United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
Lee Wilson ran in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
Dr. Wilson and his campaign (collectively,
“Plaintiffs”) claim that the DNC Services
Corporation (“DNC”) discriminated against him and
thwarted his campaign efforts. In an earlier opinion, the
Court dismissed most of the Plaintiffs’ claims. Their
remaining claims arise under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and
1985, and the DNC has moved for summary judgment. For the
reasons below, the Court will grant that motion.
Wilson is an “African-American entrepreneur,
philanthropist, and religious motivational speaker”
from Chicago. Pls.’ Second Am. Compl.
(“Compl.”) at 1, ECF No. 25. Dr. Wilson sought
the Democratic nomination during the 2016 Presidential
election, registering his campaign committee, “Willie
Wilson 2016, ” with the Federal Election Commission
(“FEC”). Id. His counsel notified the
DNC about his campaign in May 2015. Def.’s Reply
Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Def.’s
Statement”) at 14, ECF No. 60-1. In July, his
counsel contacted the DNC a second time, asking for
confirmation that the DNC “recognized” Dr. Wilson
and seeking information about the nomination process, the DNC
debate schedule, and any other resources the DNC could offer.
Id. In response, the DNC introduced Dr.
Wilson’s counsel to its Party Affairs Director, who
sent him several documents about the nomination and
delegate-selection processes. Id. at 16. It also
stated that Dr. Wilson’s campaign would need to meet
certain threshold requirements to participate in either the
Democratic primary debates or in a meeting the DNC would hold
that August. Id. Finally, the DNC offered to answer
any more questions and introduced Dr. Wilson’s counsel
to its National Political Director as a contact for
state-specific questions and introductions to state Party
their Complaint, the Plaintiffs allege that 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 [the Wilson] campaign.”
Compl. at 18. 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 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and
conspiracy to violate civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §
1985. See Id . at 14–20. The DNC moved to
dismiss their Complaint. See Mot. to Dismiss, ECF
No. 26. The Court granted in part and denied in part that
motion. See Wilson v. DNC Servs. Corp.
(“Wilson I”), 315 F.Supp.3d 392, 395
only two of the Plaintiffs’ claims remain. First, they
claim that the DNC violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by not
contracting with Dr. Wilson’s campaign-because of his
race-to give it access to DNC’s national voter file
(“Voter File”). See Compl. at
12–14. Next, they claim that the DNC conspired to bar
Dr. Wilson from speaking at a campaign event in South
Carolina. See Id . at 18–19. The parties have
completed discovery, and the DNC now seeks summary judgment
on the remaining claims. See Mot. for Summ. J.
(“Def.’s Br.”), ECF No. 52.
prevail on a motion for summary judgment, one must show that
“there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986);
Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A
factual dispute is material if it could alter the outcome of
the suit under the substantive governing law, and a dispute
about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion, and identifying those portions of the
[record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477
U.S. at 323. Once this showing has occurred, the non-moving
party bears the burden of setting forth “specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely
disputed must support the assertion” by “citing
to particular parts of materials in the record” or
“showing that the materials cited do not establish the
absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse
party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the
fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).
summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is
to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be
drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
255. The nonmoving party’s opposition, however, must
consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials
and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other
competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ.
Plaintiffs claim that the DNC violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981
by not contracting with Dr. Wilson’s campaign-because
of his race-to give it access to DNC’s Voter File.
See Compl. at 12–14. The Voter File is a
complex digital database that combines millions of pieces of
information about registered voters. Def.’s Statement
at 22. It includes valuable information that is political
sensitive and not commercially available. Id. at 23.
As the Plaintiffs admit, the DNC did not offer every
presidential candidate who registered with the FEC the
opportunity to use its Voter File. Id. at 25.
Indeed, the DNC entered into licensing agreements with only
two 2016 presidential campaigns: Hillary For America and
Bernie 2016. Id. at 28.
Voter File is central to DNC’s ability to coordinate
strategy for candidates throughout the country for local,
state, and national office. Id. at 22. To use the
Voter File, organizations and campaigns must go through
specialized training and hire informational technology staff
to set up, maintain, and update the database. Id. at
23. In fact, Voter File’s users can edit and change
information that all users share. Id.
parties agree that the DNC did not offer its Voter File to
Dr. Wilson and his campaign. See Pls.’ Mem. in
Opp. (“Pls.’ Br.”) at 10, ECF No. 59;
Def.’s Reply at 10 n.5, ECF No. 60. In July 2015, Dr.
Wilson’s lawyer emailed the DNC, asking: “Would
you be able to confirm that Dr. Wilson has been recognized by
the DNC, and also share information regarding the 50 state
nomination process and debate schedule. Please also let me
know if there are any other resources the DNC can offer to
candidates.” Def’s Statement at 14. While this
email asked the DNC to identify “any other resources
the DNC can offer to candidates, ” it did not
explicitly mention the Voter File. Id. Even so, the
Plaintiffs claim that the DNC violated Section 1981 because
the DNC did not provide them an opportunity to enter into a
licensing agreement for its Voter File. Pls.’ Br. at
1981 “protects the equal right of all persons within
the jurisdiction of the United States to make and enforce
contracts, ” including contracts for employment,
“without respect for race.” Domino’s
Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 474–75
(2006) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) (cleaned up)). To
state a claim for racial discrimination under Section 1981,
the plaintiff must allege that (1) the plaintiff is a member
of a racial minority; (2) the defendant intended to
discriminate against the plaintiff on the basis of race; and
(3) the discrimination concerned an activity enumerated in
§ 1981. Mitchell v. DCX, Inc., 274 F.Supp.2d
33, 44–45 (D.D.C. 2003); see also Mazloum v. Dist.
of Columbia Metro. Police Dep’t, 522 F.Supp.2d 24,
37 (D.D.C. 2007). As relevant here, among the activities
enumerated are “the making, performance, modification,
and termination of contracts.” 42 U.S.C. §
1981(b). Section 1981 “can be violated only by
purposeful discrimination.” Gen. Bldg. Contractors
Ass’n v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375, 391 (1982).
analyze Section 1981 claims under the familiar
burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Nanko Shipping, USA
v. Alcoa, Inc., 850 F.3d 461, 467 (D.C. Cir.
2017). On summary judgment, the operative question is whether
the plaintiff produced enough evidence for a reasonable jury
to find that the defendant intentionally discriminated
against the plaintiff on the basis of race. See
Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, 712 F.3d 572, 576 (D.C. Cir.
2013). For example, a plaintiff may show that he was treated
less favorably than another similarly situated person of a
different race. Brown v. Sessoms, 774 F.3d 1016,
1023 (D.C. Cir. 2014).
plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case of
racial discrimination. Mazloum, 522 F.Supp.2d at 37.
Then the defendant must come forward with a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action. See
Texas Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S.
248, 254–55 (1981). If the defendant does so, the
McDonnell Douglas framework falls away, and the
factfinder must decide the ultimate question: has the
plaintiff proven intentional discrimination? St.
Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502,
510–12 (1993). The plaintiff can survive summary
judgment by providing enough evidence for a ...