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Bear v. County of Jackson

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

June 17, 2016

THOMAS POOR BEAR, DON DOYLE, CHERYL D. BETTELYOUN, and JAMES RED WILLOW, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE COUNTY OF JACKSON, a political subdivision and public corporation organized under the laws of the state of South Dakota; THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS FOR THE COUNTY OF JACKSON, a political subdivision and public corporation organized under the laws of the state of South Dakota; VICKI WILSON, in her official capacity as Jackson County Auditor; GLEN BENNETT, in his official capacity as Jackson County Commissioner; LARRY DENKE, in his official capacity as Jackson County Commissioner; LARRY JOHNSTON, in his official capacity as Jackson County Commissioner; JIM STILLWELL, in his official capacity as Jackson County Commissioner; and RON TWISS, in his official capacity as Jackson County Commissioner, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          KAREN E. SCHREIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief that will require defendants to establish a satellite office for voter registration and in-person absentee voting in the town of Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Docket 1. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint on grounds of ripeness. Docket 45. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are enrolled members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who reside on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Jackson County, South Dakota. Defendants are entities and individuals responsible for managing elections in Jackson County. All individual defendants are named as defendants in their official capacities.

         The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, located in southwestern South Dakota, encompasses the southern half of Jackson County. Wanblee is the most populous city in the portion of Jackson County that is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Wanblee is located roughly 27 miles from Kadoka, the county seat of Jackson County. Approximately 90 percent of Wanblee's population is Native American.

         Plaintiffs filed this action on September 18, 2014. The complaint alleges that the defendants violated both the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment by providing an in-person voter registration and in-person absentee voting office in Kadoka, but not in Wanblee. Plaintiffs seek to establish a permanent satellite office in Wanblee for in-person registration and in-person absentee voting. Plaintiffs also seek an order mandating that Jackson County obtain preclearance from the United States Attorney General for any future changes to election procedures that would remove the satellite office.

         On October 10, 2014, plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction, which sought to require Jackson County to establish a satellite office in Wanblee for the time period leading up to the general election on November 4, 2014. On October 15, 2014, the parties participated in a settlement conference before United States Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy. After the settlement conference, Jackson County agreed to fund a satellite office for the remaining time period leading up to the 2014 general election.

         On November 13, 2015, the Jackson County Commission formed an agreement with the South Dakota Secretary of State's Office (SDSOS), and it passed Resolutions #2015-15 and #2015-16. The agreement established that SDSOS will provide funds necessary to operate a satellite office in Wanblee during all federal primary and general elections through January 1, 2023. The agreement provides that SDSOS will "reimburse Jackson County, from the State's state-held HAVA[1] account, various amounts needed as shown by appropriate reimbursement forms and applicable receipts, up to the amount of sixty-one thousand, six hundred eighty-four dollars ($61, 684)[2] to be used for an in-person absentee satellite voting site in accordance with the State HAVA plan[.]" Docket 47-10 at 3. The Jackson County Commission adopted the terms of the agreement with SDSOS in Resolution #2015-15. Docket 47-11. Resolution #2015-16 established that Jackson County shall fund a satellite office in Wanblee from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., during week days, for the statutory absentee voting period leading up to primary and general elections for the election years of 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022.[3] Docket 47-12. With funding in place for the satellite office, defendants move to dismiss the complaint on grounds of ripeness. Docket 45.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides that a court may dismiss an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 (8th Cir. 1990). Under a motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the defendant may challenge either the plaintiff's complaint on its face or the factual deficiencies of the claims. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593 (8th Cir. 1993) (citing Osborn, 918 F.2d at 729 n.6). A motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3). And if at any time the court concludes that "it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). "Ripeness is peculiarly a question of timing and is governed by the situation at the time of review, rather than the situation at the time of the events under review." Iowa League of Cities v. E.P.A., 711 F.3d 844, 867 (8th Cir. 2013) (quotations and citations omitted).

         Plaintiffs carry the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists. V S Ltd. P'ship v. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev., 235 F.3d 1109, 1112 (8th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). "Because at issue in a factual 12(b)(1) motion is the trial court's jurisdiction-its very power to hear the case-there is substantial authority that the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case." Osborn, 918 F.2d at 730. Thus, the existence of disputed material facts does not prevent the trial court from analyzing the merits of the jurisdictional claims, and no presumption of truthfulness must attach to the facts alleged in the complaint. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants claim that sufficient funding for the satellite office is secure through 2022. Therefore, defendants argue that the case is not ripe for review because it does not pose a purely legal issue and the development of additional facts will aid judicial review. Defendants also claim that potential harm stemming from delayed review is speculative and uncertain to occur.

         Plaintiffs respond that the agreement between Jackson County and SDSOS does not resolve all the future satellite office issues because it fails to address local elections that occur during non-federal elections. Plaintiffs also argue that the Jackson County Commission is not bound by the agreement because funding from SDSOS is not guaranteed. Finally, plaintiffs submit that defendants' "voluntary ...


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