United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS
E. SCHREIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
complaint and motion papers filed April 5, 2019, plaintiff,
Lafawn Janis, alleges that defendant, David Janak, violated
her constitutional rights by disqualifying Janis as a
candidate for Area 3 of Rapid City Area School District 51-4
school board. Docket 1. Janis moves for a preliminary and
permanent injunction prohibiting Cindy Mohler, Pennington
County Auditor, from printing ballots for the June 4, 2019
election “until the court issues an order in this
dispute” and prohibiting Mohler from omitting
Janis's name from the ballot, or alternatively,
prohibiting her opponent, Brian K. Johnson, from being a
candidate in the election. Id. at 7. Janak moves to
dismiss the complaint. Docket 16. A motion hearing was held
on April 12, 2019. Docket 22. For the reasons stated below,
this court grants Janak's motion to dismiss.
facts alleged in the complaint, taken as true, and the
testimony and evidence presented at the motion hearing are as
Janis is a candidate for Area 3 of the Rapid City Area School
District 51-4 school board. Docket 1 ¶ 1. Janis timely
filed nominating petitions for her school board candidacy
with David Janak, the Assistant Superintendent for Fiscal and
Support Services and business manager of the Rapid City Area
School District. Id. ¶ 4. Under SDCL §
13-7-6, “the filing of the nominating petition shall
constitute nomination and will entitle the candidate to have
the candidate's name placed on the ballot for the term
the candidate specifies on the petition only upon
verification signed by the business manager that the
nominating petition contains the minimum number of signatures
and that the candidate is a resident voter.” Janak
verified to Janis that her petitions contained the minimum
numbers of signatures and that she was a registered voter.
Docket 1 ¶ 6. On March 26, 2019, Janak “reported
to the Pennington County Auditor that Janis had qualified as
a candidate.” Id. ¶ 7. On April 2, 2019,
Janak disqualified Janis's petitions after they were
challenged by Christopher Green, an area 3 resident.
Id. ¶ 9; see also Docket 23, Exhibit
5. Specifically, Janak said Janis's nominating petition
was challenged because Janis did not specify “area
3” in the heading section of the petition and thus did
not meet the requirements of S.D. Admin. R. 05:02:08:00.01.
Docket 1 ¶¶ 8-9; see also Docket 23,
Exhibits 1, 5. In his own affidavit, Janak said that
“Ms. Janis failed to identify which representation area
she was running for” in the heading section of her
petitions, and due to the mandatory language of the
instructions to the candidates, Janis's heading was
incomplete under S.D. Admin. R. 05:02:08. Docket 23, Exhibit
10 ¶ 11.
checking the nominating petitions of her opponent, Brian K.
Johnson, Janis challenged the validity of Johnson's
petitions for the same alleged defect. Docket 1 ¶ 11;
see also Docket 23, Exhibits 6, 7. Janis alleged
that Johnson's petitions were also invalid because
Johnson's petitions omitted the “(in___
representation area, if applicable)” language in the
heading section and also failed to state that he was running
for “Rapid City” area school district. Docket 23,
Exhibit 7. Thus, Janis argued Johnson's nominating
petitions were not in the proper form required by S.D. Admin.
R. 5:02:08:00.01. Id. On April 2, 2019, Janak
informed Janis that her challenge to Johnson's petitions
was denied because “while the language in the Johnson
petition is not in the same order as that on the petition you
filed, all of the content is there.” Docket 23, Exhibit
8. Janak suggested that Johnson's petitions
“contains the office he is running for, identifies the
area, the school district, and that he is a resident of the
area that he is running in” in the heading of his
petition, unlike Janis's petitions. Id. Janak
determined that because S.D. Admin. R. 05:02:08:11 states in
the instructions to the candidate that both the heading of
the petition and the declaration of candidacy must be fully
completed, Janis's heading was incomplete, but
Johnson's was complete. Docket 23, Exhibit 10
¶¶ 10-17. Because Johnson's heading had the
necessary requirements and Janis's heading did not, Janak
found Johnson's petitions to be valid. Id.
¶¶ 11, 14-16.
filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that
Janak violated her rights to due process of law and equal
protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Docket 1
¶¶ 24, 26. Janis also filed a motion for a
preliminary and permanent injunction under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 65(a), requesting the court prohibit Cindy
Mohler, Pennington County Auditor, from omitting Janis's
name from the ballot, or alternatively prohibiting her
opponent from being a candidate in the election. Docket 3.
The court held a motion hearing on April 12, 2019. Docket 22.
At the hearing both Janis and Janak testified. Id.
Janak testified that based on his interpretation of S.D.
Admin R. 05:02:08:11, Johnson's petitions were not
disqualified because in the heading section of Johnson's
petitions “all of the required components are there . .
. [t]hey may not be in the right order, but they are
there.” Docket 28 at 38. Janak testified that, applying
that same standard to Janis's petitions, all of the
required components are on her petitions, just not in the
heading section. Id. at 42-43.
also testified that in 2018, Collin Boechler was allowed to
run for Rapid City School Board even though his petition was
identical to Janis's petitions and left blank the
“(in__ representation area, if applicable)”
section in the heading. Id. at 45-47; see
also Docket 23, Exhibit 9. Janak admitted that
Boechler's petition is the same in all material respects
to Janis's disqualified petitions. Docket 28 at 46. As to
why Boechler could run for school board and Janis was
disqualified, Janak testified that it is only after a
petition is challenged that the business manager looks beyond
the number of signatures and residency requirement of the
candidate. Id. at 47-48. Thus, because
Boechler's petition was not challenged, Boechler was not
may dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.
“The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability
requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.
(internal quotation omitted). To decide the motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6), the court may consider the complaint,
some materials that are part of the public record, and
materials embraced by the complaint. Porous Media Corp.
v. Pall Corp., 186 F.3d 1077, 1079 (8th Cir. 1999).
federal court must have jurisdiction over a matter before it
grants preliminary or permanent relief. Bruce H. Lien Co.
v. Three Affiliated Tribes, 93 F.3d 1412, 1422 (8th Cir.
1996). Janak first argues that this court lacks jurisdiction
over Janis's claims because Janis has failed to exhaust
the election state law remedies. Docket 17 at 5. Janak argues
that subject matter jurisdiction over this matter
“rests entirely with the circuit courts for the State
of South Dakota” because of SDCL § 12-1-13.
Id. at 6. Janak argues that the state of South
Dakota defines and administers elections, and points to SDCL
§ 12-1-13, in which the South Dakota legislature
provides a recourse for election issues by enacting a right
to appeal an election decision to circuit courts. Section
12-1-13 provides that “the decision of the secretary of
state or the person in charge of the election regarding a
challenge may not be challenged a second time with the
secretary of state or the person in charge of the election,
but may be appealed to the circuit court.” Because the
state provides remedies concerning the administration of
elections, Janak argues the court should abstain from
exercising jurisdiction under Younger v. Harris, 401
U.S. 37 (1971). Docket 17 at 9. Janis argues that this court
should not abstain. Docket 26 at 22-25.
courts of appeals, guided by federalism and judicial economy,
have distinguished between cases where a federal court should
hear election issues and those where a federal court should
abstain or dismiss. See, e.g., Shannon v.
Jacobowitz, 394 F.3d 90, 97 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing
Powell v. Power, 426 F.3d 84, 86 (2d Cir. 1970)
(noting that federal courts are not inclined to hear election
administrative issues when state election law “has been
in the exclusive cognizance of the state courts.”)).
Specifically, the Eighth Circuit has held that a federal
court should not oversee the administrative details of a
state election in the absence of aggravating factors.
Pettengill v. Putnam County R-1 Sch. Dist.,
472 F.2d 121, 122 (8th Cir. 1973) (citations omitted). In
Pettengill, county residents brought a § 1983
action to set aside a school bond election held by the school
district because of election irregularities with residency
requirements. Id. at 121-22. The plaintiffs argued
that the school board's standards amounted to a
deprivation of their right to a fundamentally fair election
and their fundamental right to vote. Id. at 122. The
Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the § 1983
action because a federal court should not be the arbiter of a
local election issue. Id. The Eighth Circuit
In essence, the appellants' complaint asks the federal
court to oversee the administrative details of a local
election. We find no constitutional basis for doing so in the
absence of aggravating factors such as denying the right of
citizens to vote for reasons of race, or fraudulent
interference with a free election by stuffing of the ballot