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Scott v. Schedler

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

November 5, 2014

LUTHER SCOTT, JR., for himself and all other persons similarly situated; LOUISIANA STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NAACP, for themselves and all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
TOM SCHEDLER, in his official capacity as the Louisiana Secretary of State, Defendant - Appellant

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

For LUTHER SCOTT, JR., for himself and all other persons similarly situated, LOUISIANA STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NAACP, for themselves and all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs - Appellees: Ryan Paul Haygood, Leah Camille Aden, Esq., Natasha M. Korgaonkar, Esq., Naacp, Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., New York, NY; Sarah E. Brannon, Project Vote, Washington, DC; Israel David, Jesse Ryan Loffler, Michael Birney de Leeuw, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, L.L.P., New York, NY; Ronald Lawrence Wilson, New Orleans, LA.

For TOM SCHEDLER, in his official capacity as the Louisiana Secretary of State, Defendant - Appellant: Celia Rhea Cangelosi, Baton Rouge, LA; Carey Thompson Jones, Esq., Denham Springs, LA.

For Demos, Amicus Curiae: Lisa Joy Danetz, Senior Counsel, Demos, Brighton, MA.

For United States of America, Amicus Curiae: April J. Anderson, Esq., U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Div - Appellate Section, Washington, DC.

Before STEWART, Chief Judge, and JOLLY and SMITH, Circuit Judges. STEWART, Chief Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

Page 832

E. GRADY JOLLY, Circuit Judge:

Luther Scott, Jr. and the Louisiana NAACP both sought to enjoin two state agencies and the Louisiana Secretary of State to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. Scott alleges he was not

Page 833

provided with a voter registration form when applying for food stamps, and the Louisiana NAACP alleges it had to divert resources to voter registration drives as a result of Louisiana's purported non-compliance. The district court enjoined all three defendants. The state agencies do not appeal. Thus the only question for us is the validity of the injunction against the Secretary of State.

Although the National Voter Registration Act is complex, today we are primarily concerned with the Secretary of State's challenge to the extent of its requirement that state welfare agencies provide benefits applicants with voter registration forms. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief to (1) ensure the agencies provided voter registration forms to applicants transacting remotely over the internet, phone, or mail; (2) ensure the agencies provided voter registration forms to applicants checking neither box on the declination form; and (3) ensure the agencies complied with other miscellaneous provisions of the Act. The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on all three sets of claims, issuing a broad injunction. The Secretary of State alone now appeals, asserting that he had no authority to enforce the Act. He also disputes the extent of the Act's obligations. Furthermore, he contends that neither Scott nor the Louisiana NAACP has satisfied Article III standing or the Act's notice requirement.

We dismiss Scott's claims on standing and notice grounds. We do, however, reach the merits of the case regarding the relief separately requested by the Louisiana NAACP. Accordingly, we vacate, in part, the injunction regarding the Secretary of State. The plain meaning of the declination form obliges us to vacate in part the relief that the district court granted to the Louisiana NAACP. But in affirming the injunction in part, we hold that the Act gives the Secretary of State enforcement authority, and that consequently he has an obligation to require the two state agencies to comply with the other miscellaneous portions of the Act.

I.

This appeal involves questions of fact and law, so we begin by setting out the facts in some detail. Plaintiff Luther Scott, Jr. visited an office of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (" DCFS" ) to apply for food stamps in September 2009 and again in December 2009. On both of these visits, Scott was handed a declination form reading, " If you are not registered to vote where you live now, would you like to apply to register to vote here today?" The form contained a yes box and a no box which the applicant could check. The form further stated, " IF YOU DO NOT CHECK EITHER BOX, YOU WILL BE CONSIDERED TO HAVE DECIDED NOT TO REGISTER TO VOTE AT THIS TIME." On both occasions, Scott did not check either box and consequently did not receive a voter registration form. He signed his name on the declination form in September 2009 but left the December 2009 declination form completely blank.

Scott also visited the DCFS office to modify his address on November 15, 2010. During that visit, he was given neither a declination nor a voter registration form.[1]

Unbeknownst to Scott, he had in fact been registered to vote since June 10, 2008. But Scott was intermittently homeless during this time. Scott testified that because he never received word that he

Page 834

had been registered, he was unaware that he could vote.

In addition to Scott, the other plaintiff here is the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP (" the NAACP" ). The NAACP's head of voter registration efforts is Edward Taylor. Taylor testified that on about six different occasions, he conducted voter registration drives outside benefits offices in Louisiana. Taylor conducted these drives by himself.

On January 12, 2011, the NAACP sent a letter to Tom Schedler, Louisiana's Secretary of State and chief elections official, stating that it believed the State was not in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (" NVRA" ).[2] The letter did not mention Scott, the NAACP's eventual coplaintiff.

On April 19, 2011, the NAACP and Scott filed a complaint against the following state officials in their official capacities: Schedler, Ruth Johnson, who was the Secretary of the DCFS, and Bruce Greenstein, who was the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (" the DHH" ).[3] The complaint alleged systematic and ongoing violations of several provisions of Section 7[4] of the NVRA. The defendants' answers denied most of the complaint's factual allegations.

The defendants eventually moved for partial summary judgment, requesting the court to rule that the NVRA did not apply to remote transactions, i.e., transactions conducted over the internet, phone, or mail. The plaintiffs filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the same issue.

The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and partial summary judgment in favor of the defendants. It held that voter registration agencies must provide the services listed in Section 7(a)(6) to applicants transacting remotely, but had the discretion to provide the services listed in Section 7(a)(4) to in-person applicants only. Section 7(a)(6), relating to the voter registration and declination forms, is central to this case on appeal.

Four main issues remained for trial: (1) whether the plaintiffs had satisfied the NVRA notice and Article III standing requirements; (2) whether the defendants were required to provide voter registration forms to applicants checking neither box on the declination form; (3) whether the defendants had violated parts of Sections 7(a)(4) and 7(a)(6) in sundry other ways; and (4) whether the Secretary of State had the authority to enforce the NVRA.[5]

After a bench trial, the district court ruled that Scott and the NAACP had Article III standing and that the NVRA's notice requirement did not bar either plaintiff from bringing suit. On the merits, the district court also found that although the defendants had " already implemented new forms, policies, and procedures with regard to both in-person and remote transactions," each defendant had violated the NVRA in three distinct ways.[6] First, the defendants had failed to ensure that voter registration agencies provided voter registration

Page 835

forms to applicants who left both boxes unchecked on the declination form. Second, the defendants had failed to ensure that applicants applying for benefits remotely received voter registration forms. Third, the defendants had also violated Sections 7(a)(4) and 7(a)(6) in various additional ways.[7] The Secretary of State was liable along with the state agency officials because he had the authority to enforce the NVRA. The district court awarded a broad injunction requiring the defendants to comply with the NVRA.

Schedler, the Louisiana Secretary of State, alone now appeals. He argues that (1) neither plaintiff complied with the NVRA's notice requirement; (2) neither plaintiff has Article III standing, in part because Schedler lacks enforcement powers; (3) Section 7(a)(6) does not apply to remote transactions; (4) Section 7(a)(6) does not mandate ...


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