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Scott v. Garlock

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

July 31, 2019

OLLIE SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
WAYNE GARLOCK, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are the Motion to Dismiss filed by the Alabama Attorney General, Alabama Secretary of State, and Butler County Circuit Clerk (“State Defendants”) (Doc. 13); Motion to Dismiss filed by the Butler County Sheriff, Butler County Coroner, Butler County Probate Judge, and Butler County Sheriff (“County Defendants”) (Doc. 15); and Motion to Dismiss filed by the United States Attorney General and United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama (“Federal Defendants”) (Doc. 34). Plaintiff has responded to all motions (Docs. 31 and 37), and the County Defendants filed a reply (Doc. 33). This case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 for further proceedings and determination or recommendation as may be appropriate. Doc. 3.

         Upon consideration of the above pending motions and for good cause shown, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that this case be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Plaintiff's candidacy for the position of coroner in Butler County, Alabama. Doc. 1 at 1. Plaintiff and Defendant Wayne Garlock were opponents in the March 2018 Democratic primary election. Doc. 13 at 2. Scott won the primary election, but Garlock ran against Plaintiff as a write-in candidate in the general election. Id. at 2. In the general election, Garlock received 3, 746 votes and Scott received 3, 488 votes. Id. at 2- 3.

         Plaintiff claims he was elected as coroner because he received 3, 488 votes in addition to another 2, 335 Alabama Democratic Party straight-party votes. Doc. 1 at 1. According to Defendants, however, as with the all the other races, a party's straight-ticket votes are included in each candidate's total number of votes. Doc. 13 at 3. Plaintiff does not allege and there are no records showing that he requested a recount within forty-eight hours of the election results pursuant to Ala. Code § 17-16-21 or that he filed an election contest under Ala. Code § 17-16-40, et seq., within twenty days of the announcement of election results. Id. at 3.

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff claims the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the Alabama Attorney General, and the Alabama Secretary of State knew or should have known that he won the election.[1] Id. He claims the following offenses against him without identifying which Defendant allegedly committed the offense: failure to acknowledge that he is the elected coroner of Butler County; failure to award him official access to the legal and lawful rights and privileges due to be bestowed upon him; and failure and refusal to inform the public and government officials that the 2, 335 straight party votes plus the other 3, 488 votes would be “more than enough [for him] to declare victory.” Doc. 1-1. He further claims that the Federal Defendants failed to protect his “politically elected status rights.” Id. Finally, he claims that the State and Federal Defendants failed to monitor and “act in the motion of justice, ” thereby causing others to violate his rights. Id. He purports to bring this lawsuit pursuant to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Federal Common Human Rights, the U.S. Public Accommodation Rights, and U.S. Equal Protection Rights and Due Process. He also purports to bring state law claims under Alabama Common Human Rights and Alabama Equal Access Rights and Equal Protection Rights.[2] Id.

         II. DEFENDANTS' ARGUMENTS

         The County Defendants argue that the doctrines of federalism and comity prevent this Court from having jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims and that federal jurisdiction over election cases is limited to cases falling under 28 U.S.C. § 1344 (denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude) or cases sufficient to state a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Doc. 16 at 3. They further argue that Plaintiff has failed to state claims under any Alabama law. Id. at 6-7. Finally, they argue that Defendant Garlock is entitled to qualified immunity.

         The State Defendants argue that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this lawsuit - and therefore this court does not have jurisdiction - because none of the Defendants have the ability to remove a certified election winner and replace him with a candidate who was not certified as the winner. Doc. 13 at 4. They further argue, to the extent Plaintiff seeks an injunction requiring the Attorney General and Secretary of State to follow state law, that the claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and federal courts lack jurisdiction to compel state officials to follow state law. Id. Finally, they assert that no federal cause of action exists for a state election contest.

         The Federal Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not shown a waiver of sovereign immunity, which prevents this Court from having jurisdiction. Doc. 35 at 2. They further argue that, even construing Plaintiff's Complaint broadly, Plaintiff cannot proceed under a Bivens claim, a Writ of Mandamus, or the Administrative Procedures Act. Id. at 3-5. Finally, even if Plaintiff could establish jurisdiction and a waiver of sovereign immunity, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The allegations against the Federal Defendants are limited to a few conclusory and vague lines that they failed to protect his voting rights and allowed others to violate them, and Plaintiff cannot obtain his requested relief - an order directing the Federal Defendants to conduct a review and investigation of the election - under any possible theory. Id. at 6-7.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When ruling on a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “the Court accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Speaker v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs. Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371, 1379 (11th Cir. 2010). In order to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must satisfy the pleading standard of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Rule 8 requires that a plaintiff submit a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In general, then, a pleading is insufficient if it offers only mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. See also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (a complaint does not suffice under Rule 8(a) “if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'”). Thus, in order to survive Defendants' motions to dismiss, Plaintiff's Complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief which is plausible on its face.'” Urquilla-Diaz v. Kaplan Univ., 780 F.3d 1039, 1051 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “A claim is factually plausible where the facts alleged permit the court to reasonably infer that the defendant's alleged misconduct was unlawful. Factual allegations that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, however, are not facially plausible.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. If there are “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” that supports the claims alleged in the complaint, then the claim is “plausible” and the motion to dismiss should be denied and discovery in support of the claims should commence. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. But, “Rule 8 . . . does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. Ultimately, in assessing the plausibility of a plaintiff's claims, the court is to avoid conflating the sufficiency analysis with a premature assessment of a plaintiff's likelihood of success because a well-pleaded claim shall ...


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