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Marts v. The Republican Party of Virginia, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

April 3, 2018

JAY L. MARTS and DANA NEWCOMB, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF VIRGINIA, INC., and FREDERICK COUNTY REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Jay Marts and Dana Newcomb allege that defendants, the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) and the Frederick County Republican Committee (FCRC), improperly deprived them of their right to vote in party- run nomination processes.

         Defendants now move to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because the court concludes that it lacks jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims, the court will grant defendants' motion and dismiss plaintiffs' complaint without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts below come from plaintiffs' amended complaint, because the court accepts the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegations in the complaint as true when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 391 (4th Cir. 2011); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008).

         RPV, a political party in Virginia, aims to “promot[e] the principles and policy objectives of the Republican Party and elect[] nominated Republican candidates to public office.” (Compl. ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 25.) FCRC, located in Virginia's Tenth Congressional District, serves as a committee of RPV. (Id. ¶ 15.) RPV operates under a Plan of Organization (Plan), “which defines the requirements for membership, party organizational structure, the process for election of party officials, methods of nomination for candidates for public office and how party members deemed errant may be disciplined or removed.” (Id. ¶ 7.) Article I, section (A)(2) of the Plan states that “a voter who, subsequent to making a statement of intent (in a party candidate nominating process), publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.” (Plan at 3, Dkt. No. 25-1.)[1]

         On April 27, 2015, plaintiffs attended a FCRC mass meeting. At the mass meeting, plaintiffs certified their adherence to FCRC and RPV (collectively, the Party) principles and their intention to support the Party's candidates. (Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, 21, 23-34.) Subsequently, plaintiffs publicly supported independent candidates running in opposition to Party candidates. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 22.) Consequently, the Party took numerous steps to reprimand plaintiffs for their support of opposition candidates.

         In April 2016, the Party declined to provide Marts with voting credentials at both the Republican Tenth District Convention and the 2016 RPV State Convention. (Id. ¶ 36.) Similarly, the Party declined to provide Newcomb with voting credentials at the Republican Tenth District Convention. (Id.)

         Additionally, in May 2016, a FCRC member brought a “challenge, ” alleging that plaintiffs violated Article I of the Plan. (Id. ¶ 37.) FCRC heard the challenge and declined to impose Article I sanctions against plaintiffs. (Id. ¶ 38.) On appeal, however, the Tenth District Republican Committee decided to impose Article I sanctions on plaintiffs, a decision upheld by the Republican State Central Committee. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 44.) Subsequently, in May 2017, the Party declined to provide Marts with voting credentials at the FCRC Mass. Meeting. (Id. ¶ 45.) The candidates nominated at the Mass. Meeting would automatically appear on the November 7, 2017 general election ballot, and Marts sought to vote in a contested nomination race for the Gainesboro District Supervisor seat. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs do not challenge “the authority of RPV to remove official committee members who commit acts of disloyalty, ” (id. ¶ 46), or that “they may be disciplined for being errant Republicans.” (Pls.' Resp. to Mot. Dismiss 7, Dkt. No. 24.) Rather, plaintiffs “contest being denied voting credentials.” (Compl. ¶ 46.) In doing so, plaintiffs claim that the Party's imposition of Article I sanctions violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech (in that Article I sanctions constitute prior restraints); their First Amendment right to association with others in furtherance of political beliefs; and their right to vote. (See generally Id. ¶ 50.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Party first moves to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.[2] The Party contends that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims because “[t]he present matter is nothing more than an internal political party dispute that certainly does not involve any federal question.” (Mot. Dismiss 9, Dkt. No. 20.)

         A. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) tests the court's subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claim. Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing that subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, “the district court is to regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)). It must, however, “view[] the alleged facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, similar to an evaluation pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is proper “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Evans, 166 F.3d at 647 (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R, 945 F.2d at 768).

         B. The Court Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over the Internal ...


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