United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING
DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; DENYING PLAINTIFFS'
MOTION TO CONSOLIDATE
Rudolph Contreras, United States District Judge.
Roque De La Fuente, proceeding pro se, is a
Mexican-American entrepreneur from California who
unsuccessfully ran in the 2016 Democratic presidential
primary. With the benefit of hindsight, he believes that the
deck was stacked against his campaign from the start. He
claims that Defendants, the Democratic National Committee
(“DNC”) and its then-chairperson,  Deborah Wasserman
Schultz, thwarted his campaign because he was a threat to
steal Hispanic-American votes from Hillary Clinton, votes
necessary to seal her nomination for the 2016 election. He
seeks over $6 million in compensatory damages and $1 million
in punitive damages, under breach of contract, promissory
estoppel, race discrimination, conspiracy to violate civil
rights, and misrepresentation theories. Mr. De La
Fuente's breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and
misrepresentation theories all fail for similar reasons: He
has not adequately identified a definite promise or offer of
contract terms, nor has he sufficiently explained why it was
reasonable for him to take action based on the vague and
indefinite communications he has identified. Mr. De La
Fuente's discrimination theory fails because he has not
plausibly alleged that Defendants thwarted his campaign
efforts because of his race. And Mr. De La Fuente's
conspiracy theory fails because he has not adequately
identified an agreement between two or more people, or
organizations, to deprive him of his civil rights. That said,
the Court believes that Mr. De La Fuente is entitled to
another bite at the apple. Thus, the Court will dismiss Mr.
De La Fuente's complaint without prejudice.
La Fuente is a Mexican-American “entrepreneur,
businessman, and real estate developer” from San Diego,
California. Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1. On October 1, 2015,
he registered a political campaign committee, “Rocky
2016, ” with the Federal Election Commission
(“FEC”), and began a campaign to seek the
Democratic Party nomination for the 2016 Presidential
election. See Id. ¶ 9. He notified the DNC of
his campaign in a December 2015 letter, in which he also
sought “campaign support and general information on the
Democratic Party's nominating process.”
Id. ¶ 13.
La Fuente claims that Defendants made certain promises that
caused him to pursue his unsuccessful campaign, which cost
approximately $6.7 million when all was said and done.
See Id. ¶ 16. First, Mr. De La Fuente alleges
that he would not have entered the DNC's
“nomination process” absent Article Five, Section
Four of the DNC's Charter and Bylaws. See Id.
¶¶ 28, 34. That provision states, in relevant part,
that the DNC's chairperson-at the time, Ms.
Schultz-“shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness
as between Presidential candidates and
campaigns.” Id. ¶ 28. According to Mr.
De La Fuente, the provision requires the DNC to “be an
objective facilitator among candidates, ” and it
forbids the DNC from “endors[ing]” or
“differentiat[ing] between ‘sanctioned'
and/or ‘unsanctioned' candidates.”
Id. ¶ 31. Second, Mr. De La Fuente alleges that
a DNC employee, “Ms. Dacey, ” sent
“correspondence” to him in which the DNC promised
to “provide assistance . . . through introductions to
State Party officials, logistical resources, and general
political assistance.” Id. ¶ 15. Third,
Mr. De La Fuente alleges that the DNC “expressly agreed
to provide all registered Democratic Presidential candidates
and campaigns access to the DNC's voter data base [sic]
and other logistical assistance, guidance, resources to
permit candidates to build their campaigns . . . .”
Id. ¶ 32.
La Fuente claims that despite these promises, Defendants did
not help his campaign in any way. In fact, Mr. De La Fuente
alleges, Defendants actively sabotaged him. The DNC told its
“state affiliate party organs” that Mr. De La
Fuente was not an “endorsed” or
“sanctioned” candidate, which caused the Nevada
State Democratic Party to withhold from him the locations of
its Democratic caucus sites. See Id. ¶¶
43-46. The DNC also failed to make good on its
promise to introduce Mr. De La Fuente to key state officials,
which caused him to be denied access to South Carolina's
primary ballot. See Id. ¶¶ 50-51. The
DNC's conduct “ensure[d] that [Mr.] De La Fuente
would not meet the required polling thresholds necessary
to” secure invitations to “important debates and
town hall meetings.” Id. ¶ 53. And the
DNC refused to grant Mr. De La Fuente access to its Voter
Data File, a “compilation of all registered Democrats
in the United States, ” which included “vital
voter information.” See Id. ¶¶
59-62, 76-77, 81. Mr. De La Fuente alleges that “only
selected Caucasian Democratic presidential candidates”
were given that access. Id. ¶ 80.
La Fuente has a theory for why Defendants would want his
campaign to fail, a theory that permeates his filings. Mr. De
La Fuente is Hispanic-American, part of “a vital and
growing constituency within the Democratic Party.”
Id. ¶ 19. His “more moderate economic and
social policy agenda aligns more closely to the experiences
of Hispanic-America's religious and entrepreneurial
instincts than the more radical policies advanced by any of
the other candidates that sought the 2016 Democratic Party
nomination.” Id. According to Mr. De La
Fuente, Defendants recognized his “growing traction
with Hispanic-American voters” in late 2015 and early
2016, voters that Hillary Clinton needed to secure the
Democratic nomination. Id. ¶ 20. This was a
problem for the DNC, as it was “biased in favor
of” Secretary Clinton; it “devoted its
considerable resources to supporting [her] over any of the
other Democratic candidates . . . .” Id.
¶ 41. Defendants “thus considered [Mr.] De La
Fuente's race and ethnicity as a threat to Hillary
Clinton's campaign that needed to be curtailed and
marginalized to save her candidacy.” Id.
¶ 23. At the same time, Defendants “desired the
public trappings of a contested presidential nominating
process, ” leading them to seek candidates like Mr. De
La Fuente to enter the race in the first place. Id.
February 2018, Mr. De La Fuente and his campaign, proceeding
pro se, brought this lawsuit, asserting that
Defendants engaged in actionable misrepresentations,
contract- and promise-based violations, and constitutional
violations. Shortly thereafter, Defendants moved to
dismiss the complaint. See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss
(“Defs.' Mot.”), ECF No. 6. More recently,
Mr. De La Fuente moved to consolidate this case with
Wilson v. DNC Services Corporation, No. 17-cv-730
(D.D.C. Apr. 19, 2017), overseen by Judge McFadden. See
generally Pls.' Mot. Consolidation, ECF No. 14. Both
of those motions are now ripe for the Court's
consideration. The Court will consider Defendants' motion
first, then Mr. De La Fuente's motion.
DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
have moved to dismiss Mr. De La Fuente's complaint under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate
likelihood of success on the merits, but instead whether a
plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See, e.g.,
Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 530 (2011). When
considering such a motion, the Court accepts the
complaint's factual allegations as true and construes
them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See,
e.g., Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242
(D.C. Cir. 2002). However, the Court need not accept the
complaint's legal conclusions as true, see Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), nor must it presume
the veracity of legal conclusions that are couched as factual
allegations, see Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “To survive a motion to dismiss,
[the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In other
words, the factual allegations “must be enough to raise
a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. “Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements” are insufficient.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At this stage, the Court is
limited to considering “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. 2017) (quoting EEOC v. St.
Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C.
Court construes pro se complaints liberally. See
Atherton v. D.C. Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681
(D.C. Cir. 2009). Thus, Mr. De La Fuente's complaint
“must be held to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Id. (quoting
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). Even
under this liberal standard, a pro se complainant
must plead facts that allow the Court to infer “more
than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id.
at 681-82 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). A court
considering a pro se plaintiff's complaint
should look to “all filings, including filings
responsive to a motion to dismiss, ” Brown v. Whole
Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 152 (D.C. Cir.
2015), to discern whether the plaintiff has “nudged
[his] claim[s] across the line from conceivable to plausible,
” id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570). “The Court need not, ” however,
“assume the role of the pro se plaintiff's
advocate.” Mehrbach v. Citibank,
N.A., 316 F.Supp.3d 264, 268 (D.D.C. 2018). It need
not stalk the record to find support for Mr. De La
Fuente's claims. See Sun v. D.C. Gov't, 133
F.Supp.3d 155, 168 n.6 (D.D.C. 2015).
La Fuente asserts six causes of action against Defendants:
breach of implied-in-fact contract (Count I), promissory
estoppel (Count II), racial discrimination in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1981 (Count III), civil conspiracy in violation
of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (Count IV), fraudulent
misrepresentation (Count V), and negligent misrepresentation
(Count VI). See Compl. ¶¶ 88-141. The
Court addresses each in turn. It concludes that, even under
the relaxed pro se standard, Mr. De La Fuente has
failed to plausibly allege that Defendants violated the law
in their treatment of him and his campaign. Mr. De La Fuente
may have legitimate gripes with Defendants' apparent
favoritism during the Democratic primary, but not every gripe
deserves redress in federal court. For the reasons stated
below, the Court thus grants Defendants' motion to
dismiss and dismisses Mr. De La Fuente's complaint
Implied-In-Fact Contract and Promissory Estoppel
the Court considers Mr. De La Fuente's implied-in-fact
contract and promissory estoppel claims. See Compl.
¶¶ 88-104 (Counts I and II). Defendants' motion
argues, at great length, for the dismissal of these claims.
See Defs.' Mot. at 7-23. And Mr. De La
Fuente's opposition brief appears to accept
Defendants' arguments. For instance, Mr. De La Fuente
states that he “do[es] not believe that [an
implied-in-fact contract] was created” by his
interactions with Defendants. Pls.' Opp'n at 16 n.1,
ECF No. 10. Mr. De La Fuente also notes that Judge McFadden
recently dismissed implied-in-fact contract and promissory
estoppel claims brought by a scorned political candidate
under similar circumstances. See Id. at 21;
Wilson v. DNC Servs. Corp., 315 F.Supp.3d 392,
398-99 (D.D.C. 2018). Mr. De La Fuente states that he
“will not waste effort seeking to counter Judge
McFadden's analysis.” Pls.' Opp'n at 21.
Thus, while Mr. De La Fuente insists that he “do[es]
not abandon these claims, ” id., he appears to
have done just that.
is well understood in this Circuit that when a plaintiff
files an opposition to a dispositive motion and addresses
only certain arguments raised by the defendant, a court may
treat those arguments that the plaintiff failed to address as
conceded.” Xenophon Strategies, Inc. v. Jernigan
Copeland & Anderson, PLLC, 268 F.Supp.3d 61, 72
(D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Hopkins v. Women's Div., Gen.
Bd. of Glob. Ministries, 284 F.Supp.2d 15, 25 (D.D.C.
2003)); see also Texas v. United States, 798 F.3d
1108, 1110 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“[Local Rule 7(b) ] is
understood to mean that if a party files an opposition to a
motion and therein addresses only some of the movant's
arguments, the court may treat the unaddressed arguments as
conceded.” (quoting Wannall v. Honeywell,
Inc., 775 F.3d 425, 428 (D.C. Cir. 2014))); Head v.
Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 86 F.Supp.3d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2015)
(applying this principle to a pro se plaintiff's
opposition brief). If Mr. De La Fuente will not expend the
effort to support his claims, the Court will not expend the
effort to evaluate them. It dismisses Counts I and
the Court considers Mr. De La Fuente's claim that
Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 in denying him the
political assistance he believes he was owed. See
Compl. ¶¶ 105-117 (Count III). Section 1981
“combats racial discrimination by protecting the equal
right of ‘[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the
United States' to ‘make and enforce contracts'
without respect to race.” Wilson, 315 F.Supp.3d at
399 (alteration in original) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
1981(a)). To state a claim under Section 1981, a plaintiff
“must show that: (1) he is a member of a racial
minority group; (2) the defendant intended to discriminate on
the basis of his race; and (3) the discrimination pertained
to one of the activities enumerated in the statute.”
Kungle v. State Farm, Fire & Cas. Co., 48
F.Supp.3d 67, 77 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Dickerson v.
District of Columbia, 806 F.Supp.2d 116, 119 (D.D.C.
2011)). As relevant here, among the activities enumerated in
the statute are “the making, performance, modification,
and termination of contracts.” 42 U.S.C. §
1981(b). While a plaintiff's race is essential to Section
1981 liability, “[i]n order to pursue a cause of action
under § 1981, [a] plaintiff cannot merely invoke his
race However, Mr. De La Fuente identifies no specific party
officials to whom Defendants offered to introduce him, nor
does he identify when these promised introductions were to
take place. He also does not provide any details about the
types of logistical resources and political assistance he was
to receive, or when. Promises to act “neutral”
and provide “resources” and “assistance,
” without more detail, are too vague and indefinite to
have reasonably induced Mr. De La Fuente to act in reliance
on them. See Headfirst Baseball, 168 F.Supp.3d at
248-50 (rejecting the plaintiff's promissory estoppel
claim where the plaintiff failed to provide “evidence
of a clear promise”); In re U.S. Office Prods. Co.
Sec. Litig., 251 F.Supp.2d 58, 73 (D.D.C. 2003). in the
course of a claim's narrative, ” but rather
“must allege some facts that demonstrate that his race
was the reason for defendant's actions.” Bray
v. RHT, Inc., 748 F.Supp. 3, 5 (D.D.C. 1990) (citing
Jafree v. Barber, 689 F.2d 640, 643 (7th Cir. 1982);
Jaffe v. Fed. Reserve Bank of Chi., 586 F.Supp. 106,
109 (N.D. Ill. 1984)).
La Fuente asserts that Defendants deprived him of the
“statutory right” to “make and enforce
contracts on the same basis as White persons.” Compl.
¶ 116; see also Pls.' Opp'n at 8. He
identifies two possible factual bases for this claim: (1) DNC
“staff members, agents and/or employees'
communication with state party committees, ” Compl.
¶ 111, caused the South Carolina Democratic Party to
deny Mr. De La Fuente access to the state's ballot, and
the Nevada Democratic Party to withhold from Mr. De La Fuente
the locations of caucus sites, see Id. ¶¶
43-44, 51; and (2) Defendants “only selected White
Democratic presidential candidates to enter into Voter Data
Licensing Agreements and corresponding use of DNC National
Voter File Data, ” id. ¶ 80. Defendants
respond that this claim cannot be sustained because Mr. De La
Fuente has failed to establish the existence of a contract or
potential contract that Defendants failed to honor.
See Defs.' Mot. at 23. Defendants further
contend that Mr. De La Fuente has failed to establish that
Defendants declined to transact with him because of his race.
See id. These arguments are well taken.
his implied-in-fact contract and promissory estoppel claims,
Mr. De La Fuente appears to have abandoned the Section 1981
claims arising from his interactions with state party
organizations. His opposition brief fails to address
Defendants' arguments for why those claims are legally
insufficient. See Pls.' Opp'n at 7-10.
Dismissal is appropriate on that basis alone. See
Texas, 798 F.3d at 1110; Head, 86 F.Supp.3d at
4; Stephenson v. Cox, 223 F.Supp.2d 119, 121 (D.D.C.
his concession aside, Mr. De La Fuente has failed to show
that his interactions with state party organizations support
Section 1981 liability. To state a Section 1981 claim, a
plaintiff “must initially identify an impaired
‘contractual relationship' under which [he] has
rights”; relief is appropriate when “racial
discrimination blocks the creation of a contractual
relationship [or] . . . impairs an existing contractual
relationship” involving the plaintiff. Domino's
Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 476 (2006)
(citation omitted). Here, Mr. De La Fuente has not adequately
identified the contractual relationships underlying his
interactions with the state party organizations. He alleges
that the Nevada organization “refused to provide”
him with the locations of its caucus sites because the DNC
broadcasted that he was not an “endorsed” or
“sanctioned” candidate. See Compl.
¶¶ 43-46. But he does not allege that an existing
contractual relationship required Nevada to disclose the
caucus site locations, or required the DNC to
“sanction” him. See Id. ¶ 46. Nor
does he allege that he sought a contractual relationship that
would have entitled him to those benefits. In fact, Mr. De La
Fuente provides no details at all regarding how he attempted
to obtain Nevada's caucus site locations, or the
significance of that information. Similarly, Mr. De La Fuente
alleges that the South Carolina organization denied him
ballot access, but he admits that the state party's
executive committee took this action because it “was
not personally familiar with [him], ” id.
¶ 51, rather than because of his race. Mr. De La Fuente
implies that the DNC had a contractual obligation to
introduce him to the relevant South Carolina officials,
see id., but as discussed above he has failed to
plausibly allege-and in fact has waived-the existence of such
a contract. And he does not otherwise claim to have attempted
to contract with the DNC or the South Carolina organization
for access to the ballot.
simply, the Court has no choice but to dismiss these
allegations because Mr. De La Fuente has not “presented
a scintilla of evidence that he was prevented from entering
into a ‘contractual' relationship with”
Defendants or the state organizations “due to his
race.” Bray, 748 F.Supp. at 5; cf.
Morris v. Office Max, Inc., 89 F.3d 411, 414 (7th Cir.
1996) (rejecting the plaintiffs' Section 1981 claim where
they “never sought to enter into a contractual
relationship” with the defendant); Phelps v.
Wichita Eagle-Beacon, 886 F.2d 1262, 1267 (10th Cir.
1989) (holding that the plaintiff's “vague and
conclusory allegation” that the defendants
“interfered with his ‘prospective business
opportunities'” did not state a Section 1981
claim); Williams v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n,
No. 05-cv-1483, 2006 WL 1774252, at *5 (D.D.C. June 26, 2006)
(holding that a “plaintiff's allegations of general
promises and assurances by defendants of a future business
relationship or opportunities to do business do not identify
a contractual interest under §
It is a
closer call, but Mr. De La Fuente has also failed to show
that Defendants violated Section 1981 by depriving him of
access to the DNC's Voter Data File. True, a Section 1981
claim may arise “when racial discrimination blocks the
creation of a contractual relationship.”
Domino's Pizza, 546 U.S. at 476. And Mr. De La
Fuente has alleged that Defendants refused to contract with
him for access to the DNC's Voter Data File, while
granting access to white candidates. See Compl.
¶¶ 80-82. However, Mr. De La Fuente has not alleged
“facts that demonstrate that his race was the reason
for [Defendants'] action.” Morris v. Carter
Glob. Lee, Inc., 997 F.Supp.2d 27, 37 (D.D.C. 2013)
(quoting Bray, 748 F.Supp. at 5).
La Fuente's claim relies, for the most part, on his
overall theory of the case: Defendants “wanted to
deprive Hispanic Democrats of the opportunity to cast ballots
for anyone other than their chosen White candidate-Hillary
Clinton.” Compl. at 2. More specifically,
“Hillary Clinton could not be guaranteed the Democratic
Party's nomination without garnering a significant
majority of Hispanic-American votes, ” votes that
“had nowhere to go but to [her] if the DNC could
successfully marginalize [Mr.] De La Fuente.”
Id. ¶ 20. Mr. De La Fuente argues that this
motive drove Defendants to deny him access to the Voter Data
File. See Id. ¶¶ 23, 83-84.
theory, however, suffers from a major flaw: It is not
supported by any factual allegations. Mr. De La Fuente points
to no statements made or actions taken by Defendants
indicating that they viewed him as a threat because of his
race. Mr. De La Fuente alleges “on information and
belief” that “internal polling” in
late-2015 indicated that Secretary Clinton needed
Hispanic-American votes to guarantee victory in the primary.
Id. ¶ 20. But Mr. De La Fuente identifies no
facts indicating that Defendants acted on that information in
a discriminatory way. He also relies on a leaked memorandum
“addressed to the DNC, ” id.
¶ 65 (emphasis added), demonstrating “the
pre-ordained elevation of Hillary Clinton as the DNC's
2016 presidential nominee, ” id. ¶¶
69. But by Mr. De La Fuente's own admission, the
memorandum was not generated by Defendants. See Id.
¶ 65. And more importantly, Mr. De La Fuente does not
allege that the memorandum contained any discussion of
marginalizing minority candidates to secure more minority
votes for Secretary Clinton. Rather, the memorandum indicates
“a bias in favor of only one candidate” over
all others, minority and non-minority alike.
Id. ¶ 71. Mr. De La Fuente “merely
invoke[s] his race in the course of [his] narrative”
with respect to these allegations, which is insufficient to
state a Section 1981 claim. Bray, 748 ...