,*fn4 challenging Ordinance Number 19,761*fn5 that increases the Little Rock, Arkansas Mayor's power. Plaintiffs allege that the ordinance dilutes the power of minority voters and violates the First, Fourth, Fifth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, and the Voting Rights Act.

Plaintiffs' Complaint, Amended Complaint and other pleadings allege that an increase in the Mayor's power dilutes the voice of minority voters, because the Mayor is elected by majority vote in a city that has a majority of white voters.

Plaintiffs' Complaint*fn6 asked that the election to approve this ordinance be enjoined. A hearing was held on August 13, 2007, and Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied, but a hearing on the merits of Plaintiffs' allegations was scheduled for September 26, 2007. In the meantime, the parties were asked to submit briefs and to address specific issues. At the August 13, 2007 hearing, Plaintiffs' counsel were advised to read Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife,*fn7 a Supreme Court decision that outlines the factors that establish standing.

As noted earlier, Plaintiffs did not file their briefs at the appointed time, so their complaint was dismissed without prejudice.*fn8 In the brief filed after this case was dismissed, Plaintiffs assert, without citation of authority, that they have standing to challenge the legality of Ordinance 19,761.*fn9 I disagree.

II. Standing

The question of standing is not subject to waiver, and I am required to address the issue even if parties do not raise it. Federal courts are under an obligation to examine their own jurisdiction, and standing is the most important component of jurisdiction.*fn10

In Lujan, the Supreme Court held that standing includes three elements: First, the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact -- an invasion of a legally protected interest that is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of. . . . Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.*fn11

The Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to recognize generalized grievances against alleged illegal government conduct as sufficient to establish federal jurisdiction.*fn12 The burden of proof is on the party who is invoking jurisdiction.*fn13 Therefore, Plaintiffs are required to allege facts demonstrating that they are the proper party to request judicial resolution of the dispute.*fn14

The rule against generalized grievances has been consistently applied to constitutional and voting rights claims such as this one. For example, the Supreme Court denied standing to voters who did not live in racially gerrymandered voting districts,*fn15 but held that, if a plaintiff resides in a racially gerrymandered district, he or she has standing to challenge the government's action.*fn16 In Hays, the Supreme Court explained that: voters in such districts may suffer the special representational harms racial classifications can cause in the voting context. On the other hand, where a plaintiff does not live in such a district, he or she does not suffer those special harms, and any inference that the plaintiff has personally been subjected to a racial classification would not be justified absent specific evidence tending to support that inference.

Unless such evidence is present, that plaintiff would be asserting only a generalized grievance against governmental conduct of ...

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