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Nader v. McAuliffe

January 7, 2009

RALPH NADER ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TERRY MCAULIFFE ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos. 47, 48

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS THE PLAINTIFFS' AMENDED COMPLAINT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the motions to dismiss filed by defendants Terry McAuliffe, former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee ("DNC"), and Steven Raikin, Director, Treasurer and Secretary of a political organization called the Ballot Project. The plaintiffs -- Ralph Nader, his former running mate Peter Camejo and six of their supporters -- brought the instant suit and many others following Nader's unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004. They claim that the defendants committed conspiracy, abuse of process, malicious prosecution and violations of the United States Constitution*fn1 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants have moved to dismiss. Because the court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims in Civil Action No. 07-2136 bar the state law claims raised in this action under the doctrine of res judicata, the court grants the defendants' motions to dismiss those claims. And because the court rejects the plaintiffs' allegation that the defendants acted "under color of state law" as required for a § 1983 claim, the court grants the defendants' motions to dismiss the plaintiffs' federal claims.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The facts giving rise to the plaintiffs' claims have been set forth in greater detail in several prior opinions. See Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 2008 WL 5273109, at *1-*2 (D.D.C. Dec. 22, 2008); Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 555 F. Supp. 2d 137, 144-46 (D.D.C. 2008); Nader v. McAuliffe, 549 F. Supp. 2d 760, 761-62 (E.D. Va. 2008). In short, the plaintiffs allege that supporters of the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign "presided over a nationwide conspiracy to suppress voter choice during the 2004 General Election" by filing ballot eligibility complaints to undermine Nader's candidacy. Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Mots. to Dismiss ("Pls.' Opp'n") at 3-4. To rectify the alleged violations of state and federal law, the plaintiffs brought suit in this court, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against various individuals associated with the Democratic ticket.

More specifically, the plaintiffs filed suit in the D.C. Superior Court against the DNC and three DNC officials, Kerry-Edwards 2004, John Kerry individually, Reed Smith LLP ("Reed Smith"), the Ballot Project and two Ballot Project officials, America Coming Together ("ACT") and the Service Employees International Union ("SEIU"), alleging conspiracy, abuse of process, malicious prosecution and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Constitution. The defendants removed the action to this court, where it was docketed as Civil Action No. 07-2136. The plaintiffs then amended their complaint and removed the federal claims, leaving only the allegations of civil conspiracy, abuse of process and malicious prosecution. See Am. Compl., Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 555 F. Supp. 2d 137 (No. 07-2136). On May 23, 2008, the court dismissed Civil Action No. 07-2136, determining that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claims that directly attacked prior state court judgments, and that the First Amendment barred the plaintiffs' remaining claims. Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 555 F. Supp. 2d at 145.

The day after the plaintiffs filed suit in the D.C. Superior Court, they filed the instant complaint against defendants McAuliffe and Raikin in the Eastern District of Virginia.*fn2 The amended complaint in this action, which is nearly identical to the original complaint in Civil Action No. 07-2136 save for the identities of the defendants, compare Compl. with Compl., Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 555 F. Supp. 2d 137 (No. 07-2136), was later transferred from the Eastern District of Virginia to this court, see Mem. Op. (Mar. 7, 2008) (granting the defendants' motion to transfer venue to this court). Finally, after this court dismissed the plaintiffs' amended complaint in Civil Action No. 07-2136, the plaintiffs filed Civil Action No. 08-0963 against the DNC, Kerry-Edwards 2004, John Kerry and Reed Smith in this court, alleging conspiracy and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Constitution. After determining that its dismissal of Civil Action No. 07-2136 was res judicata as to the claims raised in Civil Action No. 08-0963, the court dismissed the latter action on December 22, 2008. See generally Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 2008 WL 5273109 (D.D.C. Dec. 22, 2008).

Defendants McAuliffe and Raikin have moved to dismiss the instant amended complaint.*fn3 With respect to the state law claims, they incorporate by reference the defendants' motions to dismiss in Civil Action No. 07-2136. See Def. McAuliffe's Mot. to Dismiss Am. Compl. ("McAuliffe Mot.") at 1; Def. Raikin's Mot. to Dismiss Am. Compl. ("Raikin Mot.") at 1. And in support of their motions to dismiss the plaintiffs' federal claims, the defendants contend that the claims fail to allege state action, see McAuliffe Mot. at 4-11; Raikin Mot. at 6-8; fail to allege a constitutional violation, see McAuliffe Mot. at 11; are time-barred, see Raikin Mot. at 8-10; and are conclusory, see id. at 10. The court now turns to these arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The complaint need only set forth a short and plain statement of the claim, giving the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040(D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) and Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Such simplified notice pleading is made possible by the liberal opportunity for discovery and the other pre-trial procedures established by the Rules to disclose more precisely the basis of both claim and defense to define more narrowly the disputed facts and issues." Conley, 355 U.S. at 47-48 (internal quotation marks omitted). It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of his prima facie case in the complaint, Swierkiewicz v. Sonoma N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14 (2002), or "plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory," Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Yet, the plaintiff must allege "any set of facts consistent with the allegations." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 (2007) (abrogating the oft-quoted language from Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-56,instructing courts not to dismiss for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that "no set of facts in support of his claim [] would entitle him to relief"); Aktieselskabet AF 21. Nov. 2001 v. Fame Jeans, Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 16 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (affirming that "a complaint needs some information about the circumstances giving rise to the claims"). While these facts must "possess enough heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations." Twombly,127 S.Ct. at 1964, 1966. In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must treat the complaint's factual allegations -- including mixed questions of law and fact -- as true and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiff's favor. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 64, 67 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Holy Land Found. for Relief & Dev. v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156, 165 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242. While many well-pleaded complaints are conclusory, the court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out ...


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