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Kowalski v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 13, 2016

JAN KOWALSKI and ZIFF SISTRUNK Plaintiffs,
v.
COOK COUNTY OFFICERS ELECTORAL BOARD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DARRAH United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff Jan Kowalski filed a Complaint, alleging violations of her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973, et seq., and a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq. Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Injunctive Relief and Mandamus [7], which was denied on March 1, 2016. An Amended Complaint was filed that made the same allegations but added Ziff Sistrunk as a named Plaintiff. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [41]. Defendants' Motion [41] is granted with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Kowalski was a candidate in the Primary Election of March 15, 2016, for the Office of the Recorder of Deeds in Cook County, Illinois. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2.) The Cook County Officers Electoral Board (“CCOEB”) is a statutory entity that has the power to determine the validity of nomination papers. (Id. ¶ 5.) Kowalski filed her Petition for Nomination on November 30, 2015. (Id. ¶ 16.) The Petition contained 13, 430 signatures by registered voters of Cook County, which is above the minimum number of signatures required to be placed on the ballot. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) On December 7, 2015, Audrey Jacox filed an Objector's Petition, alleging the Nomination Petition was insufficient. (Id. ¶ 24.) Between December 17 and December 22, 2015, the CCOEB conducted a “Rule 6 records examination.” (Id. ¶ 26.) On December 22, 2015, Kowalski received the final Petition Summary Report from the CCOEB. (Id. ¶ 31.) The report stated that the Petition for Nomination had 554 fewer valid signatures than what was required. (Id.) Plaintiff, Ziff Sistrunk (“Sistrunk”), is an African-American Cook County resident whose signature was disallowed on Kowalski's Petition for Nomination. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4, 21.)

         Kowalski filed an emergency motion with the CCOEB on December 23, 2015, asking to extend the deadline for a Rule 8 motion, which would trigger a review of objections made during the Rule 6 records examination. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 35.) The CCOEB's hearing officer denied the emergency motion. (Id. ¶ 37.) Kowalski filed a motion to reconsider the denial of the emergency motion, which was also denied on December 28, 2015. (Id. ¶ 40.) The hearing officer further recommended that the CCOEB sustain the Objector's Petition and invalidate Kowalski's Petition for Nomination. (Id.) On December 30, 2015, the CCOEB sustained the Objector's Petition; and Kowalski's name was removed from the March 15, 2016 Primary Ballot. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         Kowalski filed for judicial review of the CCOEB's decision to remove her name from the ballot. Kowalski v. Cook County Officers Electoral Bd., 2016 IL App (1st) 160528-U, appeal denied, stay denied, 120549, 2016 WL 1377955 (Ill. Mar. 14, 2016). The Circuit Court of Cook County granted summary judgment in favor of the CCOEB and their decision. Id. Kowalski then appealed the Circuit Court opinion to the Illinois Appellate Court, who affirmed the CCOEB and Circuit Court decision. Id.

         Kowalski alleges she was denied substantive rights during the “Rule 6 records examination.” (Amend. Compl. ¶ 27.) Kowalski also claims there were substantive and procedural due-process violations that resulted in sustaining the Objector's Petition. (Id. ¶ 49.) In addition, Kowalski claims that the CCOEB decision violates the voters of Cook County's procedural and substantive due-process rights. (Id. ¶ 50.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenges federal jurisdiction, and the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the elements necessary for jurisdiction, including standing, have been met. Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841-42 (7th Cir. 2012). In ruling on a 12(b)(1) motion, the court may look outside of the complaint's allegations and consider whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue of jurisdiction. Ezekiel v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir.1995).

         Rule 12(b)(6) permits a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). However, plaintiffs are not required to “plead the elements of a cause of action along with facts supporting each element.” Runnion ex rel. Runnion v. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago & Nw. Indiana, 786 F.3d 510, 517 (7th Cir. 2015). Rather, the complaint must provide a defendant “with ‘fair notice' of the claim and its basis.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) and Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         For purposes of a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or Rule 12(b)(6), all well-pleaded factual allegations are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences are construed in plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., Scanlan, 669 F.3d at 841; Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081.

         ANALYSIS

         12(b)(1)

         Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(1), stating that Plaintiffs do not have jurisdiction to bring this claim in federal court. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs do not have Article III standing, that they are immune from suit under the ...


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