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Isabel v. Reagan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 1, 2019

David Isabel, Plaintiff,
v.
Michele Reagan, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          DOMINIC W. LANZA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss Plaintiff David Isabel's first amended complaint (“FAC”). (Doc. 61.) The motion was filed by Defendant Michele Reagan and joined by Defendants Maricopa County and Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted and this action will be terminated.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 9, 2018, Isabel filed the initial complaint in this case. (Doc. 1.) It alleged that Arizona's Secretary of State in 2016, Michele Reagan (“the Secretary”), established Monday, October 10, 2016 as the voter registration deadline for the 2016 general election (“the 2016 Election”). (Id. ¶ 19.) October 10 was also Columbus Day, a state and federal holiday, and therefore certain methods of registration weren't available on that day. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17.)

         Isabel registered to vote on October 11, 2016. (Id. ¶ 24.) Because this was one day after the voter registration deadline that had been set by the Secretary, Isabel was only permitted to cast a provisional ballot during the 2016 Election. (Id. ¶ 35.) Officials in the Maricopa County Recorder's Office ultimately determined that Isabel wasn't an eligible voter, due to his failure to register by the October 10 deadline, and thus didn't count his vote. (Id. ¶¶ 36-38.)

         In the complaint, which Isabel filed on behalf of a class of similarly-situated individuals, Isabel alleged that Defendants violated two federal statutes-(1) the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”), 52 U.S.C. § 20501 et seq., and (2) the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (“HAVA”), 52 U.S.C. § 21081 et seq.-as well as Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution (“the Qualifications Clause”). (Id. ¶¶ 53-71.) All three claims were asserted via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 11-15.) As a remedy, Isabel sought “compensatory and punitive damages, ” among other things. (Id. at 15.)

         On June 7, 2019, the Court dismissed all three claims without prejudice.[1] (Doc. 54.) First, the Court dismissed the NVRA claim because the NVRA contains its own remedial scheme, which (unlike § 1983) authorizes only declaratory and injunctive relief, and Congress intended those limited remedies to be exclusive. (Id. at 9-14.) Second, the Court dismissed the HAVA claim because that statute only creates a federal right to cast a provisional ballot and to have the ballot be counted “if the appropriate election official ‘determines' that the individual is eligible”-it doesn't go further and create a federal right to challenge the propriety of state-law eligibility determinations. (Id. at 15-18.) Third, the Court dismissed the Qualifications Clause claim because that provision prohibits states from establishing different qualifications for voting for state and federal offices (and Isabel's ballot was treated equally-that is, disregarded-for all of the contested races in the 2016 Election) and because Isabel hadn't, in any event, alleged facts showing that the registration deadline had disenfranchised him. (Id. at 18-22.)

         On June 27, 2019, Isabel filed the FAC. (Doc. 60.) The FAC does not contain any new factual allegations and does not assert any alternative theories concerning Count I of the original complaint (the NVRA-based § 1983 claim), but it does seek to refine Count II (the HAVA-based § 1983 claim) and Count III (the constitutionally-based § 1983 claim).[2]Specifically, with respect to Count II, the FAC alleges that section 304 of the “HAVA expressly precludes [voter registration] determinations based on ‘State requirements [that are] inconsistent with the [NVRA].'” (Doc. 60 ¶ 62.) The FAC thus asserts that, because the October 10 voter registration deadline was inconsistent with the NVRA, Defendants necessarily also violated the HAVA. (Id. ¶¶ 63, 64.) With respect to Count III, the FAC no longer relies solely on the Qualifications Clause and instead broadly invokes the Constitution as providing the foundation for the claim. (Id. ¶¶ 69-73.)[3]

         On July 5, 2019, the Secretary moved to dismiss the FAC. (Doc. 61.) On July 8, 2019, the County Defendants joined this motion. (Doc. 63.)

         On September 30, 2019, the Court issued a tentative ruling and authorized the parties to submit supplemental briefing. (Doc. 71.)

         On October 24, 2019, after the parties submitted their supplemental briefs (Docs. 73, 75, 76), the Court held oral argument. (Doc. 78.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a party must allege ‘sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” In re Fitness Holdings Int'l, Inc., 714 F.3d 1141, 1144 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “[A]ll well-pleaded allegations of material fact in the complaint are accepted as true and are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Id. at 1144-45 (citation omitted). However, the court need not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679-80. The court also may dismiss due to “a lack of a cognizable legal theory.” Mollett v. Netflix, Inc., 795 F.3d 1062, 1065 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         I. HAVA

         Isabel attempts to resuscitate his HAVA-based claim by arguing that (1) section 304 of that statute (which is codified at 52 U.S.C. § 21084) prohibits a state from making voter-eligibility determinations that are inconsistent with the NVRA, and (2) Defendants committed an NVRA violation here.

         This argument is unavailing. The starting point for the analysis is, of course, the statutory text. Section 304 of the HAVA, which is entitled “Minimum requirements, ” provides as follows:

The requirements established by this subchapter are minimum requirements and nothing in this subchapter shall be construed to prevent a State from establishing election technology and administration requirements that are more strict than the requirements established under this subchapter so long as such State requirements are not inconsistent with the Federal requirements under ...

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