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Emrit v. Lawson

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

October 19, 2017

CONNIE LAWSON Secretary of State of Indiana & Democratic Party of Indiana, Defendant.


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         I. In Forma Pauperis

         The plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, dkt. [2], is granted. Notwithstanding this ruling, the plaintiff still owes the $350.00 filing fee. “All [28 U.S.C.] § 1915 has ever done is excuse pre-payment of the docket fees; a litigant remains liable for them, and for other costs, although poverty may make collection impossible.” Abdul-Wadood v. Nathan, 91 F.3d 1023, 1025 (7th Cir. 1996).

         II. Screening of Complaint

         Plaintiff Ronald Satish Emrit brings this action against Connie Lawson, the Secretary of State of Indiana, and the Democratic Party of Indiana. He alleges that his constitutional rights were denied when the defendants refused to place him on the ballot for the primary and general presidential election in 2016. He alleges that the claim is not moot because he has decided to run again for President of the United States in 2020 as a Democratic candidate. He brings an equal protection and substantive due process claim under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and alleges that the defendants violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause inherent from Article IV, Section 2, Clause I, of the United States Constitution (Comity Clause). He also alleges state law claims of negligence and breach of contract.

         The complaint is subject to the screening requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). This statute directs the Court to dismiss a complaint or claim within a complaint if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim for relief, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         Mr. Emrit alleges that he is an indigent, disabled, over 35 years of age, African-American resident of Nevada (although his current mailing address is in Florida). He brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Dkt. 1, p. 15. He also alleges diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         Mr. Emrit alleges that he “was told by several secretaries of state that in order to get placed on the ballot in the primary or general election, he would have had to get a minimum number of petitions signed from the constituents of each jurisdiction in which he wanted to run for president in the general election (as an independent candidate).” Dkt. 1, p. 4, ¶ 18. He allegedly obtained a candidate ID number and registered with the Federal Election Commission. He was represented by a Political Acton Committee but not by any “Super PAC.” He received no donations from any person or entity. He seeks 45 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief in the form of ordering the defendants to place him on the ballot for the primary and general election in Indiana in 2020.

         The claim for damages against Connie Lawson in her official capacity as Secretary of State of Indiana is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because official capacity claims against state employees “are treated as suits against the states themselves, ” Vinning-El v. Evans, 657 F.3d 591, 592 (7th Cir. 2011), and such claims for money damages are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d 709, 716 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Indiana law, Ind. Code § 3-8-3-1, requires a candidate of a major political party for nomination for the office of President of the United States to file a declaration of candidacy with the election division or secretary of state, along with a petition signed by at least 4, 500 voters of the state, meeting certain specifications. Ind. Code § 3-8-3-2. Every state has these types of ballot access laws.

         Mr. Emrit alleges that there is no compelling government objective in requiring him to obtain a minimum number of signatures to be placed on the ballot for this state and that, therefore, his equal protection rights have been violated by that requirement. Mr. Emrit's claim in this regard fails. Mr. Emrit does not challenge the number of petitions or any other specific requirement other than he apparently disagrees with having to submit any petitions because he believes there is no good reason for the requirement. To the contrary, “the Constitution … confers upon the states broad authority to regulate the conduct of elections.” Tripp v. Scholz, No. 16-3469, 2017 WL 4456913, *4 (7th Cir. Oct. 6, 2017) (internal quotation omitted). “It is well-settled that [t]he impact of candidate eligibility requirements on voters implicates basic constitutional rights to associate politically with like-minded voters and to cast a meaningful vote.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). “Such rights, however, are not absolute.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). “The Supreme Court has further opined that, in addition to constitutional law, ‘[c]ommon sense…compels the conclusion that government must play an active role in structuring elections.'” Id. (quoting Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 433 (1992)). “‘[A]s a practical matter, there must be a substantial regulation of elections if they are to be fair and honest and if some sort of order, rather than chaos, is to accompany the democratic processes.”” Id. (quoting Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730 (1974)).

         “‘[N]ot all restrictions … on candidates' eligibility for the ballot impose constitutionally-suspect burdens.” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 788 (1983)). “‘[T]he mere fact that a State's system ‘creates barriers … tending to limit the field of candidates from which voters might choose…does not of itself compel close scrutiny.'” Id. (quoting Burdick, 504 U.S. at 433). “There is no litmus test for measuring the severity of a burden that a state law imposes.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). Any burden “must be justified by relevant and legitimate state interests sufficiently weighty to justify the limitation.” Id. (internal quotation omitted).

         Mr. Emrit's allegation that there is no compelling governmental justification for the requirement that prospective candidates must file a certain number of petitions signed by voters of the state along with a declaration of candidacy is frivolous. As noted by the Supreme Court, it is not only constitutional but it makes common sense that the government must put in place a structure for elections. The Supreme Court has upheld challenges to signature requirements, even those equaling 5% of the eligible voting base. See Am. Party of Tex. v. White, 415 U.S. 767, 789 (1974) (“Demanding signatures equal in number of 3% or 5% of the vote in the last election is not invalid on its face…”); Jennness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431, 438 (1971) (“[W]e cannot say that Georgia's 5% petition requirement violates the Constitution.”). Mr. Emrit's constitutional claims are dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Mr. Emrit's Title VII claim, as described on page 11 of his complaint, invokes antidiscrimination provisions based on employment. Mr. Emrit is not employed by anyone, much less by the State ...

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