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Common Cause Indiana, National Association v. Marion County Election Board

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

February 5, 2019

COMMON CAUSE INDIANA, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE by its Greater Indianapolis Branch 3053 and on behalf of its individual members, DORIS A MCDOUGAL, JOHN WINDLE, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARION COUNTY ELECTION BOARD, MYRA A ELDRIDGE in her official capacity as a member of the Marion County Election Board, BRYCE CARPENTER in his official capacity as a member of the Marion County Election Board, MICHAEL SOLARI in his official capacities as members of the Marion County Election Board, Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR INDICATIVE RULING ON MOTION TO VACATE CONSENT DECREE FOR MOOTNESS (DKT. 106)

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         We currently lack jurisdiction, Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982), over this voting rights case in view of the State of Indiana's pending appeal, taken as intervenor-defendant, Dkt. 96, from our approval and entry of a final judgment by consent. Dkt. 94. The original parties now seek an indicative ruling that we would vacate the consent decree and dismiss the case upon proper motion because the case is now moot. Dkt. 106. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 62.1. The motion for an indicative ruling is granted. For the reasons given below, we would deny a motion to vacate for mootness.

         Background

          On April 25, 2018, we entered a preliminary injunction requiring Defendants to establish two satellite voting locations for early in-person voting in Marion County, Indiana, see Ind. Code §§ 3-11-10-26(a)(2), 26.3(a), for use in the November 2018 general election, Dkt. 77, for reasons we explained at length. Dkt. 76 (reported at Common Cause Ind. v. Marion Cty. Election Bd., 311 F.Supp.3d 949 (S.D. Ind. 2018)). As relevant here, we concluded that Plaintiffs had shown a fair likelihood of success on their claim that Defendants had impermissibly burdened the voting rights of Marion County voters-based solely on partisan considerations and without any justifying legitimate interest-by restricting the availability of early in-person voting to one location in Marion County. 311 F.Supp.3d at 975. On July 10, 2018, we granted the parties' joint motion to approve a tendered consent decree requiring Defendants to maintain two satellite voting locations in Marion County for each primary election and five for each general election. Dkt. 86. We entered the consent decree as our final judgment in the case on August 9, 2018. Dkt. 94.

         On December 3, 2018, the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council, Marion County's legislative body, adopted Defendants' plan designating Marion County a “vote center county.” See Ind. Code § 3-11-18.1-13; Dkt. 106 Ex. C, at 2. That plan provides in part that Defendants will maintain two satellite voting locations for each primary election and six for each general election. Dkt. 106 Ex. B, at 14. It can be amended only by Defendants' unanimous vote. Ind. Code § 3-11-18.1-15(b)(1).

         The original parties now contend that these developments have mooted the case. They seek an indicative ruling to that effect. Dkt. 106.

         Analysis

          Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 62.1 provides,

If a timely motion is made for relief that the court lacks authority to grant because of an appeal that has been docketed and is pending, the court may[] defer considering the motion; deny the motion; or state either that it would grant the motion if the court of appeals remands for that purpose or that the motion raises a substantial issue.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 62.1(a) (internal subdivisions omitted). Though the rule does not expressly authorize them, courts generally entertain motions under the rule which do not actually seek relief but instead request an indicative ruling in terms. In such cases,

[t]he . . . procedure has . . . four steps. First, the appealing parties must be motivated by some concern or issue and specifically ask for an indicative ruling. Second, the District Court is then obliged to indicate its view of the request. If the request is denied, that ends the inquiry. If the District Court is inclined to grant the request for an indicative ruling, the third step is to tell the parties and the Circuit Court of its intent. Finally, it is up to the Circuit Court to decide whether it will send the case back to the District Court and empower the lower court to rule.

Defenders of Wildlife v. Salazar, 776 F.Supp.2d 1178, 1182 (D. Mont. 2011).

         To facilitate the appellate litigation, we grant the parties' request for an indicative ruling. We consider therefore whether we would grant a motion properly brought for relief from judgment under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) (permitting vacatur for “any other reason that justifies relief” in addition to those spelled out in rule) and 12(h)(3) (requiring dismissal of action if court “at any time” determines it lacks jurisdiction) for the reasons given by the parties. We conclude we would not.

         Article III of the Constitution extends federal jurisdiction only to live cases and controversies. Ciarpaglini v. Norwood, 817 F.3d 541, 544 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, 577 U.S.-, 136 S.Ct. 663, 669 (2016)). A once-live case that has ...


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