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Winchester v. Illinois Republican Party

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 27, 2019

ROBERT WINCHESTER, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS REPUBLICAN PARTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Robert Winchester challenges the results of elections for committeeman to the State Central Committee of the Republican Party (Doc. 1). Winchester was previously the Committeeman for the 15th Congressional District in Illinois but was defeated by Chapin Rose in an election held on April 18, 2018. Winchester claims the election was fraught with irregularities and that he is the true winner.

         Pending before the Court are the Motion to Dismiss filed by the Illinois Republican Party (“IRP”) (Doc. 26), the Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction filed by Defendants Illinois State Board of Elections (“Board”), Cadigan, Carruthers, Keith, Linnabary, McGuffage, O’Brien, Scholz, and Watson (Doc. 45), and the Motion to Join Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Rose (Doc. 46).[1] For the following reasons, the IRP’s Motion is GRANTED, the Board’s, et al., Motion is GRANTED, and Rose’s Motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         According to the Complaint (Doc. 1-1), the IRP is a not-for-profit corporation. Its directors are Committeemen to the State Central Committee of the Republican Party (“State Central Committee”) and are elected from each of Illinois’ 18 congressional districts. Elections take place every 4 years when primary elections are held. Winchester was a Committeeman elected from the congressional district encompassing Hardin County, Illinois and a Director in the IRP since 1992. Winchester submitted the appropriate paperwork to contend in the 2018 election and ran against Chapin Rose, a State Senator from the 51st congressional district. Rose was declared the winner.

         Winchester alleges that he in fact received the most votes and should have won the election. He claims he was not elected because of the systematic machinations of the Chairman of the IRP and Committeemen before the 2018 election, who operated through various staff members of the IRP. Specifically, Winchester alleges that these individuals failed to place his name on ballots, that nonexistent votes were counted in favor of Rose, that various persons were not able to cast votes for Winchester, and/or that incorrect results were reported, etc.

         On May 10, 2018, the Board certified the election and thereby ratified the victories of the Committeemen including Rose. Winchester wrote letters to the IRP and the Board contesting the election but was unsuccessful in changing the official results. Gaining no traction through his letter writing, Winchester filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting the IRP violated his procedural due process rights in the April 18, 2018 election (Count I); that he is entitled to injunctive and declaratory relief against the IRP and individual directors (Counts II and III); and seeking the same declaratory relief from the Board and its members under state law (Count IV).

         Discussion

         Board’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 45)

         The Board and its members assert pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) that this Court lack subject matter jurisdiction over Winchester’s request for declaratory relief. In particular, they contend that Winchester, an Illinois citizen, cannot bring suit in federal court against an arm of the State of Illinois pursuant to state law. In response, Winchester argues that these defendants are seeking relief under the wrong Federal Rule, [2] that the State of Illinois is merely a nominal party which need not take any action in order for Winchester to acquire relief, and, in the alternative, that this Court should exercise supplemental jurisdiction over this claim.

         There is no dispute that Winchester is a citizen of Illinois and that the Board (and its members who are sued in their official capacity) is an agency of the State of Illinois. 10 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/1A-1. The Eleventh Amendment “prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies.” Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978); Gossmeyer v. McDonald, 128 F.3d 481, 487 (7th Cir. 1997); Bd. Of Regents v. Phoenix Int’l Software, Inc., 653 F.3d 448, 457 (7th Cir. 2011) (Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to suits by citizens against their own state). This jurisdictional bar “applies regardless of the nature of the relief sought.” Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). Winchester’s claim against the Board and its members does not fall within the narrow exceptions that would permit this claim to be brought in federal court. Id. As such, Winchester’s claim against the Board and its members is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Accordingly, Count IV is DISMISSED with prejudice.[3]

         IRP’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 26)

         IRP’s primary argument is that Winchester failed to comply with state law in contesting the election and that his claim must therefore fail as a matter of law. Defendants rely, in part, on Pullen v. Mulligan, 561 N.E.2d 585 (Ill. 1990), for the proposition that “[c]ourts have no inherent power to hear election contests but may do so only when authorized by statute and in the manner directed by statute.” Id. at 589; see also Doelling v. Board of Ed. Of Community High School Dist. No. 88, Washington County, 160 N.E.2d 801 (Ill. 1959) (holding that a state court has no jurisdiction to hear an election which is contested by an unverified complaint). IRP also argues that because Winchester did not comply with Illinois’ Election Code, 10 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/7-63 by filing a petition within 10 days “after the completion of the canvass of the returns by the election authority making the final canvass of returns, ” he cannot now challenge the election results. Winchester argues that his constitutional claim made pursuant to § 1983 is not governed by state law and that he is asserting IRP violated his First Amendment Rights to free speech and freedom of association (claims that are not made in his Complaint).[4]

         In his § 1983 claim, Winchester alleges that IRP was acting under color of state law when the Board delegated its duty to IRP to run and certify the results of the contested election. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 151 (1970) (reiterating that “private persons, jointly engaged with state officials in the prohibited action, are acting under color of law for purposes of the statute” (quotation marks and citations omitted)). He also contends IRP violated his procedural due process rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment “by not devising and/or properly implementing consistent and unambiguous procedures for electing State Central Committeemen, for tabulating and reporting the results of said elections, and by failing to have the tabulated results report to the BOARD as required by the law . . . .” (Doc. 1-1, ¶ 50). Thus, Winchester is asserting a Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Serv., 436 ...


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