and that they have expended both time and money in their election
efforts. Furthermore, the election commission has verified that
$12,000 of unrecoverable costs have been expended in placing the
election machinery in motion.
Based on this timetable and the facts surrounding it, the Court
concludes that the equitable doctrine of laches counsels against
issuance of the requested injunction.
III. Law and Analysis
Laches originated as an equitable counterpart to the legal
statute of limitations. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
v. Dresser Industries, Inc., 668 F.2d 1199, 1201 (11th Cir.
1982). The doctrine prevents the bringing of stale claims in
equity and the injustice which results from having to defend
against such claims. Id. Consequently, two elements comprise the
laches defense. The first is an inexcusable delay by the
plaintiff in asserting his rights. The second is a resulting
prejudice to the defendant. Lingenfelter v. Keystone Consolidated
Industries, Inc., 691 F.2d 339, 340 (7th Cir. 1982).
A. Inexcusable Delay
Two district courts in this circuit have recently applied the
defense of laches on facts closely resembling those in the case
at bar. In Knox v. Milwaukee Board of Election Commissioners,
581 F. Supp. 399 (E.D.Wis. 1984), a Wisconsin district court held that
an attempt to enjoin an upcoming primary was barred by laches
when the suit was filed only seven weeks prior to the election.
The plaintiffs in Knox had raised voting rights challenges
similar to those raised here.
In discussing the necessary elements of the laches defense,
Judge Warren found that whether or not the delay is excusable is
dependent upon "whether the party against whom the doctrine of
laches is being asserted had knowledge of the facts giving rise
to the cause of action." Id. at 402. Other factors include the
length of the delay and general conceptions of fairness. Id. at
403. In Knox, the facts indicated that plaintiffs had knowledge
of the alleged illegal voting plan for at least 22 months prior
to filing the suit. The request for relief, however, came only
seven weeks before the election. The Court held this delay
More importantly, Judge Mihm of this district court just last
month refused to enjoin Peoria elections in a voting rights case
which has followed almost exactly the same timetable as the
present controversy. Barnes v. City of Peoria, Memorandum Op.
87-1017 (C.D.Ill., Mar. 18, 1987). Plaintiffs in Barnes commenced
suit on January 30 of this year, while their counterparts in
Springfield instituted this action ten days earlier. The motions
for injunctive relief were then filed only one day apart — March
9 and 10 in Springfield and Peoria respectively. Both cities'
elections are set for April 7. Hence, this Court finds it well
within its discretion to hold the delay in this case inexcusable.
In the case at bar, Plaintiffs filed suit two and one-half
months prior to the election and did not seek an injunction until
three weeks prior to the election. Yet, facts giving rise to the
cause of action were known to Plaintiffs at the time they filed
the City of Springfield suit on April 2, 1985.
Although Plaintiffs represent that they wished to obtain an
adjudication on the merits in that suit prior to filing the park
district suit, this preferred litigation strategy does not excuse
the delay.*fn1 Even if some crucial variations between the city
suit and the park district action exist, the basic facts
surrounding this lawsuit were known or should have been known to
Plaintiffs at the time they filed the city suit two years ago.
Moreover, the period of time which elapsed between the filing
of the suit and the motion for a preliminary injunction also
constitutes inexcusable delay. Delay for laches purposes is not
so much a pure quantitative inquiry as it is a "question of
degree" — an inquiry into what amount of delay is reasonable
under the circumstances. Smith v. City of Chicago, 769 F.2d 408,
410 (7th Cir. 1985). Under the circumstances of this case,
Plaintiffs' failure to move for an injunction until three weeks
before the election is inexcusable delay.
In addition to Knox and Barnes, other authority supports the
denial of Plaintiffs' request to enjoin the elections. Dillard v.
Crenshaw, 640 F. Supp. 1347, 1362 (M.D. Ala. 1986) (despite
decision favoring plaintiffs on the merits, the court refused to
enjoin elections which were three months away); Simkins v.
Gressette, 631 F.2d 287, 295-96 (4th Cir. 1980)(refusal to
enjoin election when the suit was filed two days before filing
deadline for candidates and the preliminary hearing could not be
held until 5 1/2 weeks before the election); Maryland Citizens
for a Representative General Assembly v. Governor of Maryland,
429 F.2d 606 (4th Cir. 1970)(court refused to restrain election
when complaint was filed 13 weeks before filing deadline). Thus,
this Court's decision concerning inexcusable delay is well
grounded in law.
The second prong of the laches defense is undue prejudice
visited upon the Defendant. The Knox court summarized this
element as it applied to the facts of that case as follows:
First, [an injunction] would have a devastating
impact on the electoral process itself. As the court
has already observed nomination papers for all 25
supervisory districts have already been filed and the
campaign itself has been underway for nearly two
months. In this regard candidates' election reports
have been filed, campaign committees organized,
contributions solicited, and literature distributed.
In addition, the Milwaukee County Board of Election
Commissioners has itself prepared absentee ballots,
distributed informational publications and notices,
and undertaken to comply with the myriad of other
election requirements prescribed by state law. An
order enjoining the elections at this late date would
thus result in considerable prejudice to the
defendants, the candidates, and the electorate
Even more significantly, an injunction would, by
April of this year, render county government
impotent, as the terms of office of the present
supervisors expire and no elected officials replace
them. As defendants established at the hearing on
plaintiffs' motion, county government provides
important social services to thousands of residents
on a daily basis. Absent a legislative branch to
authorize the expenditure of funds to sustain these
services and to insure their efficient
administration, these individuals would not be
provided the assistance they need.
581 F. Supp. at 405.
The type of prejudice outlined above is substantially similar
to that which would be suffered by the Defendants in this case.
Defendants point out that in this election absentee voting has
already begun. In addition, affidavits confirm that each of the
candidates for trustee has raised money from the general public
and incurred campaign expenses, all prior to the filing of the
motion in issue. Finally, the assignment of ballot positions has
been made. All of these actions occurred before Plaintiffs filed
their request for preliminary relief. Thus, the same type of
prejudice that the Court found to exist in Knox exists here.
Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that the prospect of
enjoining upcoming elections is to be governed by general
equitable principles and that a Court may withhold immediate
Under certain circumstances, such as where an
impending election is imminent and the state's
election machinery is already in progress, equitable
considerations might justify a court in withholding
the granting of immediately effective relief in a
legislative apportionment case,
even though the existing apportionment scheme was
found invalid. In awarding or withholding immediate
relief, a court is entitled to and should consider
the proximity of a forthcoming election and the
mechanics and complexities of State elections law,
and should act and rely upon general equitable
principles. With respect to the timing of relief, a
court can reasonably endeavor to avoid a disruption
of the election process which might result from
requiring precipitous changes that could make
unreasonable or embarrassing demands on a state in
adjusting to the requirements of the court's decree.
Reynolds v. Sims,