United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Willie Lee Wilson is an African-American citizen who ran in
the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Mr. Wilson and his
campaign committee allege in their Amended Complaint that the
DNC Services Corporation, doing business as the Democratic
National Committee, or DNC, discriminated against Mr. Wilson
and thwarted his campaign efforts because of his race. They
seek $2 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in
punitive damages under four theories of recovery: breach of
contract, promissory estoppel, race discrimination in
violation of the right under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 to make
and enforce contracts, and conspiracy to violate civil rights
under 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Plaintiffs' breach of
contract and promissory estoppel theories fail because the
Amended Complaint does not adequately allege the existence of
a contract that the DNC breached or of an unkept promise by
the DNC on which the Plaintiffs reasonably relied. But it
would be premature to dismiss Plaintiffs' Section 1981
and Section 1985 claims at this early stage in the
proceedings. Thus, the DNC's Motion to Dismiss will be
granted in part and denied in part.
Wilson describes himself as the son of a sharecropper, an
entrepreneur with a rags-to-riches story, a philanthropist,
and a religious motivational speaker. Am. Compl. 1,
¶¶ 5, 8. Mr. Wilson ran in the 2016 Democratic
presidential primary, formally registering his campaign
committee with the Federal Election Commission in May 2015
and qualifying to be on the ballot in nine or ten states.
Id. 2, ¶¶ 7, 10, 52. Mr. Wilson describes
his message as one of “governmental accountability,
equal justice, business development and social and economic
opportunity.” Id. ¶ 6. He believes this
message appeals to working and middle-class Americans and
that his candidacy had the potential to attract
“prospective African-American and other voters.”
Id. ¶¶ 7-8. According to Mr. Wilson, DNC
leadership intended to “ensure” that Hillary
Clinton won the Party's nomination and “viewed
Candidate Wilson's race and the potential racial
implications of his candidacy as a threat.”
Id. ¶¶ 7, 9.
end of May 2015, Mr. Wilson advised the DNC through counsel
that he intended to seek the Party's nomination.
Id. Exs. B, D 3. On July 6, 2015, counsel contacted the
DNC a second time, asking for confirmation that the DNC
“recognized” Mr. Wilson and seeking information
about the nomination process, the DNC debate schedule, and
any other resources the DNC could offer. Id. Ex. C.
In response, the DNC introduced counsel to its Party Affairs
Director, who sent counsel several documents about the
nomination and delegate selection process. Id. Ex. D
1. It also explained that Mr. Wilson's campaign would
need to meet certain threshold requirements to participate in
the Democratic primary debates or in a meeting the DNC would
hold that August. Id. Ex. D 2. Finally, the DNC
offered to answer any further questions and introduced
counsel to its National Political Director as a contact who
could answer state-specific questions and who could make
introductions to state Party leadership if the campaign
needed them. Id. According to Mr. Wilson, this
correspondence constituted a promise “to provide
assistance to Candidate Wilson in the form of introductions
to State Party officials, logistical resources, and general
political assistance.” Id. ¶ 37.
Wilson alleges that, despite this promise, the DNC
“acting through its officers, agents, employees, and
other independent contractors and representatives . . .
collaborated, conspired, and agreed amongst themselves to
hamper, impede and sabotage [his] campaign.”
Id. ¶ 92. According to Mr. Wilson, the DNC
resisted his campaign efforts by barring him from
DNC-sponsored events and encouraging state Party officials to
bar him from events that they organized. Id.
¶¶ 41-43. In particular, the DNC denied Mr. Wilson
access to its August meeting. Id. ¶¶
45-48, 56-58. And the DNC acquiesced in a decision by Secret
Service agents detailed to Mrs. Clinton's security
team to keep Mr. Wilson off the stage at multi-candidate
campaign event co-sponsored by the DNC and the South Carolina
Democratic Committee, even though Mr. Wilson had been invited
to appear on stage. ¶¶ 93-104. Mr. Wilson also
alleges that the DNC inhibited his campaign by refusing to
“sanction” it, which prevented him from gaining
ballot access in many of the 19 states where he sought to
register. Id. ¶¶ 50-51, 55.
Mr. Wilson alleges that the DNC “selectively entered
licensing agreements with presidential campaign
committees” to provide candidates access to a
nationwide database of Democratic voter data. Id.
¶ 59. According to Mr. Wilson, the DNC made this vital
fundraising and voter identification resource available to
white candidates, although Bernie Sanders' campaign had
to sue to enforce its licensing agreement. Id.
¶¶ 60-61, 64. But the DNC did not offer Mr. Wilson
the same opportunity to license its voter data. Id.
¶ 62; see also ¶ 38. Mr. Wilson alleges
that, because the DNC failed to give him the same licensing
opportunity that it offered to similarly situated white
candidates, only white candidates enjoyed the benefit of the
DNC's voter data. Id. ¶¶ 63, 66.
Democratic Party chose Hillary Clinton as its nominee for
President in July, 2016. In April, 2017, Mr. Wilson and his
campaign committee sued the DNC. The DNC moved to dismiss the
Complaint. While that motion was pending, Plaintiffs filed a
Motion for Leave to Amend their Complaint, together with a
copy of their proposed Amended Complaint. While that motion
was pending, Plaintiffs filed a second Motion for Leave to
Amend, attaching another proposed Amended Complaint. I
granted Plaintiffs' second motion, and the filing of
their Amended Complaint mooted the DNC's pending Motion
to Dismiss. The DNC filed a second Motion to Dismiss, which
is now ripe.
survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient
factual allegations that, if true, “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Plausibility
requires that a complaint raise “more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
Pleading facts that are “merely consistent with”
a defendant's liability “stops short of the line
between possibility and plausibility.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545-46. Thus, a court
evaluating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
does not accept the truth of legal conclusions or
“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. That said, it construes the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and
accepts as true all reasonable inferences drawn from
well-pled factual allegations. See In re United Mine
Workers of Am. Emp. Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F.Supp.
914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994). Consideration is limited to
“the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents
either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and
matters of which [the court] may take judicial notice.”
Hurd v. D.C. Gov't, 864 F.3d 671, 678 (D.C. Cir.
contains many measures to combat racial discrimination and to
protect equality. Plaintiffs invoke several of them in
support of their claims against the DNC, and I evaluate these
issues with care. The law also protects “the freedom to
join together in furtherance of common political
beliefs.” Cal. Democratic Party v. Jones, 530
U.S. 567, 574 (2000). And this right “necessarily
presupposes the freedom to identify the people who constitute
that association, and to limit the association to those
people only.” Id. Jones held that the right to
avoid unwanted association is particularly important when
selecting a party's nominee. Id. at 575. This is
because the nomination process “often determines the
party's positions on the most significant public policy
issues of the day, and even when those positions are
predetermined it is the nominee who becomes the party's
ambassador to the general electorate in winning it over to
the party's views.” Id. This First
Amendment right is also the law of the land, and I apply it
with equal care.
Plaintiffs Fail to Allege Facts Showing the Formation of an
Plaintiffs allege that the DNC entered an implied contract
with Mr. Wilson and that this contract contained an implicit
covenant of good faith and fair dealing that the DNC
breached. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 70. “For an
enforceable contract to exist, there must be both (1)
agreement as to all material terms; and (2) intention of the
parties to be bound.” Georgetown Entm't Corp.
v. Dist. of Columbia, 496 A.2d 587, 590 (D.C. 1985). An
implied contract is no exception, as “it differs from
other contracts only in that it has not been committed to
writing or stated orally in express terms, but rather is
inferred from the conduct of the ...