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Snyder v. King

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 11, 2014

DAVID R. SNYDER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
J. BRADLEY KING, TRENT DECKARD, LINDA SILCOTT, AND PAM BRUNETTE, Defendants-Appellees

Argued September 30, 2013.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:10-cv-01019 -- William T. Lawrence, Judge.

For DAVID R. SNYDER, Plaintiff - Appellant: William R. Groth, Attorney, FILLENWARTH, DENNERLINE, GROTH & TOWE, LLP, Indianapolis, IN.

For J. BRADLEY KING, in their official capacities as Co-Directors of the Indiana Election Division, TRENT DECKARD, in their official capacities as Co-Director of the Indiana Election Division, Defendants - Appellees: Kristin Garn, Attorney, Elizabeth C. Rogers, Attorney, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Indianapolis, IN.

For LINDA SILCOTT, in her official capacity as a member of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Board, PAM BRUNETTE, in her official capacity as a member of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Board, Defendants - Appellees: James Francis Groves, Attorney, LEE, GROVES & ZALAS, South Bend, IN.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and BAUER and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 243

Kanne, Circuit Judge.

This case is about small town politics, a bare-knuckle brawl, and the right to vote. But the appeal before us is limited to drier subjects: sovereign immunity, and the pleading requirements for a civil rights action against a municipality. The district judge dismissed the state-affiliated defendants on immunity grounds, and found that the plaintiff failed to state a claim against the county-affiliated defendants. He then went on to consider whether injunctive or declaratory relief might be available to the plaintiff, but that was unnecessary. His initial findings were correct, and they dispose of the case entirely. We affirm the dismissal.

I. Background

In 2003, David Snyder was elected to the Roseland Town Council, which serves a small incorporated community located at the north end of South Bend, Indiana, near the Indiana-Michigan line. It is fair to describe Snyder's tenure on the Roseland Town Council as controversial. See, e.g., Welcome to Snyderville (Notre Dame Student Film Festival 2007), available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xzyny_bThHs (published Feb. 28, 2013). At a council meeting on January 11, 2007, Snyder was involved in a fistfight with fellow council member Ted Penn. He was arrested and charged with battery, as defined at Ind. Code § 35-42-2-1, and with felony intimidation, as defined at Ind. Code § 35-45-2-1(a)(2).

On July 31, 2008, a jury convicted Snyder of battery as a Class A misdemeanor, but acquitted him of the felony intimidation charge. The court handed down a one-year sentence, with six months suspended and six months to be executed on home detention. In February 2009, the court determined that Snyder had violated the terms of his probation and found that a period of incarceration was warranted. Snyder served the remainder of his sentence at the St. Joseph County Jail. He was released in May 2009.

On March 4, 2009, while Snyder was still incarcerated, defendants Linda Silcott and Pam Brunette, then members of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Board, sent him a letter announcing that his voter registration had been cancelled pursuant to Ind. Code § 3-7-46-1. Section 3-7-46-2 provides that " [a] person imprisoned following conviction of a crime is disfranchised during the person's imprisonment," and Section 3-7-46-1 directs that " a county

Page 244

voter registration office shall remove from the official list of registered voters the name of a voter who is disfranchised under this chapter due to a criminal conviction." Indiana law did (and does) permit Snyder to reregister to vote at any time following his release from jail, and Snyder knew he could exercise that right. See Ind. Code § 3-7-13-5. Nonetheless, Snyder refused to re-register. He went to the polls to vote in a special election in November 2009, and, to nobody's surprise, he was turned away.

This lawsuit followed. Invoking 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as the basis for his action, Snyder sued J. Bradley King and Trent Deckard (" State Defendants" ) in their official capacities as Co-Directors of the Indiana Election Division, and he sued Linda Silcott and Pam Brunette (" County Defendants" ) in their official capacities as members of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Board. He alleged that his temporary disenfranchisement violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg; the Help America Vote Act of 2002, 42 U.S.C. § 15301; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1971; the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and Article 2, Section 8, of the Indiana Constitution. Notably, he did not include any allegations that his injury was caused by a municipal-level custom or policy promulgated by the County Defendants.

At the request of the parties, the district court certified the Indiana constitutional question to the Indiana Supreme Court. Snyder's argument was that Article 2, Section 8, only authorizes the General Assembly to disenfranchise those convicted of " infamous crimes," and, since his was not an " infamous crime," he could not be stripped of his voting rights. The Indiana Supreme Court agreed that Snyder's disenfranchisement was not authorized under the particular provision at issue, but held that the Indiana Constitution separately authorized the assembly to temporarily disenfranchise any incarcerated convict: " the Indiana General Assembly has authority under its general police power to disenfranchise persons incarcerated upon conviction of a crime, so long as the disenfranchisement lasts only for the duration of incarceration." Snyder v. King, 958 N.E.2d 764, 785-86 (Ind. 2011).

After the Indiana Supreme Court issued its ruling, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims in the district court. Before ruling on the motions, however, the district court, acting sua sponte, ordered the parties to file additional briefing addressing the continued justiciability of the controversy. The issues were fully briefed, and both parties took the position--albeit for different reasons--that the case was not moot and could continue. Regardless, the district court dismissed the case. Snyder v. King, No. 1:10-cv-1019, 2013 WL 1296791 (S.D. Ind. March 28, 2013).

As a threshold matter, the district court held that the State Defendants were not a proper party to the suit on sovereign immunity grounds. Neither party takes issue with that conclusion. Next, the district court held that the suit against the County Defendants also failed, because a county " cannot be held liable under Section 1983 for acts that it did under the command of state or federal law." (quoting Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Servs., Inc. v. Leean, 154 F.3d 716, 718 (7th Cir. 1998)). That rule is based on the statutory elements of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against a municipal entity, as discussed by Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), and its progeny.

Despite the Monell dismissal, the district court went on to ...


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